As US politicians and news media spin in circles politicizing and criticizing American response to the spread of coronavirus in the country, the Chinese state-controlled media have released a new book titled A Battle Against Epidemic: China Combatting COVID-19 in 2020, a self-aggrandizing publication that praises party leadership for its resolve in facing a health challenge. Xinhua News Agency, a state-controlled media organization, stated that the book “collectively reflects General Secretary Xi Jinping’s commitment to the people, his sense of mission, his far-reaching strategic vision and outstanding leadership as the leader of a major power.”
The book is being released just as the World Health Organization published a report titled Report of the WHO-China Joint Mission on Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), which captures statistics regarding the outbreak and spread of the disease in China. However, the report has drawn criticism for only publishing the positive aspects of the response, and avoiding topics that criticize reports of mismanagement that had leaked out of the country earlier in the year. Cyber research group CitizenLab published a report documenting evidence of government censorship of criticism surrounding China’s coronavirus response on popular social media platforms WeChat and YY, Chinese-owned equivalents of Facebook and YouTube respectively.
China’s history of censorship and suppression of government criticism is no secret and has existed since the rise to power of the Chinese Communist Party, but now with the rise of the Internet and social media and an online population increasingly susceptible to online conspiracy and “Deep State” theories, China’s propaganda machine has taken this situation to their advantage. In addition to time-honored techniques of suppressing criticism and publishing praise, conspiracy theories that blame the United States, and democracy in general, are not censored, indirectly causing them to spread online. Combined with an intense nationalistic rhetoric, the strategy stirs anger and hatred in common Chinese citizens directed toward the US and its Western allies.
Some of conspiracy theories even claim that the coronavirus originated from the United States, and that American democratic incompetence resulted in the worldwide spread of the virus to China, which handled the situation efficiently and swiftly.
The WHO report seemed to be either ignorant of China’s state policies on public health criticism or reluctantly complicit in its report. China is the WHO’s second largest financial contributor after the United States. However, foreign policy experts are wary of these contributions being used as political leverage, for example being used to exert influence over the decision to exclude Taiwan from an emergency meeting of the WHO about the coronavirus. Taiwan, an independent democratic nation not recognized by the Chinese government, has been a shining example of public health response to Coronavirus, with a tiny number of isolated cases in comparison with its neighbors.
This hasn’t stopped the Chinese government, however, from spreading propaganda that Taiwan is being ravaged by a coronavirus epidemic growing out of control because of mismanagement by its rogue and corrupt democratic government, claiming that corpses are piling up amid destitute living conditions and being covered up by greedy capitalists. Taiwan has freedom of press and the reports are demonstrably false, but nevertheless the relentless publication and financing of propaganda combined with inflammatory nationalist rhetoric has many convinced that democracy has resulted in impoverished squalor on the island.