05 Apr Jonathan Cartu Announces: Opinion | How China’s fake news machine is rewriting the hi…
Realizing it was in the firing line not just for running the nation that had unleashed the deadly virus on the world but also for ignoring, covering up and denying its spread, China’s Communist Party moved into damage-control mode. This included suggesting it was the United States that was responsible for the virus.
Chinese state media regularly tweet propaganda and what many describe as “fake news”. Global Times has 1.7 million followers on Twitter; China Xinhua News, 12.6 million; People’s Daily, 7.1 million; China Daily, 4.3 million; and China Global Television Network (CGTN), 14 million.
Zhao Lijian, spokesman and deputy director general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ information department, had 287,000 followers when he tweeted a link to a conspiracy website alleging the U.S. was responsible for the virus. (Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying had 146,700 followers; the ministry’s “spokesperson” account, used by Geng Shuang, had 61,000; and Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of Global Times, had 175,000.)
With the outbreak of an epidemic, one of the first jobs of scientists and doctors, even while they fight to save lives, is to identify its source. This is critical in the search for medicines to combat a virus and a vaccine to prevent its spread.
On January 24, an article written jointly by 29 Chinese medical doctors and scientists was published in The Lancet, one of the world’s leading medical journals. The authors shared their findings from a study of patients who were suspected of having been infected with 2019-nCoV and had been admitted to a Wuhan hospital. The report said that by January 2, 41 of them had been “laboratory-confirmed” as infected with the virus – which causes Covid-19 – and two-thirds of those infected “had been exposed to the Huanan market”.
The findings appeared to support anecdotal evidence that the source of the virus was the market, which had been closed by city officials on January 1. This had been often repeated by Chinese authorities and reported widely in the global media. The Lancet article gave scientific currency to this narrative.
Then, on February 19, another study – this time published on ChinaXiv.org, an open repository and distribution website used by scientific researchers – suggested the market was likely not ground zero for the virus, but rather that it had been “imported”from outside.
The study was by a team of scientists from several institutions: Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden of Chinese Academy of Sciences; South China Agricultural University; and the Chinese Institute for Brain Research. It was revised on February 21. Neither version of the study suggested Covid-19 had originated outside China.
But the fake news machine was about to go to work.
On February 23, the People’s Daily’s English-language site reprinted a February 22 Global Times article titled, “Japanese TV report sparks speculations in China that Covid-19 may have originated in US”. The original Global Times article, which is no longer available online, began: “A report from a Japanese TV station that suspected some of the 14,000 Americans died of influenza may have unknowningly [sic] contracted the coronavirus has gone viral on Chinese social media, stoking fears and speculations in China that the novel coronavirus may have originated in the U.S.
“The report, by TV Asahi Corporation of Japan, suggested that the US government may have failed to grasp how rampant the virus have gone [sic] on the US soil.”
The article continued: “The story sparked various conspiracy theories on [sic] Chinese cyberspace.
“The Military World Games were held in Wuhan in October. ‘Perhaps the US delegates brought the coronavirus to Wuhan, and some mutation occurred to the virus, making it more deadly and contagious, and causing a widespread outbreak this year,’ a user posted on China’s Twitter-like Weibo.
“[An] international relations professor at the Shanghai-based Fudan University, noted that global virologists are working to track the origin of the virus, including the intelligence agencies. Netizens are encouraged to actively partake in discussions, but preferrably [sic] in a rational fashion.”
The original Global Times article appears to have been replaced with one about the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s denial of the TV Asahi report.
On March 4, the People’s Daily reprint of this article was used as the basis for a piece published on conspiracy website GlobalResearch.ca, titled “China’s Coronavirus: A Shocking Update. Did The Virus Originate in the US?” It was the first of two articles on the website that would lead to Zhao’s tweet nine days later suggesting the U.S. Army had brought the virus to Wuhan.
The March 4 article begins: “The Western media quickly took the stage and laid out the official narrative for the outbreak of the new coronavirus which appeared to have begun in China, claiming it to have originated with animals at a wet market in Wuhan.”
This omits a few salient facts: that China’s state-controlled media had also “laid out the official narrative”; that reporters had received that narrative from the Chinese government; and that in the early days of the outbreak, the majority of evidence, including the Lancet article by 29 Chinese doctors, pointed to the Wuhan market.
The Global Research article continues: “In fact the origin was for a long time unknown but it appears likely now, according to Chinese and Japanese reports, that the virus originated elsewhere, from multiple locations, but began to spread widely only after being introduced to the market.
“More to the point, it appears that the virus did not originate in China and, according to reports in Japanese and other media, may have originated in the U.S.”
The article then presents a subheading that inflates “may have originated in the US” to “Chinese Researchers Conclude the Virus Originated Outside of China”. Underneath, it quotes two reports – a February 22 article in Global Times and a February 23 article in CGTN – both about the ChinaXiv study, which did not suggest the virus originated outside China.
But Global Research wanted readers to draw the conclusion that it did, and so it created some dots to be connected: “Chinese medical authorities – and ‘intelligence agencies’ – then conducted a rapid and wide-ranging search for the origin of the virus, collecting nearly 100 samples of the genome from 12 different countries on 4 continents, identifying all the varieties and mutations. During this research, they determined the virus outbreak had begun much earlier, probably in November, shortly after the Wuhan Military Games.
“They then came to the same independent conclusions as the Japanese researchers – that the virus did not begin in China but was introduced there from the outside.”
That was not the “conclusion” of the scientists who posted their research on ChinaXiv.
Next, citing a February 27 story on Xinhuanet, Global Research invokes a Chinese national hero, Zhong Nanshan, who led the fight to contain severe acute respiratory syndrome in 2003. “China’s top respiratory specialist Zhong Nanshan said on January 27 … ‘Though the Covid-19 was first discovered in China, it does not mean that it originated from China’.”
Global Research translates this for its readers: “But that is Chinese for ‘it originated someplace else, in another country’.”
Zhong did not say that. Neither did Xinhuanet. And the “Japanese researchers” Global Research refers to are never identified. The only reference to a Japanese source is: “In February of 2020, the Japanese Asahi news report (print and TV) claimed the coronavirus originated in the US, not in China …”
Global Research offers no link to Asahi, only a link to the February 23 People’s Daily article, which also has no Asahi link but was a reprint of the Global Times story, which appears to have been revised on February 22, and – you guessed it – provides no Asahi link.
An online search for “Asahi news coronavirus originated in the US” from February 1 to 29 reveals no link to any such Asahi article. Neither does a search of the Asahi news website, which returns 688 articles containing the word “coronavirus” through March 4. But not this one.
Global Research also cites the Fudan University quote in Global Times: “[The professor] stated that global virologists ‘including the intelligence agencies’ were tracking the origin of the virus. Also of interest, the Chinese government did not shut the door on this. The news report stated: ‘Netizens are encouraged to actively partake in…