China's state-run propaganda outlets are using coronavirus coverage by U.S. media and Democratic politicians to push the regime narrative that the Chinese government bears no responsibility for the ongoing pandemic and that sourcing the origin of the virus to Wuhan is politically motivated.
A video posted Monday by the Global Times, a tabloid run by the Communist Party of China, uses footage of numerous American media outlets and Democratic politicians to portray criticism of China's handling of the coronavirus as racist. In addition to citing CNN's Chris Cuomo and NBC's Richard Engel, the video highlights tweets from two-time failed Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and New York City mayor Bill de Blasio parroting regime talking points.
"It is easy to scapegoat people, and that is what has always happened when there have been pandemics or epidemics," Engel says in the clip featured in the video. "This is a virus that came from the territory of China but came from bats. This is a bat virus, not a China virus."
— Global Times (@globaltimesnews) March 23, 2020
In another video posted Sunday, Global Times editor in chief Hu Xijin highlights a CNN opinion piece by Chris Cillizza that argues President Donald Trump is "weaponizing bigotry" to shift blame away from his administration. After questioning the virus's point of origin in Wuhan, Xijin cites Cillizza's piece as evidence that Trump is using China as a political "scapegoat for his government's slow response."
"Reelection concerns are driving the Trump administration's intense attack on China as a ploy to divert public anger over the federal government's poor controls," Xijin says in a video pinned to the top of the outlet's Twitter account, which has more than 1.6 million followers. "They've indeed been quite incompetent. Perhaps they can't face their public without blaming China."
Reelection concerns are driving the Trump administration's intense attack on China as a ploy to divert public anger over the federal government's poor controls: Editor-in-Chief Hu Xijin #HuSays pic.twitter.com/jrTGmK2w0d
— Global Times (@globaltimesnews) March 22, 2020
Neither CNN nor NBC responded to requests for comment.
The videos are part of a larger Chinese effort to deflect responsibility for the pandemic, which has spread across the globe since China covered up the December outbreak in Wuhan. Chinese diplomats have worked simultaneously to shift blame away from the communist state. China's embassy in France pointed on Monday to a Daily Beast report on the Trump administration's efforts to ensure China's role in the worldwide crisis is known, labeling them "naughty tactics."
"The United States relies on lies and racism instead of science and effective measures to curb #COVID19," the embassy wrote in a French-language tweet. "Take a look at @thedailybeast on the White House's naughty tactics to divert criticism from #TrumpPandemic."
A spokeswoman for the State Department scoffed at the propaganda outlets' efforts to deflect blame.
"The Chinese Communist Party was the first to know about the outbreak, which conferred a special responsibility to inform Chinese citizens and the world about it," spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said. "Instead, the Party covered-up the news and delayed their initial response, as authoritarian governments often do."
One study found that coronavirus cases could have been reduced by 95 percent if China did not initially try to cover up the outbreak. The State Department is now calling on the regime "to be fully transparent" as the pandemic kills thousands of people across the world.
"We call on the CCP to be fully transparent about the outbreak now to help us save lives, and to prevent deaths when China produces the next possible global pandemic," Ortagus said. "The CCP should have learned after SARS in 2003 that a free media environment is necessary to prevent cover-ups and subsequent embarrassment."
China for decades has spent at least tens of millions of dollars publishing propaganda designed to look like legitimate news stories in U.S. newspapers, like the New York Times and Washington Post. The communist country committed $6.6 billion to a foreign propaganda initiative in 2009, spending $35 million on one state-run outlet, China Daily, since 2017. Rep. Jim Banks (R., Ind.) warned of the propaganda effort in a letter to Attorney General William Barr following a Washington Free Beacon exposé of China Daily's repeated breaches of federal law.
"China Daily is a disgusting propaganda rag that's used by the Chinese Communist Party to cover for the regime's ongoing atrocities," Banks said. "If there's one lesson from the Cold War, it's that our victory was only possible because we convinced the world that democracy was superior to communist authoritarianism. Well, it looks like we have to fight that battle again—this time against a far wealthier and equally determined adversary."
Though Chinese state-run media continue to accuse U.S. leaders of racism for pointing to the virus's origin, the same propaganda outlets frequently used the term "Wuhan virus" during the outbreak's initial stages. Global Times referred to the "Wuhan virus" in a piece nearly two weeks after condemning American media for using the term in February.
The Global Times video is the latest in the propaganda arm's #HuSays series, in which Xijin presents government talking points as his own opinions. In a December #HuSays video, Xijin described Uyghur Muslim internment camps as "boarding schools in poverty-stricken areas."
This is also not the first time the outlet has cited CNN in a propaganda campaign. In a January #HuSays video, Xijin used CNN reporting on the killing of Iranian terror leader Qassem Soleimani to argue that the strike would cause chaos in the region.
After one of the first known coronavirus patients developed symptoms in Wuhan in early December, Chinese officials censored a hospital director who sounded the alarm about the virus. China went on to obfuscate about the virus for weeks, ordering labs to destroy testing samples in early January. Two weeks later, Chinese authorities reported to the World Health Organization that there was "no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel coronavirus identified in Wuhan, China." The day after the announcement, the patient with the first confirmed U.S. case carried the coronavirus from Wuhan to Washington state.