- The Washington Times - Friday, March 20, 2020

China is continuing to spread a story falsely claiming the deadly coronavirus originated in the United States and was first spread in China by the U.S. Army — despite repeated denials from senior American leaders.

The latest broadside appeared on China Global Television Network (CGTN,) one of four Chinese state media outlets sanctioned by the Trump administration recently.

CGTN published on its website an opinion piece that originally appeared on the social media platform WeChat in the form of 10 questions suggesting the United States produced and covertly transmitted the coronavirus in China.

The author, Wang Fuha, stated that during the Military World Games held in late October in Wuhan 369 U.S. military participants took part and asked if any were diagnosed with influenza. The writer then asked, “Was it possible they were carriers of the novel coronavirus?”

“The best thing for the U.S. now is to stop burying its head in the sand and give the 369 people PCT tests to see if they are infected,” the article said.

China’s People’s Daily, flagship propaganda organ of the Communist Party, stated in a tweet Wednesday that “Though the #COVID19 pandemic was first reported in #Wuhan, there is no evidence that it originated from Wuhan.”

“It is irresponsible to jump to a conclusion: China’s top epidemiologist Zhong Nanshan on Wed,” the tweet said.

Chinese Communist Party-controlled news and television outlets and social media also appear to be increasing efforts to divert attention from the source of the outbreak that began in December in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

An anchor for China Central TV, the state broadcaster, suggested the rapid development of a vaccine in the United States was a sign the U.S. government manufactured the virus. The unidentified television host was quoted as saying in a broadcast Wednesday it was too difficult for the United States to produce a vaccine quickly — “unless the U.S. [researchers] have a virus strain early.”

CCTV also broadcast cell phone video showing a Caucasian rider on a Chinese subway that the outlet claimed was a U.S. soldier taking off his mask, licking his finger and touching a subway handrail. The man was wearing civilian clothes yet CCTV characterized the action as evidence the U.S. Army was spreading the virus.

At the White House Friday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, said the virus disinformation campaign has not been not limited to China.

“It is pretty diffused unfortunately, but we have certainly seen it come from places like China and Russia and Iran where there are coordinated efforts to disparage what America is doing.” He said the U.S. government was doing “lots of things” to fight back, but did not provide specifics.

“We have made clear and we have spoken to these countries directly that … that they need to knock it off, that we don’t approve of it, and then there are a handful of other things we are engaged in to make sure that the right information is out there and accurate information is given,” Mr. Pompeo said.

“Some of it coming from government, some of it coming from other individuals,” he said. “I did just urge everyone as they are seeing information that at one time suggested somehow this virus emanated from the United States Army, this information about lockdowns that are taking place — every American, indeed people all around the world should ensure that where they turn to for information is a reliable source and not a bad actor trying to create and flow information that they know is wrong.”

Critics say China withheld information about the outbreak early on in the epidemic, and Chinese doctors who tried to warn about the new virus were silenced by the police. Information about the virus’s contagious qualities was withheld from the international community.

Mr. Pompeo said the Trump administration’s criticisms of China were “not about retribution.” We need to know immediately. The world is entitled to know,” he said. “The Chinese government was the first to know of this risk to the world, and that puts a special obligation to make sure that data gets to our scientists, our professionals.”

Data on the virus obtained by the Chinese must be made available to all countries and doing so is “an imperative to keep people safe.”

China delayed the flow of virus information to medical experts from the United States and elsewhere who wanted to assist China with the outbreak, and would not admit U.S. virus experts and those from the World Health Organization from investigating the new virus for weeks earlier this year.

President Trump, appearing with Mr. Pompeo, said despite having a good relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping, differences over the origin of the virus continued. “It is unfortunate that this got out of control,” he said.

Sophisticated campaign

The disinformation campaign, according to U.S. officials and outside experts, has been sophisticated and subtle, beginning with Zhong Nanshan, the senior medical official in charge of China’s response to the epidemic. Mr. Zhong told reporters in Guangzhou Feb. 27, that the outbreak was first spotted in China “but the virus may not have originated in China.”

The report was broadcast widely by CGTN, China’s foreign television broadcaster and one of four Chinese media outlets recently designated as foreign missions in the United States by the Trump administration.

In the days that followed, Chinese media outlets stepped up the campaign with indirect suggestions that both the CIA and the U.S. Army were behind the virus. The campaign reached a high point March 12, when Chinese Foreign Ministry deputy spokesman Zhao Lijian highlighted on Twitter the rumors that the U.S. Army brought the coronavirus to China.

“It might be U.S. army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan,” he said in a tweet.

The State Department called in China’s ambassador to the United States, Cui Tiankai, a day later to protest the charge and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo phoned a senior Communist Party official to complain.

On Friday, Mr. Trump then joined the fray and denied the Army had anything to do with the virus erupting in China and pointedly began calling the coronavirus “the Chinese virus,” prompting cries of racism.

Retired Navy Capt. Jim Fanell, a former Pacific Fleet intelligence director and specialist on China, said the Chinese Communist Party propaganda effort has been well coordinated across multiple outlets.

“My daily tracking of posts from [Chinese] press organs and government statements indicates the CCP’s information warfare campaign is now working over-time,” he said. “The volume of articles that specifically attack the U.S. has dramatically increased over the past three months.”

Chinese propaganda outlets have called the president and others who use the term “Chinese virus” or “Wuhan virus” as “racists.”

“The goal is the same: To sow doubt within the American public and discord amongst America’s allies,” he said.

Capt. Fanell urge the U.S. government to challenge the disinformation campaign as Mr. Pompeo did in calling for China’s government to provide original clinical data that was made available to Chinese leaders in December 2019.

“Not for political purposes, but in order for this information to be able to save the lives of Americans and others around the world,” he said.

In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang hit back at the United States for using the term “Chinese virus,” noting that officials at the World Health Organization also have rejected the name.

“The origin of the novel coronavirus is a scientific matter that requires professional and scientific assessment,” Mr. Geng said.

He also insisted that China has been open, transparent and responsible in handling the outbreak and listed discussions between the two governments since January.

“We hope the U.S. side will respect facts and the international consensus, and keep its own house in order rather than slander others and shift responsibility,” Mr. Geng said.

In a tweet Friday night, Mr. Pompeo warned that the disinformation
must be countered.

“We must not permit these efforts to undermine our democracy, our
freedom, and how we’re responding to the Wuhan virus,” he stated.

• Bill Gertz can be reached at bgertz@washingtontimes.com.

Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide