The Chinese government has waged a months-long disinformation campaign to portray itself as the country that defeated the virus, when it attempted to hide it for months.
Here’s China’s playbook:
Silence dissenting voices: The outbreak in Wuhan was first noticed by doctors working on the front lines. They tried to raise the alarm by sharing messages with friends on WeChat, messages that were shared on social media and went viral. But the police detained the doctors — some of whom subsequently died of coronavirus — and told them to stay quiet.
Block information: Once Hubei province had been put into lockdown, the Chinese government didn’t want any negative information getting out. To do this, it employed a range of tactics. One was making citizen journalists disappear after they began publishing videos from inside Wuhan exposing the sheer scale of the crisis. It also ramped up its censorship of social media platforms significantly, meaning even the slightest reference to coronavirus or the government’s response was erased.
Spin up state-run media: As stories of overwhelmed hospitals and mounting death tolls spread around the world, Beijing spun up its massive media operations into full battle mode, with both its Chinese-language and English-language outlets running positive stories about the heroic work being done to counter the outbreak. The campaign included posts on social media, news reports, and articles written by state media journalists but quietly published in other outlets. Beijing is also leveraging deep media ties across Africa to promote its own agenda.
Spread disinformation: Earlier this month, Hua Chunying a spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China, posted a video on Twitter that showed Italians on lockdown clapping in unison and shouting “Thank you, China” as appreciation for the aid Beijing sent to the country. The only problem is that the video was fake, and the applause was in fact for the heroic work being done by Italian medical workers.
Promote conspiracy theories: Earlier this month, Chinese foreign ministry deputy spokesperson Zhao Lijian suggested on Twitter that the coronavirus was manufactured in a U.S. military lab and brought to Wuhan by the U.S. Army who sent 300 service personnel to the World Military Games that took place in the city in October. The unfounded claim was then given more oxygen by official Chinese state media.
Write a book: China has already produced a book on the coronavirus pandemic. “A Battle Against Epidemic: China Combating COVID-19 in 2020” is a compilation of articles from Chinese state media that recount the heroic leadership of President Xi Jinping and the vital role the Communist Party played in combating the virus outbreak. The book is being translated into English, French, Spanish, Russian, and Arabic, with more likely to follow.
Deploy a Twitter army: An investigation by ProPublica found a Twitter army directed by the Chinese government, consisting of fake and stolen accounts — that in the past was used to seed disinformation about the Hong Kong protests — have become “cheerleaders for the government, calling on citizens to unite in support of efforts to fight the epidemic and urging them to “dispel online rumors.”
Gin up more conspiracy theories: China’s state-run media last week suggested the virus may have originated in Italy, after Giuseppe Remuzzi, director of the Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research in Milan, told NPR that doctors there had noticed “very strange pneumonias” as early as November last year. Remuzzi clarified that all he meant was that it’s possible the virus had spread to Europe sooner than we thought, but the Chinese state media failed to mention those comments.
Start donating stuff: One of the key aspects of China’s efforts to change how the world views its role in the coronavirus outbreak is by sending donations of testing kits, masks and other essential supplies around the world. Leading this effort is Alibaba-founder Jack Ma, whose foundation has sent supplies to Iran, Europe, Africa, and even the U.S.
No conspiracy theory is too wild: China’s latest claims that a U.S. cyclist, who was part of the Military Games team, is coronavirus patient zero. It’s source for such a claim? A U.S. conspiracy theorist who is attempting to capitalize on the pandemic to boost his social media profile.
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Categories: Wuhan Coronavirus