Opinion | How the fake Chinese news machine rewrites the history of Covid-19, even as the pandemic unfolds

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Realizing that he was in sight not only to rule the nation that had unleashed the deadly virus on the world, but also to have ignored, concealed and denied its spread, the Chinese Communist Party went into damage control mode . This included suggesting that the United States was responsible for the virus.

Chinese state media regularly tweet propaganda and what many describe as “fake news.” Global Times has 1.7 million Twitter followers; China Xinhua News, 12.6 million; People’s Daily7.1 million; China Daily, 4.3 million; and China Global Television Network (CGTN), 14 million.

Zhao Lijian, spokesman and deputy director general of the foreign ministry’s information department, had 287,000 subscribers when he tweeted a link to a plot website alleging that the United States was responsible for the virus. (The ministry’s spokesperson, Hua Chunying, had 146,700 followers; the ministry’s spokesperson account, used by Geng Shuang, had 61,000; and Hu Xijin, editor of Global Times, numbered 175,000.)

With the outbreak of an epidemic, one of the first jobs of scientists and doctors, even if they are fighting to save lives, is to identify its source. This is essential in finding drugs to fight a virus and a vaccine to prevent its spread.

On January 24, an article written jointly by 29 Chinese doctors and scientists was published in The Lancet, one of the leading medical journals in the world. The authors shared their results of a study of patients suspected of having been infected with 2019-nCoV and admitted to a hospital in Wuhan. The report said that as of 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 results 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 has been repeated often by the Chinese authorities and widely published in the world media. the Lancet The article gave scientific relevance to this story.

Then, on February 19, another study – this time published on ChinaXiv.org, an open filing and distribution website used by scientific researchers – suggested that the market was probably not at zero for the virus, but rather that it had been “imported” from outside.

The study was carried out by a team of scientists from several institutions: Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden of the Chinese Academy of Sciences; Agricultural University of South China; and the Chinese Brain Research Institute. It was revised on February 21. Neither version of the study suggested that Covid-19 came from outside of China.

But the fake news machine would get to work.

February 23, the People’s DailyEnglish-language site was reprinted on February 22 Global Times article titled, “Japanese TV Report Sparks Speculation in China that Covid-19 May Be From the United States”. The original Global Times article, which is no longer available online, started: “A report from a Japanese TV station suspects that some of the 14,000 Americans died from the flu [sic] contracted coronavirus went viral on Chinese social media, fueling fears and speculation in China that the new coronavirus could come from the United States

“The report, by TV Asahi Corporation of Japan, suggested that the US government may not have understood how endemic the virus was [sic] on American soil. ”

The article continued: “History has sparked various conspiracy theories about [sic] Chinese cyberspace.

“The World Military Games were held in Wuhan in October. “Perhaps the US delegates brought the coronavirus to Wuhan, and a mutation has occurred in the virus, making it more deadly and contagious, and causing a widespread epidemic this year,” said a user on Weibo, a site. Chinese on Twitter.

” [An] Professor of international relations at Fudan University in Shanghai, noted that global virologists are working to track the origin of the virus, including intelligence agencies. Internet users are encouraged to actively participate in discussions, but preferably [sic] rationally. ”

The original Global Times This article appears to have been replaced by an article on the denial of the TV Asahi report by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

On March 4, People’s Daily the reprint of this article served as the basis for an article published on the GlobalResearch.ca conspiracy website, titled “Chinese Coronavirus: A Shocking Update.” Is the virus originally from the United States? It was the first of two articles on the website that would lead to Zhao’s tweet nine days later, suggesting that the US military had brought the virus to Wuhan.

March 4 article begins: “Western media quickly took the floor and presented the official account of the new coronavirus epidemic that appeared to have started in China, claiming that it came from animals in a wet market in Wuhan . “

This omits a few highlights: that the state-controlled media also “exposed the official account”; that the journalists had received this account from the Chinese government; and that in the early days of the epidemic, the majority of the evidence, including the Lancet article by 29 Chinese doctors pointing to the Wuhan market.

The Global Research article continues: “In fact, the origin was long unknown, but it now seems likely, according to Chinese and Japanese reports, that the virus originated elsewhere, in several places, but did not start to spread. spread widely only after being introduced into the market.

“Specifically, it appears that the virus is not from China and, according to reports in Japanese and other media, may have originated in the United States.”

The article then has a swelling subtitle “may have originated in the United States” in “Chinese researchers conclude that the virus originates outside of China”. Below, he cites two reports – an article from February 22 Global Times and a CGTN article from February 23 – both on the ChinaXiv study, which did not suggest the virus originated from outside of China.

But Global Research wanted readers to draw the conclusion, which created points to link: “The Chinese medical authorities – and” intelligence agencies “- then did a quick and extensive search for the origin of the virus, collecting nearly 100 genome samples from 12 different countries on 4 continents, identifying all varieties and mutations. During this research, they determined that the virus epidemic started 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 start in China but was introduced there from outside. “

It was do not the “conclusion” of the scientists who published their research on ChinaXiv.

Then, citing a February 27 story from Xinhuanet, Global Research invokes a Chinese national hero, Zhong Nanshan, who led the fight to contain severe acute respiratory syndrome in 2003. “China’s leading respiratory specialist Zhong Nanshan said on 27 January… ”Although the Covid -19 was first discovered in China, that does not mean that it came from China. “

Global Research translates this for its readers: “But it’s Chinese for” he is from another place, in another country “. “

Zhong did not say that. Neither did Xinhuanet. And the “Japanese researchers” to which Global Research refers are never identified. The only reference to a Japanese source is: “In February 2020, the Japanese Asahi report (print and television) claimed that the coronavirus came from the United States, not from China …”

Global Research does not offer any link to Asahi, only a link to 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 connection.
An online search for “Asahi news coronavirus from the United States” from February 1 to 29 reveals no link to such an Asahi article. There is also no search on the Asahi news site, which returns 688 articles containing the word “coronavirus” until March 4. But not this one.

Global Research also cites the quote from Fudan University in Global Times: ” [The professor] said global virologists “including intelligence agencies” are tracking the origin of the virus. Equally interesting, the Chinese government hasn’t shut the door on this. The report said: “Internet users are encouraged to participate actively in the discussions, but preferably rationally. “

“In China, it is significant. If the reports were garbage, the government would make it clear and tell people not to spread false rumors. “

The final piece of “evidence” in the March 4 article from Global Research is titled “Taiwan Virologist Suggestions the Coronavirus Originated in the US”, and includes an embedded video from a Taiwan TV show, identified as This! Is not newsand a screenshot of a man with a pointer giving a colorful lecture on the origins of the virus. “The man in the video is a great virologist and pharmacologist who has done a long and detailed search for the source of the virus,” said the article.

Except that the man in the video – whom the report doesn’t name – is not a virologist at all. He is a politician from the new pro-Beijing party and a member of the Taipei City Council who, before entering full-time politics in 2002, was a professor of pharmacology.

The clip opens with an introduction by a crew member, who talks about China and Russia and Georgian defectors carrying American secrets of biological warfare, as well as mosquitoes and bats developed by the United States for evil purposes. As he speaks, purple characters the size of a tabloid scroll down the screen, punctuated with question marks and exclamation marks, and the only English acronym that all conspiracy theorists around the world know : “CIA!”

Cap performance is an analysis of 1981 supposed to have been carried out by the American army which showed the attraction of the “entomological war” for the American soldiers and the American taxpayers: 50% of a city of 1.2 million d ‘residents could be wiped out cost per corpse of 29 cents.

Then the “man in the video” notes that, while the man with the crew cut had spoken in terms of cold war style geopolitics where everyone fears and hates everyone, he is there only to discuss science. Then he waves a pointer with a yellow plastic index finger at its end, indicating diagrams of multicolored circles. As the most complex diagram arrives on the screen, it reassures the hostess of the show, “The next slide will make it very clear. “

This was “expert evidence” from Global Research in Taiwan. Intrepid, the article continued: “The Taiwanese doctor then said that the virus epidemic had started earlier than expected, saying:” We have to watch in September 2019 “.

“He reported the case in September 2019 where some Japanese people went to Hawaii and returned home infected, people who had never been to China. It was two months before the infections in China and just after the sudden and complete closure of the CDC of the Fort Detrick bio-weapons laboratory, claiming that the facilities were insufficient to prevent the loss of pathogens. “

The introduction of the US military’s Fort Detrick bio-weapons lab is a solid piece of the art of conspiracy theory. “Man in video” didn’t mention Fort Detrick – Global Research did, in an apparent attempt to link Japanese Taiwanese “virologist” travelers who traveled to Hawaii in September to a weapons laboratory Army Biologicals.

The Fort Detrick facility was not “suddenly and completely shut down” – it ceased research in mid-July (not September). And how one of the most contagious viruses in history has traveled from Maryland to Hawaii over a period of six to eight weeks, leaving no record of illness or death, is not examined by Global Research.

For good measure, the article ends by listing six outbreaks in 2018, 2019 and 2020 of “pandemics” that “sickened” and “killed” people, chickens and pigs in China. Each includes notes such as “China must buy American agricultural products”, suggesting that in the course of the trade war, the United States has been unleashing pathogens in mainland China for more than two years so that China can buy products Americans.

In summary, the March 4 article invokes the mainland hero Zhong, the “Japanese” and the “Taiwanese” – two American allies without reason to lie – and adds the “CIA” and an American laboratory for research on biological weapons for spices. All independent and none really confirming the others by appearing to approach. Perhaps the most impressive of all, the author produced nearly 2,000 words that disparage America, and none of them was “Trump.”

On March 5, without citing the March 4 article from Global Research or any of the underlying Chinese media articles, Zhao tweeted, “Confirmed cases of # COVID19 were discovered for the first time in China, but its origin is not necessarily in China. We are still tracing the origin. “

On March 11, Global Research published a follow-up: “COVID-19: Additional proof that the virus originated in the United States”.

The story begins by recapping the article from March 4, upgrading Japanese Asahi broadcasters never found and “the man in the video” to “Japanese and Taiwanese epidemiologists and pharmacologists [who] have determined that the new coronavirus may originate in the United States. ” “The man in the video” was now also a “doctor” and a “scientist”.

Recalling its attempt to place the first Covid-19 case in the United States, Global Research reiterates: “Just before that, the CDC completely closed the main biological laboratory of the American army in Fort Detrick, Maryland, due to ‘an absence of guarantees against the escape of pathogens, by giving a complete order to “cease and desist” to the soldiers “.

As proof, Global Research had posted a screenshot of an August 5 New york times title, “Research on deadly germs is stopped at the army laboratory for security reasons; Problems with the disposal of hazardous materials have led the government to suspend research at the main military bio-defense center. “

In fact, the New york times the article did not state that the center had been “completely closed”. He reported that 900 people worked at the facility and, “Although many projects are pending, [a facility spokeswoman] scientists and other employees continue to work, but not on certain agents. ” Both the New york times and a local newspaper that first reported stopping the research noted that no pathogens had escaped the establishment.

The Global Research story of March 11 continues: “We also infected Japanese citizens in September 2019, in Hawaii, people who had never been to China, these infections occurring on American soil long before the Wuhan epidemic but shortly after locking in Fort Detrick.

“Then, on Chinese social networks, another article appeared, aware of the above but presenting more details. He said in part that five “foreign” athletes or other personnel visiting Wuhan for the World Military Games (October 18-27, 2019) were hospitalized in Wuhan for an unknown infection. “

This other article is a blog on Chinese social networks, identified only by a QR code, which started: “Because there have been so many American dogs recently, for security reasons on my behalf, [I must write] “Some countries” or “country M” [when referring to America]. ”

The blog entry, which appeared to be a work in progress and is no longer online, recycled much of the March 4 article from Global Research, adding screenshots of local news about military personnel American in Wuhan for the October military games that were hospitalized.

According to Global Research: “The article explains more clearly that the Wuhan version of the virus could only have come from the United States because it is what they call a” branch “that could not have been created first. because it would have no “seed”. It should have been a new variety from the original “trunk”, and this trunk only exists in the United States. “

And There you go. An article on “Chinese social media” on “” foreign “athletes or other personnel visiting Wuhan for the World Military Games” in October concluded the plot. The world of fake news had rewritten the origin of Covid-19: it was not due to a catastrophic natural event somewhere in or around Wuhan, as world scientists believed, but to a biological weapon brought to Wuhan by the US military.

At the end of its March 11 article, Global Research returned in January, citing two articles in Science magazine for more “evidence” of his plot – neither of which indicates the origin of the virus was, as Global Research says, “Not in Wuhan” – tying a bow around the Zhao package would soon pass to hundreds of thousands of people, who pass it on to hundreds of millions.

On the morning of March 13, Zhao tweeted links to Global Research articles: “This article is very important to all of us. Please read it and retweet it. COVID-19: Additional evidence that the virus originated in the United States. It would be useful to read this previous article for the background: Chinese Coronavirus: a shocking update. Has the virus… “

Followed by: “Take a few minutes to read another article. It’s so amazing that it changed a lot of the things I believed in. Please retweet to let more people know. Chinese coronavirus: a shocking update. Is the virus originally from the United States? – Global Research: Western media quickly presented the official account of the COVID-19 epidemic which seemed to have started in China … “

At the end of the afternoon, the South China Morning Post reported that the subject of the hashtag “Zhao Lijian sent five consecutive tweets interviewing the United States” had been viewed more than 4.7 million times on Weibo. Twelve hours later, New York Time reported that it had been seen more than 160 million times.

Zhao’s Twitter followers increased from 287,000 to more than 500,000. Media around the world posted articles on his tweets, putting them in front of millions of additional readers, most of whom would never have seen them on Twitter or Weibo. The false news about viruses had gone viral.

In October, the Select Senate Intelligence Committee noted in the first line of its report on Russia’s use of social media to meddle in the 2016 presidential election, that “the information war [is] designed to spread disinformation and societal division ”. Zhao’s tweets accomplished both. The misinformation was obvious. Critical thinking pending, many will believe that the US military has planted Covid-19 in Wuhan; even more will want it to be true.

When President Donald Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and others began to fight back by loudly calling Covid-19 “the Chinese virus,” social division in the United States increased, if possible. The media has accused Trump of being racist and xenophobic, and of further encouraging Chinese-Americans. That only made Trump say it louder and more often.

One wonders how long Washington will continue to wage the information war against Beijing with one arm tied behind its back. The Chinese media enjoy the free movement of the United States, including on Twitter. The United States does not have such freedom in China.

Not a few experts in recent weeks have predicted that Covid-19 will end globalization, if not “life as we know it”. This seems unlikely, given the short-term nature of people’s memories and the cost-effectiveness of “life as we know it” for so many people. But given the harms caused by Zhao’s tweets, Beijing’s days on Twitter could be numbered.

Wen En and Wen You provided research and translation assistance.

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