Both China and the US stumbled badly in their initial responses to the coronavirus pandemic. But the Chinese government seems to have brought things under control and is now carrying out a propaganda blitz to make people forget their early denial and ignoring of the scale of the problem and is now trying to show the world that they are the ones to turn to for expertise and help in dealing with the pandemic.
Yet now that the situation in China appears to have stabilized, the country is positioning itself at the head of the global response to Covid-19, adopting a unique leadership position that may alter global power relations, despite the biggest shock to its industrial output and economy in recent history and its coverup in Wuhan at the beginning of the crisis.
Western Europe and the U.S. are struggling under the weight of the crisis, with cases rising exponentially every day and higher death rates in Italy than anywhere else. China’s private and public sectors are filling in gaps in equipment where other states are failing, although the spread of the disease is such that demand for those materials might quickly outpace China’s supply. The government and Jack Ma, a Chinese billionaire and co-founder of the Alibaba Group, have already sent doctors and medical supplies to France, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Iran, Iraq, the Philippines, and the United States. Chinese citizens living abroad are flying home in large numbers to avoid catastrophic health failures elsewhere. In Massachusetts, a Chinese woman tried and failed to be tested three times for Covid-19 before flying back home to be tested and treated.
“The Chinese government has been trying to project Chinese state power beyond its borders and establish China as a global leader, not dissimilar to what the U.S. government has been doing for the better part of a century, and the distribution of medical aid is part of this mission,” said Dr. Yangyang Cheng, a postdoctoral research associate at Cornell University who writes the science and China column for SupChina.
Meanwhile, Trump’s strategy seems to be to boast about non-existent accomplishments, make promises that cannot be kept, and badmouth China. In opening the daily press conference on coronavirus developments yesterday, Trump once again immediately referred to it as ‘the China virus’. A news photographer even captured the notes he was reading from where ‘corona’ was crossed out with a marker and replaced with ‘Chinese’, showing how determined he is to racialize this crisis.
Close up of President @realDonaldTrump notes is seen where he crossed out "Corona" and replaced it with "Chinese" Virus as he speaks with his coronavirus task force today at the White House. #trump #trumpnotes pic.twitter.com/kVw9yrPPeJ
— Jabin Botsford (@jabinbotsford) March 19, 2020
Robert Mackey writes that under the guise of giving updates on the government’s actions, Trump is using these press conferences as a substitute for the rallies that used to be his vehicle for rousing his base with his racism and xenophobia. He is being aided by right-wing sycophants who have been given press credentials so that they can lob softball questions to him. He then uses them to reinforce his racist message.
DEPRIVED OF RALLIES, Donald Trump has turned the daily White House briefings on the novel coronavirus pandemic sharply political in recent days, seizing the podium from health experts to air grievances, make false promises about drug treatments, and rile up his base.
On Thursday, he was aided in this effort by a bizarre question from Chanel Rion, a Republican political operative who has been granted a White House press pass to represent One America News, a far-right cable channel dedicated to praising Trump.
When the president chose Rion to ask the final question of the briefing, he made it clear that he was expecting a softball, commenting, “OAN. Very good. Thank you very much. They treat me very nicely.”
Rion, who recently accompanied the president’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, to Ukraine to publicize conspiracy theories about former Vice President Joe Biden, first asked Trump if he considered the term “Chinese food” to be racist. When he said that he did not, she asked if the president agreed with her assessment that “major left-wing news media, even in this room, have teamed up with Chinese Communist Party narratives” by asking if Trump had incited a racist backlash by labelling the pathogen “the Chinese virus.”
“Is it alarming,” Rion continued, “that major media players, just to oppose you, are consistently siding with foreign state propaganda, Islamic radicals, and Latin gangs and cartels — and they work right here at the White House with direct access to you and your team?”
As some reporters have suggested, news outlets should stop carrying these press conferences live because Trump is clearly using them as a substitute for his rallies in order to mislead and propagandize. Instead they should just report after the conferences on what the health professionals said because that is the only thing of value that emerges from them but it gets drowned in the rubbish spewing out of Trump.
James Fallows, a journalist who once worked in the White House as President Jimmy Carter’s chief speechwriter, agreed with Norris. “Yes. And cable outlets should stop covering them live,” he wrote. “They’re actively *lowering* level of public knowledge by doing so — and repeating the mistake they made [with] wall-to-wall coverage of rallies in 2015 and 2016.” Without live coverage, Fallows added, “Trump will stop showing up; scientists can speak.”
But the news media love their ratings and I cannot see them making this kind of responsible decision.