The US is badly losing the coronavirus propaganda war to China

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.

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.


  1. aquietvoice says

    This shouldn’t annoy me. This is exactly what I expect of each of the groups involved.
    Nothing here is the slightest bit unusual, and I don’t usually get steamed up about this stuff.

    But for the love of all that’s good, every single thing you referred to in your entire post licks my brain in the wrong way.
    It took me a while to really work out why, but I think I get it: it’s because it makes perfect sense to put everything here together as a single narrative.

    Don’t take me the wrong way -- your narrative and links between sections are entirely correct… it’s just that they shouldn’t be. In any sane world, your post would be ten or so unrelated sections -- not just the start and end, but even Chinese government wants their denial forgotten/Jack Ma, Chinese Billionaire/ long term international power projection/trump incites racism domestically/is “chinese food” racist?/”the media sides with Latin gangs and cartels”/trump uses rallies for emotional needs/do live broadcasts of public leaders reduce the availability of information?

    At most, two of three of those should be connected. I hate that they all are. I seriously hate how you were able to have about ten unspoken steps every transition and we all follow because we know the corrupt, awful, stupid chain of contexts each time, know them so well they have seeped into our bones.

  2. jrkrideau says

    China ….is now carrying out a propaganda blitz to make people forget their early denial …

    Duh, what early denial? China notified the World Health Organization of the existence of a suspicious new virus on 31 Dec 2019 which, BTW, was one day after Dr Li Wenliang’s wechat message. By 07 January China had identified what is now called SARS-CoV-2.

    It was such a successful coverup that the Public Health Agency of Canada did not activate the Emergency Operation Centre to support Canada’s response to COVID-19 until January 15, 2020.

    By 23 Jan 2020, Wuhan and surrounding areas were in quarantine—something widely covered in the world media.

    It looks like in the first one or two weeks the local government and party officials may have bungled the response (or were scapegoated) but rather quickly:

    Upon the detection of a cluster of pneumonia cases of unknown etiology in Wuhan, the CPC Central Committee and the State Council launched the national emergency response. A
    Central Leadership Group for Epidemic Response and the Joint Prevention and Control Mechanism of the State Council were established. General Secretary Xi Jinping personally directed and deployed the prevention and control work and requested that the prevention and control of the COVID-19 outbreak be the top priority of government at all levels. Prime Minister Li Keqiang headed the Central Leading Group for Epidemic Response and went to Wuhan to inspect and coordinate the prevention and control work of relevant departments and provinces (autonomous regions and municipalities) across the country. Vice Premier Sun Chunlan, who has been working on the frontlines in Wuhan, has led and coordinated the frontline prevention and control of the outbreak.

    Report of the WHO-China Joint Mission on Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
    This is clearly exaggerated in terms of the time of response unless the Wuhan and Hubei officials suppressed the seriousness of the epidemic but it did happen rather quickly. This, btw, was reported in the international media.

    If this is early denial and ignoring of the scale of the problem, I would love to see a full-blown emergency response.

    Taiwan took the Dec 31 warning to heart and started screening passengers on incoming flights almost immediately (the same day?).

    China may have stumbled slightly but in the early days they knew nothing except that they had a novel corona virus and a few (27 in 31 Dec 2019?) Covid-19 cases.

    The USA, and a lot of other countries, stumbled, fell face down and are now trying to at least struggle to their knees.

    And to refer to your headline
    The US is badly losing the coronavirus propaganda war to China
    there really in not much of a war to lose unless we are talking within the USA.

    China is sending people and supplies to Serbia / Chinese medics arrive in Serbia to fight COVID-19. China is sending / people and supplies to Italy.

    Oh and yes, / Coronavirus: Russian aircraft carrying experts, Covid-19 supplies depart for Italy.

    Conversely Air Force moves 500K coronavirus test swabs from Italy to US.

  3. springa73 says

    I don’t think that Trump much cares about how the US looks bad internationally -- he never has before. He mainly cares about shaping a narrative for his supporters, which is that this is a “foreign virus” sent into the US from China and Europe and more proof that Americans shouldn’t trust foreigners/immigrants.

  4. jrkrideau says

    @ 3 springa73
    I don’t think that Trump much cares about how the US looks bad internationally
    Oh I agree, the thing is that the USA is burning up any goodwill that it still has internationally and probably is crippling itself on the world stage. I am thinking long term not just for while the Orange One is in office.

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