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China can do no right in its response to the coronavirus, according to western media. Even as the epidemic appears to be subsiding, Beijing is being slammed for being simultaneously too authoritarian and too weak.
Even as the Chinese government earns plaudits from the World Health Organization and epidemiology experts for its handling of the epidemic, Western media haven’t let up on their criticism. Coronavirus has given them license to unleash every stereotype and wild speculation they’ve ever had about life in China, and they aren’t about to let go of that opportunity. Accordingly, nothing Beijing does — or doesn’t do — will be enough for the armchair critics of the American press.
CNBC has compared the government’s response to coronavirus to the reaction of Soviet authorities to the 1986 nuclear accident at Chernobyl, citing US financial firm Raymond James. However, the company only wrote that it was “receiving questions on whether or not this will be a ‘Chernobyl-like’ event for China” in their analyst report published February 18. They didn’t openly declare it had been one, though they did suggest that “if the virus becomes a true global pandemic, the actions by the Chinese leadership will come under fire as they no doubt contributed to the spread” (emphasis added).
“Coronavirus should change the way we think about China,” a Washington Post oped (Feb 11) by Richard Haass of the Council on Foreign Relations declared. He blames President Xi Jinping for “replac[ing] capable technocrats with party loyalists,” sniffing that “China’s leaders mostly have themselves to blame” for the loss of “political legitimacy” he insists they are suffering in the eyes of the people.
Haass invokes Tiananmen Square, because he wouldn’t be a western political thought-leader if he didn’t, warning that a repeat is imminent “unless authorities get the situation under control and restore economic growth soon.” He then appears to threaten Beijing with a popular uprising complete with “millions of citizens demanding basic competence,” noting that “desperate people can do desperate things.”
Such a warning from the CFR president coming so soon after the Hong Kong riots, in which the US had a visible hand, is not to be taken lightly, especially when Haass concludes by advising the US government to “plan for possible futures in which China’s rise is interrupted.” Translation: Start making money for Uncle Sam again or you’re toast.
Everything is China’s fault
Wired’s approach to the steadily improving numbers coming out of China was to warn against believing any statistics Beijing published, because “authoritarian countries” always lie about their socioeconomic problems (March 2). Once again invoking Chernobyl, the article cited an Economist study purporting to “prove” that “diseases like Covid-19 are deadlier in non-democracies” and called for extra scrutiny for health data emanating from China, because “authoritarian rulers do not permit a free press or watchdog organizations.”
The Economist’s decision to kick China when it’s down with such an obviously ideologically-motivated “study” is cynical even for the Beijing-bashing climate that has grown up around coronavirus, never mind that attempting to compare vastly different “authoritarian” and “democratic” countries across 40 years of epidemics throws up far too many variables to yield results science might take seriously. Meanwhile, any US or UK outlet slamming China for “persecuting perceived critics,” as both publications do, reeks of hypocrisy given that the US and UK are both knee-deep in the internationally-condemned show trial of Wikileaks publisher Julian Assange for publishing documents exposing Washington’s war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The New York Post buried a reasonable critique of globalism in heaps of anti-China propaganda (Feb 29), blaming Beijing for the economic catastrophe that arrived on US shores on the heels of the epidemic. Admitting that depending on the “tyrannical regime” for vital consumer goods, from auto parts to the face masks that have become a ubiquitous visual reminder of the coronavirus, had dramatically upset the global economy, it proceeded to place all of the blame on China instead of “the West” for outsourcing its industrial base there in the first place. The Chinese government — an “authoritarian antique” — is to blame for not taking a cue from the West back in the 1990s and adopting “a more open society and government,” the Post huffed paternalistically, sounding for all the world like a 16th century Catholic missionary returning home to Spain to tell his countrymen about a tribe of far-off natives who prefer their traditional ways to the subjugation inflicted upon them by the conquistadores.
It’s near-on impossible to find a western media outlet willing to merely communicate the praise the WHO and various epidemiologists and virologists have laid at Beijing’s door without editorializing to make it clear that they — the reporter — disapprove. Even in an article acknowledging that China’s heavy-handed response saved lives (Feb 18), the New York Times couldn’t help but throw shade on China for changing diagnosis criteria (even though it complained the previous criteria were underreporting the disease).
Off the rails
Perhaps running out of Mao and Tiananmen references, some outlets reached right beyond China’s borders in an effort to find problems with the government’s handling of the crisis, blaming Beijing for events far outside their domain. The Times appeared to blame China for unscientific remedies pushed by leaders in unrelated southeast Asian countries, lumping Indonesia, Myanmar, and Cambodia under the heading of “where China holds sway.”
Far from being under the thumb of China, however, Indonesia made the decision to bar all visitors from mainland China who had been there for over two weeks, while hospital authorities in Myanmar cracked jokes at Beijing’s expense (“don’t be so afraid of the coronavirus. It won’t last long because ‘made in China’”). Such irreverent treatment would seem to show the exact opposite of the Times’ implied thesis that these countries’ closeness to China had muted their response to the epidemic, but Beijing-bashing supersedes fact-checking, as the past two months have made abundantly clear.
A similar pattern seems to be unfolding regarding coverage of the coronavirus in Iran, where the epidemic is particularly virulent — exacerbated, no doubt, by years of crippling US sanctions that have blocked much-needed medicines and medical supplies from entering the country despite being ordered to make an exception for humanitarian aid.