I already expressed in a previous article, related to the repercussions of the pandemic on Taiwan, how most Taiwanese media outlets are among those that still (together with the far-right racist press in the US and the gang of Donald Trump) commonly name the pandemic “Wuhan coronavirus”[1] or, most commonly, “Wuhan pneumonia”[2] (武漢肺炎), instead of just COVID-19. This meditated discursive operation should come as no surprise, since the Taiwan Ministry of Health and Welfare’s website[3] or the Central Epidemic Command Center still commonly identifies officially the virus as “Wuhan Pneumonia”[4], and even Taiwanese Premier, Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌), defended calling it that way[5], showcasing how the government in power equally supports this denomination. The use of language in regards of how to call the virus should not be taken naively. There is no doubt that some sectors in Taiwan celebrate and look to benefit from the anti-China sentiments spreading around the world as China is blamed for the pandemic—as source, of course, but even as conscious promoter. This stance can be understood as a short-term tactic to benefit diplomatically from the exemplary pandemic management of Taiwan, by highlighting it in contrast to the negative image of China. Such craving to take advantage of the situation in order to promote the image of Taiwan would certainly be legitimate. However, digging deeper, it is also a particular political discourse that displays loyalty to selected allies and contribute its grain of sand to the discursive articulation of China as the common global enemy.

 

As soon as one calmly analyzes the data and facts of the pandemic there is little doubt that the anti-Chinese narrative prevailing around the world (except within China, where, as researchers from the Canadian York University have shown, Chinese citizens “hold very high levels of satisfaction with the performance of their national government during the pandemic ”, with over 80% of popular support of the national government response[6]. A different survey to citizens of 23 countries by Blackbox Research, an independent research-centred agency in Singapore, placed the CCP as the government most supported by its nationals, with 85% of support—interestingly, Taiwanese government only enjoyed a 50% of support[7]) is not the result of a cold impartial analysis, but a consequence of the monopoly of public opinion through press and cultural hegemony of the neoliberal propaganda apparatus, lead by the United States. As Chomsky contends, power shapes “the ideological framework that dominates perception, interpretation, discussion, choice of action…” including in free societies[8]. The discursive machinery of the neoliberal hegemony has defined a playing field where everything China does is evil and everything China says becomes a lie. This antagonistic logic that has been clearly articulated during the COVID-19 deserves an in-depth analysis by those who, accepting the risk of going against the tide, resist the performative power of Western hegemonic language—following the light shed by Kemplerer, in line with other articles within this research project.

 

Only by making these chains of equivalence present can it be explained that the levels of distrust towards China have reached record levels among citizens who, in their vast majority, have not had any contact with China or with Chinese citizens except for what the media and political discourses have installed in their collective imagination. As Taiwan News gladly noticed, “as the coronavirus continues to rage across the globe, with the odd exception of China, where local infections have been allegedly brought down to ‘zero’, the perception by outsiders of the world’s most populous country has rapidly deteriorated” [9]. Of course, the word “allegedly” is always necessary whenever some information about China is positive, but not when negative speculations are suggested about a diversity of topics, ranging from the situation of the Uyghur in Xinjiang to the origins of the pandemic, as we will see below. This news cited a Pew Research Center poll[10] done between June and August 2020, which showed how negative views of China have soared and reached historical highs in recent years across many advanced economies, a rise that comes “amid widespread criticism over how China has handled the coronavirus pandemic”, with a median of 61% saying that China had done a bad job.

 

Since the pandemic emerged, a discursive battle, understood in terms of the struggle for hegemony, has developed around the origin of the pandemic, the role of the CCP, or the repercussions that it would have in China. In this article I aspire to analyze, from a non-mainstream perspective, these approaches of the anti-China narrative. I seek to look at some events that occurred during the pandemic and the ambiguous interpretations that have been made of them by the hegemonic apparatuses with the result (often the aim) of establishing the racist notion of the “Chinese Virus” and, by an act of osmosis, articulating China as a danger for the “free world”: the global enemy.

 

I would like to begin by disassembling how the pandemic was going to mean China’s Chernobyl. At the beginning of the pandemic, when it was virtually only affecting China and the death toll had gone over 1,100 Chinese citizens, Western media such as the Washington Post[11] or the Financial Times[12] started calling the outbreak “China’s Chernobyl”. The Diplomat[13], by the beginning of March, when the pandemic was still largely limited to China, insisted that despite there were “plenty of differences”, the similarities between the USSR and Chinese governments should make Xi worry that the pandemic could “represent a Chernobyl-like historic turning point for the Chinese leader ship”. Others, like Asia Times, still kept this metaphor, as a premonition that the pandemic would mean the beginning of the end of the CCP, as far as the end of April[14].

Taipei Times Editorial Cartoon, 22 May 2020

Taipei Times Editorial Cartoon, 22 May 2020

Beyond questioning whether this event could have meant a real turning point for the existence of the CCP in the event that it had not been able to stop the pandemic in a matter of weeks (it could have potentially been so), we can draw two conclusions regarding this historical comparison. The first one is that these initial reports contributed to the construction of an idea: that the Chinese government is ineffective and inferior to the hegemonic model defended by the US and its allies. Because of this, in part, it can be understood why the opinion regarding how the CCP tackled the pandemic is so negative outside of China, despite the fact that when the Pew’s survey was carried out, in the summer of 2020, the pandemic had already been completely halted in the Asian country. The second issue is that the sort of comparison linking pandemic and Chernobyl—or whatever its equivalent is for non-communist countries—has been mostly absent when it was time to describe the inability of the “free world” to stop the pandemic, not only in its first wave but also the second one. Although some voices have equated the COVID-19 crisis to a moment of Gramscian interregnum—as an structural crisis in which a battle for hegemony takes place and the global neoliberal elites no longer lead but only dominate—the same sources that suggested the end of the CCP because of its ineptitude and disrespect for its own citizens, are not suggesting now parallel statements with the strength that should be expected in light of the horrific handling of the pandemic by most countries.

 

China’s Chernobyl was a supremacist exaggeration, the classic stereotyped and impulsive analysis of those mercenaries eager to disdain China, the very same that remember Tiananmen and 1989 on every occasion as a valid historical analogy of whatever is happening in China today[16]. The way things turned out, the Chernobyl comparison could be understood as a sheer irony of fate, an innocent mistake that needs no further thought, if it were not for the fact that it was precisely this position of racist and/or ideological supremacy what has contributed for the rest of the world not to take seriously enough the pandemic in the first place, hindering the appropriate decisions in the face of the real dangers of the foreign virus, the communist virus. At the top of the list of those who fell victim to their own prejudices we should place many “Western countries”, where the pandemic was disparaged as something far-off, related to undeveloped countries or, since what was going on was the equivalent to a Chernobyl, to communist and totalitarian countries.

 

The US administration of Donald Trump is the most suited to exemplify the stupidity of some actors in regard to this metaphor. Against all odds, the National Security Adviser, Robert O’Brien, top White House official, still kept defending the Chernobyl comparison as far as the month of May, mentioning that “the cover-up that they [the CCP] did of the virus is going to go down in history, along with Chernobyl”[17]. At a time when the US accounted more than 100,000 deaths by COVID-19, Trump and his entourage kept depicting an alternative reality where the problem was not the US but China. The most reprehensible aspect of these acts of hypocrisy (or historical ignorance) is that, legitimized by the prevailing anti-China narrative, the news of the supposed Chinese Chernobyl was not disseminated with lament but with joy, delighting in other people’s misfortunes—“evil people”, the dehumanized “Other”. As such, reading comments on news online by that time was a heartbreaking example of dehumanisation and racism against China and the Chinese people.

Taipei Times Editorial Cartoon, 23 March 2020

Taipei Times Editorial Cartoon, 23 March 2020

Continuing with the analysis, the pandemic was portrayed as an example of how liberal democracy and freedom of press were more suited than authoritarian states to act efficiently at times of emergency. Again, a discursive strategy to shore up the hegemony of neoliberal democracy as the universal supreme good towards which everyone must wish to converge. By the end of February, The Diplomat mentioned how “Taiwan’s example proves that the free flow of information is the best treatment for the coronavirus outbreak”[18]. Others have insisted on how “liberal democracies handle these things better”[19] or that “democracies are better at managing crises”[20]. Similarly, The New York Times stated that the pandemic showed “China’s governance failure”[21], criticizing the Chinese political system and suggesting that citizens were starting to question it. These sorts of simplistic and prejudiced analysis were commonplace before the outbreaks of the pandemic severely affected liberal-democratic countries. Afterwards, when reality demonstrated that the cliché did not work like anti-China critiques would have desired, Taiwan persisted as the excuse of choice for those radicals defending a trembling position: “Taiwan’s democratic success belies Xi Jinping’s assertion that China’s techno-authoritarian model is superior”[22]. Freedom House, a US “think tank” stated in a tweet that “You don’t need dictatorship to fight COVID-19. It is useful only for oppression”, while comparing the data from Taiwan, New Zealand and South Korea with that of China, propagandistically adding the purported one million Muslims in “interment camps”[23].

 

While this discursive operation of propaganda faced its first contradictions, leading experts on epidemics offered more measured and realistic accounts, oblivious to anti-China propaganda and Manichean narratives. For instance, Richard Horton, editor in chief of the medical journal The Lancet, stated that:

 

“Despite the uncertainties about what took place in December, Chinese doctors quickly warned their government and their government warned the world. Western democracies failed to listen to those warnings. There are certainly questions for China to answer, but to blame China for this pandemic is to rewrite the history of COVID-19 and to marginalise the failings of western nations”[24].

 

Freedom of the press or democratically-elected governments did not grant in all cases a faster or more accurate response than that of the Chinese government. Moreover, we have to state that not all countries departed from the same situation: whereas China was the first country to face the new virus, without any previous knowledge of its features or alert of its presence, the rest of the world already counted with solid information about its gravity. As explained by Gregory Poland, director of the Vaccine Research Group, China “moved very quickly to stop transmission. Other countries, even though they had much longer to prepare for the arrival of the virus, delayed their response and that meant they lost control”[25]. The rest of the world, including most of Western Europe and the US, had extra time to prepare and act appropriately. The WHO alerted about a “pneumonia of unknown cause”[26] on 5 January, Chinese scientists announced that the cases of pneumonia were caused by a coronavirus on 7 January[27], the genomic sequence of the virus was shared by Chinese scientists on 10 January[28], and the realisation of its severity became public knowledge after the extreme lockdown of China’s seventh most populous city, Wuhan, by 23 January. After “China’s Chernobyl” took place, no one can maintain the excuse that China was hiding the seriousness of this virus.

On the academia we have also seen a few examples of this measured trend. A relevant one is Yuen Yuen Ang’s paper, published on the journal Nature, titled “When COVID-19 meets centralized, personalized power”[29]. For Yuen, “the debate over whether autocracies or democracies are better at fighting epidemics is misguided”, arguing that the CCP has both succeeded and failed at handling the pandemic. Thus, while the Chinese government has been able to deal with the coronavirus with great success, according to her, it “failed to stem the outbreak before it went global”. This being true, it is necessary to emphasize that this failure to prevent the pandemic outbreak is not exclusive to China: many other countries (the vast majority) have failed to tackle the pandemic promptly after facing the first cases in their territory. All countries have faced a first case and a series of initial community transmissions that could have been halted independently of what the CCP did in its country before. Hence, we have to ask ourselves if not stopping a coronavirus with the characteristics of COVID-19 is a failure or is the “normal”, the event to be expected. In other words, had this virus emerged in any other country of this globalised world, would the outbreak had been stopped before going global? If the answer is “no”, or “probably not”, then to assert that the CCP failed becomes an empty accusation. In any case, if we are to criticise the CCP for having “failed to stem the outbreak”, the same critique could be done to any other country that followed China and did not stop the virus in their territory after the first case. For instance, the first positive case in Spain, on 31 January, was said[30] to be a person who had contact with an infected person in Germany: could Spain accuse Germany of having failed to stem the outbreak before it spread to other countries?

 

If China required a certain period of time—as I have shown, the debate is open on whether such period should be considered quick or slow—to act decisively against the virus, it was not exclusively because of its system of government but due to bureaucracy as an essential component of the modern state[31]. This element—bureaucracy as an apparatus that hates and rejects decisions that contravene the usual routines or that seek to speed up decision-making processes, which can lead to mistakes whose price bureaucrats fear to pay—is not exclusive to China, as the cases of countries such as France or Spain, among many others, exemplify[32]. In this sense, the risks inherent in making radical decisions based on mere initial clues, without strong scientific evidence to back them up, prevented the Chinese bureaucrats from taking the radical measures that a virus of these characteristics required early on (I repeat, as it happened in most other countries, with few exceptions). We could speak of fear of being reprimanded by superiors; causing social anger by cancelling or, at least, affecting the Chinese New Year; or provoking unnecessary panic in face of a virus whose severity was still unknown and could perhaps be controlled without requiring major measures. The truth is that, as will be detailed later, at the beginning of January it was not possible to know the severity of this virus and the degree of the necessary measures to stop it, so demanding more from the Chinese authorities than what they did is a judgment a posteriori, playing at being Nostradamus on events that have already happened.

 

While China is one of the very few countries where widespread community transmission has been completely halted without recurring waves (at least, for now), the governments of most other countries, democratic or authoritarian, have been unable to stop the spread of the virus. By this I do not mean that the Chinese system is necessarily always better than liberal democracy when it comes to dealing with emergency situations (although, as Alain Brossat has mentioned in a previous article, we can have the case of despotic governments acting in an enlightened manner in the face of the pandemic, whereas democracies can act in obscurantist or irresponsible ways). On the contrary, what I am trying to do is counteract the abuse of the opposite affirmation, that liberal democracies are always better than other forms of government as if it was a rule coming from heaven and written in stone. If anything, what has been shown to be most vital when facing the pandemic are vigorous and unambiguous decisions putting health above economy and the collaboration of society understood as a responsible community (that is perhaps why the governments of East Asia have been among the most exemplary), regardless of the political system of the country in question. It remains an open question whether countries ruled by the markets have the ability to take strong actions against a pandemic when it damages the economy. This seems the only explanation to the reluctance of many countries when it come to imposing confinements, the half measures with which the lockdowns were designed, and the hurriedness to lift them, which has engendered second waves.

 

The lack of touch with reality of some critics of China’s performance only produces an oppositional reaction on the part of Chinese society, who does not understand the double-standards of those who criticize China despite the fact that other countries have done a significantly worse job due to the mismanagement of their governments and ignoring the advice of scientists. This anti-China narrative further polarizes the way of understanding the world between Chinese and Western citizens. It is often, therefore, not the propaganda of the CCP that installs anti-Western ideas in Chinese society, but the moralistic, incoherent and hypocritical Western critique on China regardless of facts.

Taipei Times Editorial Cartoon, 1 December 2020

Taipei Times Editorial Cartoon, 1 December 2020

We could assess some of the unsustainable accusations done to China and the CCP, particularly those which put the blame on China for hiding information and silencing scientists. For instance, an editorial in Taipei Times mentioned that:

 

“The world has been anticipating a pandemic for many years. That it emerged in China should not be blamed on the CCP given the globalized nature of the world. The CCP’s attempts to cover it up, though, ensured that the worst-case scenario happened”[34].

 

In the same vein, The Economist stated that Chinese officials “failed to report an unknown virus in the central city of Wuhan for several critical weeks, giving COVID-19 time to take hold”[35]. To which point is all this true? The CCP government has been accused of ignoring the first doctors who reported the existence of the new virus, with the case of the doctor Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist who eventually died from COVID-19 on 7 February, being the most relevant case of whistleblowers purportedly curtailed. Let’s see what happened with Li and how it was interpreted within the anti-China narrative.

 

The most frequent account in the Western press is that Li was the “China’s virus whistleblowing doctor”[36], a “hero who told the truth” and “was punished for trying to raise the alarm about coronavirus”[37]. The truth is that doctor Li neither was not the first one to discover anything nor was the first one to alert the system. That very same day, 30 December, Ai Fen, director of the emergency department at Wuhan Central Hospital, affirmed that she shared a diagnostic report of a patient with a pneumonia infection caused by a SARS-like coronavirus, alerting the hospital’s community health service centre and infectious disease control department immediately[38]. Li was among those who shared Ai’s report with others. That very same day, the Medical Administration of Wuhan Municipal Health Committee issued an “urgent notice on the treatment of pneumonia of unknown cause” which was widely disseminated on the Internet and published on ProMED (a program of the International Society for Infectious Diseases)[39]. One day later, 31 December, China informed WHO of the discovery and continued the established protocols[40], while Chinese scientist started to sequence the genome of the virus and research its features.

 

Li was detained by police on 3 January for “spreading false rumours”, and was forced to sign an admission of having breached the law and “seriously disrupted social order”, after he sent messages on a private WeChat group with his medical school classmates alerting about “7 confirmed cases of SARS”. Screenshots of his messages spread on social media and gained attention, reason why the supervision department of his hospital summoned him and blamed him for leaking information. Of course, I do not want to deny the courage of Dr. Li when it comes to jumping on the bureaucratic apparatus to warn about a coronavirus that he considered dangerous: it is a show of social responsibility and courage. However, it would be convenient to ask ourselves some questions detaching ourselves from the romantic halo that permeates the history of this doctor. The first question is: would any hospital in the world accept a doctor sharing relevant information in social media instead of through the proper channels? In reality, Li transmitted a “rumour” that turned out not entirely false: it was not exactly SARS although it was a coronavirus. Had it been true that it was SARS, a disease much less contagious than COVID-19, and extreme measures such as quarantining the whole city of Wuhan would have been equally out of place. SARS was stopped merely by the use of “public health control measures”[41], which is doubtful would have stopped this different coronavirus. If the CCP had let Doctor Li dictate the measures to be taken, he might have suggested the use of masks and social distancing, perhaps the closure of all wet markets in Wuhan, but it is unlikely that more strong measures would have been enacted anyway at that point in time.

 

When Dr. Li passed away, social discontent against the CCP grew and it was forced to mobilize its anti-corruption apparatus to carry out a comprehensive investigation concerning what had happened to Doctor Li. The final report found that “Li had not disrupted public order, and that he was a professional who fought bravely and made sacrifices. However it reportedly maintained that Li had not verified the information before sending it, and it was ‘not consistent with the actual situation at the time’”[42]. Clearly the problem was not that he had talked about a new coronavirus while the CCP wanted to keep it secret, but that he did so outside the system appropriate for information like that one, and without corroboration of his facts. The proper procedures had already been put in place that very same day regardless of what Li did. In other words, Li’s early assumption would not have modified at all the process started earlier that day by the Chinese health authorities, censored or not. The doctor was not expelled, nor locked up in prison, nor fined, only reprimanded by the bureaucratic apparatus for circulating what was only a guessing of an ophthalmologist (not an epidemiologist) that turned out to be partially right.

 

Pro-DPP Control Yuan member Peter Chang (who has a history of antagonism against China and the KMT as he shown in 2011 when he wrote an editorial in Taipei Times blaming then President Ma and China, i.e.: “In his efforts to please China, Ma has sacrificed Taiwanese’s basic human right to medical care and Taiwan’s right to participate in the international community”, “The way Ma and Beijing have joined hands to destroy all the hard-earned ground made by Taiwan’s medical community…”[43].) stated that “had China not silenced whistleblower Li Wenliang— one of the doctors who reported COVID-19 and tried to warn the Chinese government about it — the WHO could have responded earlier”[44]. This act of disinformation is based on three lies: Doctor Li did not report COVID-19 but SARS (nobody knew what this virus really was by then), did not report it to the government but to his friends and, regardless of Li, both the government and WHO were alerted anyway that same day and the following day, respectively, through the proper channels, of the existence of an unknown SARS-like virus that required further tracing and research. Chang continued stating that “the WHO did a great job during the SARS epidemic, because it paid attention to Carlo Urbani, an Italian doctor who gave early warnings of threat posed by the outbreak, bringing it under control within just six months [emphasis mine]”. The argument of Chang was based not in facts but in his desire to blame China, not wanting to believe that the CCP would control the pandemic in its territory in even less time. Ultimately, the anti-China bias of this doctor involved in politics is clear from his biased final propaganda statement: “From a scientific perspective, figures about the number of new COVID-19 cases in Wuhan [in April] must be fabricated, as it is impossible that the numbers are dropping as quickly as China claims they are”. He was ultimately wrong. Contrarily, the WHO declared that “in contrast with its secrecy over the 2002-03 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) […], China’s communist government has provided regular updates”[45].

 

This granted the WHO the role of puppet of Xi Jinping for all those in the anti-China propaganda machine. At the UN session in September, Donald Trump accused China in this vein: “they falsely said people without symptoms would not spread the disease … The United Nations must hold China accountable for their actions”, while accusing WHO of being a tool in the hands of China[46]. After his words, WHO communication director had to go in the defensive, claiming that “On January 14 our #COVID19 technical lead told media of the potential for human-to-human transmission. Since February, our experts have publicly discussed transmission by people without symptoms or prior to symptoms”.[47] In relation to this, another example of this juxtaposition of bureaucracy and scientific protocols occurred when Li Lanjuan, from the Zhejiang University School of Medicine, alerted institutions on 12 January of his suspicion of human-to-human transmission, these were not made public until January 19, when these were certified. “Announcing that the coronavirus could be transmitted between humans before being confirmed would have caused panic in the population. Only after we had verified the facts could we reveal the information to the public”, explained the aforementioned scientist to the BBC[48].

Taipei Times Editorial Cartoon, 9 March 2020

Taipei Times Editorial Cartoon, 9 March 2020

Thus, it could be said that the Chinese institutions were overconfident or too cautious, hoping to control the new virus without having to completely paralyse the country, while waiting for more information on what they were facing. The early handling of COVID-19 in China was not perfect, but still much more fast and effective than the late handling by most part of the rest of the world. Accusations that it was a cover up and that the truth was silenced can be deemed mere manipulation framed within the anti-China narrative: if we are looking for the perfect example of this we do not need to look further than the US and the negationist Trump administration. Those are the ones who have willingly lied and ignored scientists. The Washington Post summarized it well: “Trump minimized the danger of [the] virus, encouraged the reopening of U.S. society even as the virus was spreading rapidly and continues to hold campaign rallies where few wear face masks or practice social distancing”[49]. He did so knowingly, understanding the risks privately, as he admitted in September when he said that “I don’t want to create panic, as you say. And certainly I’m not going to drive this country or the world into a frenzy”[50].

 

The distortion of reality about China’s role can only be understood in the animosity created once the pandemic hit other countries, whose rulers began to blame China to evade their own responsibility, ineptitude, and unwillingness to adopt unpopular measures like lockdowns. China suffered a pandemic because it silenced doctors and scientists, and because it acted slowly and inefficiently as communist dictatorships do. The rest of the world was affected by the pandemic because it was a completely new virus that no one was prepared against, a unique event in modern history (this is the preferred excuse of the Spanish Government). Western countries were not capable to stop the first wave, not even the second one, but China should have stopped the original outbreak. China is accused of not having warned in time about the severity of the virus, but the countries that accuse China of this had several weeks from the time they detected their first positive cases until the pandemic spread in their territories. How should China have done first what all these countries were not able to do later on? How can China be blamed for not having stopped the virus if it is described as unstoppable? Any logical analysis of the facts shows that all the countries that have suffered the pandemic have fallen into the same initial errors of denial and relativization of the seriousness of the virus, with the safeguard that China was the first one to face the virus and therefore is the only one who has a credible excuse.

 

Moreover, we must not forget the role of Western scientists and epidemiologists. For instance, months after positive cases of the coronavirus had been detected in most western countries, epidemiologists continued to affirm that the virus, due to its weight, did not float and therefore fell to the ground, so the use of masks was not necessary (only by July 2020 the WHO addressed the possibility of the airborne spread in face of the “growing evidence that the virus can spread indoors through aerosols that linger in the air and can be infectious even in smaller quantities than previously thought”[51]). As well, scientists and politicians—like Trump—claimed that it was not such a serious virus, that it was little worse than the flu[52]. This evidences that the comprehensive knowledge of a new coronavirus was not possible for China by the month of December or early January: science has its times. But facts are not reason enough to spoil the alternative reality in which the Chinese government has to be always depicted, as the Taipei Times often does, as having shown a “catastrophic mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic, which […] has once more revealed the CCP’s incapacity to ‘problem solve’”[53].

 

But the misrepresentations of the facts do not stop there. Spurred on by a profound ignorance of China, clouded by mystical orientalism and exacerbated by antagonism against the unknown “Other”, half the world has been engulfed in such hatred of the perfect enemy — communist China — that a new playing field has been shaped for the consolidation of alternative truths. The construction of “truth” through language opens a dimension of possibilities about what is feasible or not. Thus, rumours were spread that China had fabricated the virus, lied about having stopped the pandemic, exported it on purpose or hidden its severity as a strategy to conquer the world. As late as September 2020, the most fanatical press, such as the Taipei Times and its mercenaries, still maintained this fantasy narrative: “Its unleashing of the COVID-19 pandemic, first on its own people and then on the world — whether by strategic design, or cruel and reckless disregard of the consequences of its actions — has added to the gathering shame and doubts its rulers have earned”[54].

Taipei Times Editorial Cartoon, 5 March 2020

Taipei Times Editorial Cartoon, 5 March 2020

Within this Manichean view of the world, in which whatever comes from China automatically acquires an imprint of evilness, any conspiracy theory involving this country is publicised by even the most reputable Western media. Exactly the same media that shout out to the wind their desperation for the lack of journalist professionalism and the credibility that conspiracy theories gain thanks to new online fake-media websites or Facebook groups. The reputation of certain information or investigations is not only doubtful, but in some cases these have been clearly refuted as disinformation or fake news. Often it has been the failure of journalists who forward information (particularly that which comes from the White House) without contrasting it, but also by actors who have done it willingly. The perfect example of this dynamic is Yan Li-Meng, a Chinese scientist who ran to the US claiming to be a whistleblower daring to reveal the wickedness of the CCP: the COVID-19 had been created in a military lab and she had proof. Eventually, the world saw how a woman promoted by Fox News[55] and with ties to Steve Bannon[56] spread lies that were disseminated by “serious” media all around the world (for instance, in Spain, this fake-news was covered by some of the most important media outlets, including El Mundo[57], ABC[58], Cadena SER[59], El Plural[60], and even in two of the sports newspapers with the largest circulation in the country, Marca[61] and AS[62]), before being refuted by the whole scientific community as a fraud[63]. Of course, the denial of the plausibility of this “exiled” scientist did not achieve the same “virality” as the initial fake-news.

 

The New York Times[64] offered a comprehensive account about how this operation was orchestrated, remarking the investment on the exaltation of anti-China sentiments by those who were failing in the control of the pandemic in the US: “Overnight, Dr. Yan became a right-wing media sensation, with top advisers to President Trump and conservative pundits hailing her as a hero”. The article continues by asserting that the popularity of this conspiracy theory, exemplary in what the campaigns of disinformation can provoke, “was the product of a collaboration between two separate but increasingly allied groups that peddle misinformation: a small but active corner of the Chinese diaspora and the highly influential far right in the United States”. Taiwan News was one of the media disseminating this fake-news, with headings like: “Chinese whistleblower alleges coronavirus originated from People’s Liberation Army military lab”[65] or “Chinese virologist accuses Beijing of coronavirus cover-up after fleeing Hong Kong”[66]. The media never offered a retraction or a clarification of the facts. Nevertheless, once these conspiracy theories have been embraced by the media, retracting the information is a practically impossible task: a story of these characteristics, with such a high emotional charge of anger and hatred, persists despite the denials. The concept of a malevolent China is already installed deep inside the unconscious mind of the public.

 

It is not uncommon to see how some of these actors—scientists, academics, journalists, politicians—who would have never achieved any notoriety had they not clung to the anti-China narrative, today receive great attention in certain spheres: it has become a great incentive to lie, manipulate or misrepresent as much as necessary, because the reward is well deserved. Any news against China become automatically believed or, at least, is reported as “alleged” information. Any scholar or scientist claiming anything negative about the CCP will get news coverage independently of whether there is solid proof or not. Hence, being an anti-China academic seems to be very profitable (see for example Adrian Zenz). Contrary, information contradicting those attacks on China will be first put into question as pro-China “propaganda” and the scholar in question will be accused of being co-opted by the PRC[67]. The repetition of bad news about China, some true, other just fake-news, unconsciously strengthens this subject position of China and the Chinese as the new world enemy.

Taipei Times Editorial Cartoon, 24 October 2020

Taipei Times Editorial Cartoon, 24 October 2020

The pandemic has been an ideal study period to illustrate how under these unfounded anti-China accusations lies a dangerous cultural supremacism and ethnic racism in the neoliberal hegemonic language against China and the Chinese. The contempt against the yellow enemy is nothing new, let alone the cases of racism against Asians all around the Western world. It is enough to read the comments on any news related to China to see how Sinophobia is much more widespread and socially better accepted than other discriminations, which are considered to some extent taboo. Implicit racial beliefs and associations against the Chinese are not disputed, they are not considered as racist as those against other ethnic groups. Possibly, because Hispanics and blacks also share with whites a “racialised” understanding of China and the Chinese as despicable. The main danger of this drift is the lack of will from the hegemonic powers to stop those discursive attacks against the new enemy, contributing to the foundation of a dichotomic understanding of the world and a Second Cold War mentality.

 

 

[1] https://www.taiwannews.com.tw/en/news/4063679

[2] https://www.taipeitimes.com/News/editorials/archives/2020/04/03/2003733892

[3] i.e. https://www.nhi.gov.tw/Content_List.aspx?n=E7136CC19D5E050C

[4] http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/front/archives/2020/02/13/2003730887

[5] https://www.taipeitimes.com/News/taiwan/archives/2020/04/01/2003733783

[6] https://theconversation.com/how-chinese-citizens-view-their-governments-coronavirus-response-139176

[7] https://www.cnbc.com/2020/05/07/coronavirus-china-vietnam-uae-top-list-as-citizens-rank-government-response.html

[8] https://chomsky.info/on-power-and-ideology/

[9] https://www.taiwannews.com.tw/en/news/4024901

[10] https://www.pewresearch.org/global/2020/10/06/unfavorable-views-of-china-reach-historic-highs-in-many-countries/

[11] https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2020/02/12/chinas-chernobyl-coronavirus-outbreak-leads-loaded-metaphor/

[12] https://www.ft.com/content/6f7fdbae-4b3b-11ea-95a0-43d18ec715f5

[13] https://thediplomat.com/2020/03/is-COVID-19-chinas-chernobyl-moment/

[14] https://asiatimes.com/2020/04/is-this-really-chinas-chernobyl-moment/

[15] https://ici-et-ailleurs.org/contributions/actualite/article/the-coronavirus-crisis-as

[16] In this vein, we had people writing that “the coronavirus presents the Chinese leadership with its biggest test since the revolt of Tiananmen Square in 1989”. See https://spectator.clingendael.org/en/publication/china-and-geopolitics-coronavirus

[17] https://www.reuters.com/article/healt-coronavirus-usa-china-idUSKBN23106X

[18] https://thediplomat.com/2020/02/the-coronavirus-outbreak-how-democratic-taiwan-outperformed-authoritarian-china/

[19] https://spectator.clingendael.org/en/publication/china-and-geopolitics-coronavirus

[20] https://elpais.com/opinion/2020-05-20/las-democracias-gestionan-mejor-las-crisis.html?event_log=oklogin

[21] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/04/business/china-coronavirus-government.html

[22] https://asia.nikkei.com/Opinion/Taiwan-is-the-future-of-the-Asia-Pacific-not-China

[23] https://www.taiwannews.com.tw/en/news/4034458

[24] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/aug/03/covid-19-cold-war-china-western-governments-international-peace

[25] https://www.thelancet.com/journals/laninf/article/PIIS1473-3099(20)30800-8/fulltext

[26] https://www.who.int/csr/don/05-january-2020-pneumonia-of-unkown-cause-china/en/

[27] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jggndUgvhrk

[28] https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/COVID-19/timeline-ecdc-response

[29] https://www.nature.com/articles/s41562-020-0872-3

[30] https://www.elplural.com/sociedad/gobierno-confirma-caso-coronavirus-espana_232391102

[31] Alain Brossat (2020). Personal communication

[32] i.e. lack of masks, permissiveness with demonstrations or football matches when community transmission already existed, imposition of confinements 48 hours before imposing them, allowing citizens to stampede out before confinement takes place, thus spreading the virus, etc.

[33] https://invisiblearmada.web.nctu.edu.tw/2020/11/01/the-chinese-bridge-of-donkeis/

[34] https://www.taipeitimes.com/News/editorials/archives/2020/10/01/2003744387

[35] https://www.economist.com/china/2020/10/17/china-calls-its-heroic-handling-of-COVID-19-proof-of-its-wisdom?fsrc=newsletter&utm_campaign=the-economist-today&utm_medium=newsletter&utm_source=salesforce-marketing-cloud&utm_term=2020-10-22&utm_content=article-link-3&etear=nl_today_3

[36] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-53077072

[37] https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/feb/07/coronavirus-chinese-rage-death-whistleblower-doctor-li-wenliang

 

[38] https://www.scmp.com/news/china/society/article/3074622/coronavirus-wuhan-doctor-says-officials-muzzled-her-sharing

[39] https://promedmail.org/promed-post/?id=6864153%20#COVID19

[40] https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/situation-reports/20200121-sitrep-1-2019-ncov.pdf

[41] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7428724/

[42] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/20/chinese-inquiry-exonerates-coronavirus-whistleblower-doctor-li-wenliang

[43] https://www.taipeitimes.com/News/editorials/archives/2011/12/26/2003521632

[44] https://www.taipeitimes.com/News/taiwan/archives/2020/04/01/2003733783

[45] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-health-who-idUSKBN1ZM1G9

[46] https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/9/22/china-trump-spreading-political-virus-at-united-nations

[47] https://twitter.com/gabbystern/status/1308415111472787459

[48] https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-internacional-53576076

[49] https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/trump-aims-to-use-un-address-to-send-strong-message-to-china/2020/09/22/15710b46-fc8a-11ea-b0e4-350e4e60cc91_story.html

[50] https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/09/10/was-stock-market-object-trumps-dont-create-panic-coronavirus-approach/

[51] https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/coronavirus-airborne-spread-world-health-organization/2020/07/05/9de19c38-bed8-11ea-b4f6-cb39cd8940fb_story.html?itid=lk_inline_manual_23

[52] https://elpais.com/sociedad/2020/02/26/actualidad/1582744701_468958.html?prm=ep-app

[53] https://www.taipeitimes.com/News/editorials/archives/2020/09/22/2003743846

[54] https://www.taipeitimes.com/News/editorials/archives/2020/09/20/2003743735

[55] EXCLUSIVE: Chinese virologist accuses Beijing of coronavirus cover-up, flees Hong Kong: ‘I know how they treat whistleblowers’ | Fox News

[56] ‘Whistleblower’ Claiming China Created Covid-19 Coronavirus Has Ties To Steve Bannon

[57] La viróloga que huyó de Hong Kong presenta un informe que sugiere el origen artificial del coronavirus | Salud

[58] La viróloga china que huyó a EE.UU. asegura que el Covid se originó en un laboratorio militar de su país

[59] https://cadenaser.com/ser/2020/07/27/internacional/1595845418_040613.html

[60] https://www.elplural.com/politica/internacional/virologa-china-huida-acusa-pais-mentir-covid-19_243821102

[61] Li-Meng Yan acusa: “China y la OMS ocultaron información sobre el coronavirus” | Marca.com

[62] Coronavirus | Li-Meng Yan: Chinese whistleblower to provide proof Covid-19 is a lab-based virus – AS.com

[63] https://edition.cnn.com/2020/10/21/politics/coronavirus-lab-theory-yan-bannon-invs/index.html

[64] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/20/business/media/steve-bannon-china.html

[65] https://www.taiwannews.com.tw/en/news/3977823

[66] https://www.taiwannews.com.tw/en/news/3964663

[67] https://www.taiwannews.com.tw/en/news/4063024

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