How Western propaganda against China created a Covid-19 catastrophe

By K.J. Noh (People's Daily Online) 16:58, January 20, 2022

A COVID-19 testing site is seen in New York, the United States, Dec. 13, 2021. The number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. topped 50 million on Monday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. (Xinhua/Wang Ying)

There is little doubt that the Western media is engaging in a full-scale propaganda war against China. There is a non-stop barrage of lies weaponized to undermine China's accomplishments and global standing, to delegitimate its system of governance, to tar its people and policies, and ultimately, to manufacture consent for cold--and possibly hot--war against China.

Yet the lies are breath-takingly and self-evidently wrong to anyone who exercises a modicum of critical thinking. These lies against China dissolve under the slightest scrutiny. But they are also dangerous. Not only in that they escalate the risk of war, but in that misinformation itself can cause deaths. The blowback from these lies is clearest in the catastrophic outcomes of the Covid-19 pandemic in the West. Although this information warfare is systemic and everywhere in the western media--a systemic carpet bombing of the public with lies—few papers can match the New York Times in the sheer audacity, absurdity, and consistent mendacity of its reporting.

Systemic failure

The NY Times claimed that "China had created a fail-safe system to track contagions. It failed". It claimed that China had created a state-of-the-art system to track infection that was failure-proof, but this system failed because the Chinese failed to use it. It claimed--without a shred of evidence--that this was because workers were afraid of the consequences of reporting an outbreak, afraid of retribution for reporting bad news up the system. The implication of this claim was that the Chinese have an endemic culture of dishonesty--that the system encourages dishonesty--and that they will lie or cover up in order to save their face and their skins. In short, the Chinese are cowardly and dishonest. This racist slander was a violation of the most basic standards of journalistic integrity and logic.

To begin with, contrary to the strawman set up by the NYT, there is no such thing in science, engineering, or public health, a system that is "fail-safe" the way the NY Times portrays it--i.e. failure proof. All man-made systems will fail eventually. (A fail-safe system is based on the premise that when failure happens in a system, it can be designed and prepared for in a way that minimizes harm). Thus, for the NY Times to claim in its headline that a "fail-safe system failed" is already a linguistic and logical absurdity. Second, we know that workers would be sanctioned for not reporting disease outbreaks rather than for reporting them, so this lie fails the most basic common sense analysis and corroboration. Third, and most importantly, the system actually did work: within days of alerts being sounded on December 27th, 2019, a field investigation commenced, rapidly rendered conclusions, and the WHO was alerted on Jan 1st, 2020. Five days later, on Jan 5th, 2020, the entire genome sequence was uploaded to the public global database GenBank by Chinese government researchers, and then republished again on Jan 11th. This astonishingly rapid reporting, analysis, sequencing and sharing enabled the rapid development of Covid-19 testing, which then facilitated the effective implementation of testing, tracking, tracing, and targeted isolation. These test-facilitated public health measures resulted in millions of lives saved in countries that focused on non-pharmaceutical interventions such as South Korea. It also enabled rapid vaccine development.

This gives the lie to the claim that "the reporting system failed", or that "Chinese cover up" led to harm and death. Rather these outrageous claims are a slander that serve to distract from, and cover up US and Western incompetence, denial, and indifference to public health to protect their populations.

The reporting, editing, fact-checking system of the NY Times clearly failed, as did common sense.

The Deadly Cost of Lying

This malicious inversion of truth, this unending barrage of disinformation focuses on exploiting every aspect of the Covid-19 outbreak to as a pretext to attack China as incompetent, ill-intentioned, and illegitimate. These reports also distract from domestic failures and fail to report on or inform on useful information about the pandemic. These lies extend to reports on China's vaccines, China's vaccine distribution, China's PPE sharing, China's Covid-19 statistics, and China's prior virus research.

This type of ideological thuggery masquerading as journalism undermines public health as a cooperative global project, and in doing so, it threatens the health and welfare of everyone. In these particular cases, as in many others, the NY Times has often been the index culprit in this epidemic of diseased disinformation.

Possibly the most absurd, but enduring lie from the NY Times on Covid-19 has been one that was promulgated when Covid first struck: that China's "undemocratic governance is dangerous to your health". This libel claimed that the Covid-19 pandemic in China was uniquely and singularly caused by China's system of "undemocratic" governance. The article gloated over China's early misfortune and attempted to delegitimate China's system as having caused the pandemic. These lies were followed up by harsh denunciations of China's public health measures as authoritarian and bound to fail.

Of course, the corollary of these breathless lies was the assumption that such an event simply could not happen in the "democratic" west. This was probably the most deadly lie of all.

Photo / People's Daily Online

Politics over Public Health

These lies have been thoroughly refuted by China’s astonishing successes in safeguarding the welfare of its people, preventing Covid spread or deaths, and its astonishing economic rebound.

In fact, to the countrary, China's performance showed up the fatuous incompetence, fraudulence, and self-delusion of the so-called Western liberal capitalist "democracies" and their self-deceiving lies. They were "getting high on their own supply"--believing their own propaganda. This then directly manifested in a lack of preparation for the disease, and lack of responsiveness to safeguarding their people's needs and health through public health measures when the disease began to run rampant.

Ideological lies about China debilitated the US's capacity to respond: first by lulling itself to sleep to the dangers of the disease--which it framed uniquely as a manifestation of the Chinese system--"a Communist Coronavirus"; second by rendering controversial or impossible essential public health measures, such as quarantines, lockdowns, and contract tracing, which had already been undermined as authoritarian Chinese practices; and third by choosing responses on political grounds with a view to maximize damage to China rather than prevent harm to the US population.

For example, the White House Covid task force refused to adopt WHO-approved Chinese test kits, and through the urging of Matt Pottinger, Donald Trump's deputy national security adviser, focused on icing out the Chinese through a racist travel ban rather than urgently implementing domestic public health measures. Officials also banned early testing by the infectious disease specialist Dr. Helen Chu, which could have ascertained the degree of spread already present in the US in January, and determined whether travel bans could be effective. Pottinger also concocted the conspiracy of the "lab leak" and then spent unbridled energy on blaming China for "leaking Covid" rather than actually managing an impending public health crisis. Even masking--a simple, effective Non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPI) measure, was derided as ineffective and discouraged as superstitious Asian custom. This jaundiced, politicized approach to Covid-19 was highlighted in the fact that the White House Covid-19 task force meetings often excluded HHS staff on the grounds of national security "related to China" and were classified.

In the end, the West was hoisted by its own petard. A public health system gutted by neoliberal policy, run by a government twisted by its own lies, ideology, and agenda was incapable of taking necessary and timely rational actions. To this day, there are large numbers of people who do not believe in Covid-19, others who believe that it was engineered by the US government, and many others who oppose all public health measures, including vaccinations. Liberals who excoriated Trump for "mass murder" and "criminal incompetence" have sat silent and stonefaced as a confused, scattered Biden Administration surpassed Trump in disgracing himself on Covid performance.

A Tale of Two systems

The proof is in the numbers: last year, over 450,000 people died from Covid-19 in the US--more than the previous year under Trump; in contrast, in China, two people died. China's reporting figures have been corroborated by scientific studies and are matched by other countries that engaged in similar practices to China.

In the end, results matter, and truth matters. These outcomes allow us to evaluate systems: a system that values life and works collectively to save it, versus a system that values profit, that lies endlessly to itself and to others, that seeks only to blame, divert, politicize, and that passes responsibility to the misinformed, confused victims of its lies. The latter cannot implement humane values, preserve health, or create meaningful society, no matter how much vitriol is spewed against those who do.

The lessons of Covid-19 are simple: trust science, cooperate and communicate, work collectively, and above all, don't tell lies. Public health is a race between lies and truth, between good information and bad information, between science and superstition. Politics applied to public health results in politics, which can neither promote public health nor preserve political legitimacy.

The story of Covid-19 is a morality tale in which the West's institutions--government, bourgeois media--have failed in their most basic tasks and duties--to inform responsibly and to care for its citizens. The people have paid with their lives for that arrogance, hubris, and deceitfulness.

The media is complicit in this catastrophe--through omission, commission, deliberation, and willfulness. The human catastrophe may yet continue unabated if no one is held to account.

K.J. Noh is a scholar, educator and journalist focusing on the geopolitics of the Asia-Pacific and global public health.

The opinions expressed in this article reflect those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect those of People's Daily Online.  

(Web editor: Zhong Wenxing, Liang Jun)


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