But the picture has become even more confused by a torrent of propaganda, unreliable theories and deliberate disinformation have been pushed for a number of reasons.
More and more experts and government officials in the United States and Europe accuse China – the country first hit by the virus – to fuel this confusion and to try to shape the narrative through its state broadcasters and publications and on social media.
China is looking to push three main messages about the epidemic, according to Rod Wye, a colleague associated with the Chatham House think tank in London and a former head of Asia research at the UK Foreign Office.
“They are not at all excited to explore the origins because this shows real weaknesses in what they have done,” he told CNN Business.
Third, Wye said, there is an attempt by Chinese officials to “wreak havoc” on how other countries have responded. It is part of an effort “to undermine the credibility of those who criticize China and strengthen the credibility of Chinese fiction,” he added.
“Some US politicians, scholars and media hostile to China continued to defame and attack China. China is a victim of misinformation,” said the ministry.
China: the hero in the state media
One of the ways in which China spreads its message is through state-funded foreign-language media around the world, including newspapers such as the China Daily and the Global Times and television networks such as the China Global Television Network (CGTN).
“Their argument about the coronavirus is that they say China has been open and transparent. It’s the same political bullshit * Donald Trump or [UK Prime Minister] Boris Johnson did. Everyone lost the first month on this, “the current staff member, a journalist based in the United States, told CNN Business.” Of course the Chinese are more able to cover things up and reveal new details … but they are so punchy with ham when they do it they are just horrible. “
CGTN did not respond to requests for comment.
Clear reports on the number of cases or new treatments for the virus appear alongside bright television segments on China’s successful response to the virus and the aid it is sending worldwide. Much of the recent coverage of alleged Chinese bankruptcies has focused on criticism from other countries and how Chinese officials are rejecting it.
“Self [the Chinese media] it will not be at all influential, it must be adapted to the society in which they are trying to get the message, “said Wye.” What they want to do is increasingly a strong positive narrative for China and also to reduce or weaken the credibility of the reports that are little more than complementary to what is happening in China. “
Question the origins on social media
On social media, a more sinister approach to news about China and the coronavirus has been in place for weeks. Messages that question the origins of the virus, some even suggest that it was created by the United States, were pushed online by some Chinese officials and then repeated by Chinese state media.
The Chinese foreign ministry has defended Zhao’s tweets.
“If you continue to take it out on him just for mentioning this word” he might “, then how about the President of the United States, the vice president, the secretary of state, the spokesman for the State Department and some lawmakers, who have wrongly accused that the virus came from Wuhan’s laboratory, saying that the virus was created by man or leaked? Have you ever questioned them? “, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying asked reporters at a press conference last week.
U.S. reporters contested the Trump administration over this claim and received no supporting evidence.
But it’s not just the American administration that points the fingers.
“The central point of this type of misinformation is that it’s not just credibility, it’s everyone’s credibility that is undermined by all of this, so it’s very difficult to establish a clear exposition of how it all started,” said Wye of Chatham House. .
Blend the waters
The U.S. Department of State said it had found evidence that a network of Chinese agents spread coronavirus disinformation online about the origins of the virus and the response of the United States.
Lea Gabrielle, head of the State Department’s Global Engagement Center – which coordinates efforts to expose foreign misinformation and propaganda – told reporters last week that Chinese government-related social media accounts have spread questionable “doubts” about US-funded biological safety laboratories in the early Soviet Union, “primarily to try to divert attention from concerns over Wuhan’s laboratories.”
Other government-related Chinese accounts have pushed “positive messages” about Beijing’s coronavirus response, “he said,” to report that only the [People’s Republic of China’s] crisis management is a model for others and that the PRC is superior. ”
Gabrielle said her team has found evidence that these efforts are supported by a network of inauthentic coordinated accounts on Twitter.
In response to allegations from the State Department, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao stressed Twitter’s response and told reporters Wednesday that “China is always opposed to the creation and dissemination of false information. Reports claiming that China has spread misinformation on Twitter are unfounded. ”
The Chinese coronavirus campaign appears to have had mixed success so far.
But Chinese state media have had paid content placement agreements canceled by influential documents. A New York Times spokesman told CNN Business that he had stopped publishing advertisements that should appear as news stories.
A think tank affiliated to the Chinese State Ministry of Security released a report last month stating that anti-Chinese sentiment in the world is at its peak since the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, according to Reuters.
Bill Bishop, editor of the Sinocismo newsletter and longtime observer of Chinese diplomacy, told CNN Business that the Chinese have angered many western countries such as Australia, France and the United States with disinformation campaigns and the controversial theories launched by their diplomats.
“Somehow we should leave him [the Chinese] talk and let the facts speak for themselves, “he said.” Right now China is really digging its hole in many ways. Sometimes it’s better to let people dig. “
Steven Jiang contributed to the report.
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