The Chinese Foreign Ministry and the Communist Party’s propaganda arms erupted in rage Monday in response to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s repeated use of the term “Wuhan virus” to refer to the Chinese coronavirus that has now infected over 100,000 people.
Despite the common use of places of origin to name pathogens – the Ebola virus is named after the Ebola River where it originated, for example – China has pressured the World Health Organization (WHO) to avoid associating the novel coronavirus with China in any way. As a result, the WHO has decreed the official name of the virus to be “SARS-CoV-2,” so as to associate it with the virus that causes Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), and the name of the disease the virus causes “COVID-19.”
The confusing, China-approved names have already caused international confusion. Indonesian officials insisted for some time that they did not have any cases of the Chinese virus because health experts said some patients were carrying “SARS-CoV-2” but not “COVID-19,” and failed to refer to the virus at any time as the same as the one originating in Wuhan.
After months of the virus spreading out of the central city of Wuhan and no evidence that it originated anywhere else, Chinese Communist Party officials have begun to float theories that it arrived in China from abroad.
Secretary of State Pompeo, in a series of media appearances on Friday, rejected these theories, referring to the virus as “Wuhan coronavirus.”
“The Wuhan virus that began at the end of last year is something that this administration is taking incredibly seriously,” Pompeo said on an appearance on Fox & Friends on Friday. When asked why he used the name, Pompeo said, “The Chinese Communist Party has said that this is where the virus started. So don’t take my word for it; take theirs. They are right on this one.”
On CNBC, Pompeo similarly referred to the virus as “Wuhan virus” and emphasized the accuracy of that description.
“I’m happy about the efforts that they have taken, but no less authority than the Chinese Communist Party said it came from Wuhan. So don’t take Mike Pompeo’s word for it,” Pompeo said. “We have pretty high confidence that we know where this began, and we have high confidence too that there was information that could have been made available more quickly and data that could have been provided and shared among health professionals across the world. It’s most unfortunate.”
“It has proven incredibly frustrating to work with the Chinese Communist Party to get our hands around the data set which will ultimately be the solution to both getting the vaccine and attacking this risk,” Pompeo lamented.
The Global Times, a Chinese communist propaganda outlet, railed against Pompeo for his remarks on Monday, calling them, among other insults, “morally irresponsible,” “ridiculous,” and “rude.”
“As the chief U.S. diplomat, Pompeo insisted on speaking of the ‘Wuhan virus’ despite the opposition of WHO and international public opinion, in an attempt to arouse resentment among those affected countries against China,” the Global Times asserted. “Pompeo’s move not only exposes malicious U.S. intentions toward China without regard to common sense, but also hits a new low in his personal conduct.”
“His speaking of the ‘Wuhan virus’ was rude and vicious, and the accusation was ridiculous,” the propaganda newspaper continued. “WHO has more than once praised China for providing the world with transparent information. What kind of special information does Pompeo want?”
“Naming it ‘Wuhan virus’ is scientifically groundless and morally irresponsible,” the Global Times concluded.
The newspaper published a separate article citing “experts” condemning both Pompeo and the general handling of the outbreak in the United States.
“Chinese experts said on Sunday that while the US scrambles to deal with surging COVID-19 infection cases, its government has sought to scapegoat China to shift blame even as Beijing’s achievements in containing the outbreak have earned international recognition,” the Times alleged. “Such tricks of the US politicians will backfire, the experts predicted, as internet users from both countries decried the blame game as an attempted diversionary tactic to stoke anti-China sentiment within the country.”
One of the quoted “experts” claimed that referring to Wuhan, the origin city of the coronavirus, in relation to the virus was “a waste of time that could cost lives, when the origin of the virus still remains mysterious.”
Similarly, the Chinese Foreign Ministry, in response to a question about Pompeo’s remarks, called them “despicable.”
“Despite the fact that the WHO has officially named this novel type of coronavirus, certain American politician [sic], disrespecting science and the WHO decision, jumped at the first chance to stigmatize China and Wuhan with it. We condemn this despicable practice,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said on Monday.
Geng also disputed Pompeo’s assertion that China has been opaque with its data and uncooperative with America.
“Since the COVID-19 broke out, China has been providing timely updates to the WHO and countries and regions including the US in an open, transparent and responsible manner. We have shared with them the genetic sequencing of the virus, responded to their concerns and strengthened international cooperation,” Geng said. “The world has already reached the clear, fair consensus that China’s contribution bought precious time for the international community to enhance preparedness. Mr. Pompeo’s attempt to smear China’s efforts will not succeed.”
China documented the first cases of Chinese coronavirus in Wuhan as early as late November, according to some reports. The Communist Party notified the WHO of an unidentified source on pneumonia in early January and shut down a wild meat market in Wuhan on January 1, the market initially considered the source of the outbreak. Beijing did not notify Wuhan residents of any contagious disease spreading, nor did it announce the discovery of the new virus to the world, until January 20. In that span of nearly a month, Wuhan hosted an attempt at the world’s largest banquet, directed at the elderly, the most vulnerable group to severe pneumonia as a result of the virus.
China also moved to arrest and punish anyone, particularly health professionals, who shared safety tips on how to combat contagion. One of the punished individuals, Dr. Li Wenliang, died of coronavirus-related infection in early February, shortly after becoming a local hero for revealing that he was treating a contagious respiratory disease in Wuhan with other doctors. Chinese police apprehended Li and forced him to sign a humiliating statement apologizing for spreading “rumors.” China has posthumously attempted to praise Li as a fine example of communist medical values.
Reports have surfaced for months accusing China of deliberately deflating coronavirus counts by refusing to test those with symptoms “unapproved” by the Communist Party. Local crematory workers in Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, have anonymously asserted that they were overloaded by the hundreds of bodies, suggesting a much higher death count than the official tally.
Chinese officials initially diverted blame away from Beijing towards local officials but admitted to incompetence and secrecy in handling the outbreak. More recently, China has begun floating the theory the virus did not originate in China at all, despite no evidence to the contrary.