Chinese dictator Xi Jinping and two of the top doctors working under his Communist Party made the cut for Time magazine’s list of 100 Most Influential People in 2020, published on Tuesday.
The magazine appeared to applaud Xi for fighting “kleptocrats” with his “anti-corruption campaign,” a purge of Communist Party officials deemed insufficiently loyal to Xi that began when he took over the presidency in 2014, though its profile of the dictator also noted that the campaign swept up political rivals. It warned that “Xi’s success” in turning China into an “economic juggernaut” may not define his legacy.
Time chose Amanda Bennett, a former head of Voice of America under whose tenure President Donald Trump’s administration criticized the U.S. government media agency for “amplif[ying] Beijing’s propaganda.”
Time‘s profile of Zhong Nanshan, the doctor leading China’s response to the Chinese coronavirus pandemic, praised him as a “trusted doctor … very effective in calming public fear” – omitting that Zhong has publicly speculated that the virus originated outside of China, a claim for which no scientific evidence exists. The author of Time‘s profile of Zhong is Dr. Margaret Chan, the former director-general of the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) who ran the agency during its notoriously flawed response to the largest Ebola outbreak in recorded history. Chan now works at Xi Jinping’s alma mater, Tsinghua University.
Unlike Zhong, Zhang Yongzhen – which Time lauds as a “saving grace” for Chinese medical science, reportedly ran afoul of Xi in working to research the nature of the Chinese coronavirus. According to a report published this summer by the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Xi shut down Zhang’s Shanghai laboratory after it published the coronavirus’s genome sequence.
Time omitted the reported conflict between Beijing and Zhang’s research team from their article on his work.
“Xi Jinping stands today as China’s seemingly invulnerable top leader. His anti-corruption campaign struck at kleptocrats, some in his own family, while also conveniently purging rivals,” Time said of the Chinese dictator.
Bennett wrote that Xi had made among “the world’s most extreme” authoritarian policies come to life, listing them as “corralling ethnic Uighurs into camps, suppressing violent anti-China protests in Hong Kong and ushering in powerful social-monitoring technology.”
“The result: a foreign policy and economic juggernaut expanding around the world,” Bennett noted. While Bennett did not go into detail on the millions of Uyghur people trapped in concentration camps – and reportedly thousands of Tibetans to the Uyghurs’ south – Time‘s contributors did describe Xi’s policy against the Uyghur people as “genocide” in its profile of another recipient of the Time 100 honor, Nury Turkel, an Uyghur-American attorney serving on the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Concluding on a pessimistic note, Bennett wrote that Xi “may yet come to regret that he is now effectively China’s leader for life,” but appeared to blame external forces for China’s mounting list of challenges.
“A shrinking and aging workforce, the cost of the global Belt and Road Initiative (built on debt, not cash) and internal griping—or worse—from victims of a slowing economy exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic that began on his watch mean Xi’s success may not be his final act,” the article concluded.
In a public statement titled “Amid a Pandemic, Voice of America Spends Your Money to Promote Foreign Propaganda,” the White House criticized the agency under Bennett in April for treating Chinese state propaganda too credulously, particularly in regard to the Chinese coronavirus pandemic.
“Journalists should report the facts, but VOA has instead amplified Beijing’s propaganda. This week, VOA called China’s Wuhan lockdown a successful ‘model’ copied by much of the world—and then tweeted out video of the Communist government’s celebratory light show marking the quarantine’s alleged end,” the White House noted. “Even worse, while much of the U.S. media takes its lead from China, VOA went one step further: It created graphics with Communist government statistics to compare China’s Coronavirus death toll to America’s. As intelligence experts point out, there is simply no way to verify the accuracy of China’s numbers.”
Bennett resigned from her position in June following the U.S. Senate confirming her replacement, current VOA head Michael Pack.
Margaret Chan, the former W.H.O. chief, praised Zhong Nanshan more openly in her writing than Bennett did towards Xi. Zhong already enjoyed national renown before the Chinese coronavirus pandemic as a result of his work fighting the SARS outbreak of 2003, another coronavirus originating in China.
“After visiting Wuhan, Dr. Zhong spoke out frankly about human-to-human transmission, and suggested evidence-based prevention and control measures to contain the disease. As a trusted doctor, he is very effective in calming public fear and anxiety with facts, and promoting community support for public-health measures,” Chan wrote.
“Dr. Zhong has earned recognition for his dedication, integrity, academic and professional achievements, and for sharing China’s successful control efforts and treatment plan with the international community,” she added.
Chan did not note Zhong’s controversial and unfounded claim that the Chinese coronavirus may have originated outside China – in multiple locations. In February, Zhong claimed that the virus “might have multiple birthplaces co-existing around the globe,” with the caveat that “we cannot say that virus comes from abroad. The question could be answered by tracing the source of the novel coronavirus and getting a result.” Since Zhong’s statements, the Chinese Foreign Ministry has repeatedly floated the conspiracy theory, without evidence, that the U.S. Army unleashed the Chinese coronavirus on the world in Maryland.
No scientists have documented any cases of Chinese coronavirus outside of Wuhan, central China, prior to the earliest known cases. A report by the South China Morning Post citing Chinese Communist Party data revealed in March that the first known cases of Chinese coronavirus infection were diagnosed on November 17, 2019.
Xi Jinping honored Zhong with China’s highest honor, the Medal of the Republic, in early September.
In contrast to applauding Zhong, Time also awarded Dr. Zhang Yongzhen with its title of one of the most influential people of 2020 for publishing the genome sequence of the Chinese coronavirus.
“The Zhang team’s unprecedented speed was made possible by the extraordinary disease-monitoring network they had built to detect emerging flu strains and coronaviruses,” professor Pardis Sabeti wrote. “Their work envisions what is possible with a collaborative, connected public-health collective, and illuminates what gaps still remain. It is now up to the global community to realize this potential, to stop COVID-19 [Chinese coronavirus] and the next pandemic before it has a chance to start.”
Sabeti did not mention the revelation in a House of Representatives investigation that Xi’s regime acted to limit Zhang’s ability to help the world fight the virus. Zhang published the genome sequence on January 11, a week after warning the regime that the virus was contagious, according to the Foreign Affairs Committee. China’s National Health Commission allegedly responded by shutting down Zhang’s laboratory for “rectification.”