Chinese government media outlets published a barrage of articles on Monday accusing the West of racism against Chinese people in response to a growing viral outbreak in the heart of the country. It also claimed that various “Western” sources were peddling conspiracies about the virus being a biological weapon.
Evidence for the latter claim included an alleged academic article “by scientists in India,” and one article in the Washington Times.
China is currently combating a nationwide outbreak of a never-before-seen strain of coronavirus, the same family of virus including the one responsible for the 2003 outbreak of Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed nearly 800 people. The current outbreak has killed 361 people, all but one in China. The virus causes a respiratory infection, ultimately resulting in pneumonia and death in some patients.
The Global Times lashed out against the “India Institute of Technology” article (actually authored by scholars at the Kusuma School of Biological Sciences at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi), and noted the authors had already withdrawn the study by the time Chinese scientists replied to the Times‘ request for comment. The website that published the preliminary results of the study also warned that, as it was not peer-reviewed or extensively checked, it had not been published as a definitive academic finding.
The article claimed some of the structures in the novel coronavirus that has infected over 17,000 people in China appeared similar to those in the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), suggesting the virus did not occur in nature, but was created out of other viral genome sequences in a laboratory. As Wuhan, the city where the outbreak originated, is home to one of China’s most advanced laboratories, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the Global Times claimed the conclusion spread rapidly online.
“With current technology, scientists cannot create a new virus from nothing,” a Chinese scientist using a pseudonym told the Global Times. “Even if the genomic sequence of the novel coronavirus is 80 percent similar to the SARS’, humans could not make the novel coronavirus out of SARS virus with design.”
The Chinese newspaper also carried a statement posted on WeChat, a Chinese government-controlled social media outlet, on Sunday by a Chinese researcher who dismissed theories that the virus was artificially created.
“The 2019 novel coronavirus is a punishment by nature to humans’ unsanitary lifestyle. I promise with my life that the virus has nothing to do with the lab,” the researcher, who is currently on a team studying the novel coronavirus, wrote. The virus is believed to have originated at a Wuhan wild meat market and infected individuals exposed to live or fresh wild animals.
In another article, the Global Times objects to a Washington Times article that posits that the coronavirus “may have originated in a laboratory in the city of Wuhan linked to China’s covert biological weapons program.” The evidence presented is a television report from 2015 and a comment from an Israeli military intelligence officer. The one article, the Global Times concluded, proves “some Western media and politicians are using the 2019-nCov outbreak as a chance to smear and demonize China and even create rumors to hype sentiments against Chinese people.”
The People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of China, published an article comparing alleged racism against Chinese people to the coronavirus – and concluding that the racism is worse.
“But a worse viral load is also somewhere in some other dimension working worse damage to humanity – that is the racism, profiling, hate and alienation of the Chinese person,” the column read. “The social media in most parts of the world have hundreds of thousands of such hate harvest, most of all from societies that boast they are civilized and know better about what a virus should be and different from a citizen of a country from where a killer virus emanated.”
“For the hate of it – hatovirus, the human and cultural offshoot of the coronavirus, the outer world is the epicenter. The vector is the media, especially the new media,” the column continued, “While in Europe and the Americas the Asian is the fall guy and ‘demon’ that deliberately created the virus, in Asia, the Chinese is singled out. So pathetic!”
The column accused not just Western countries, but neighbors such as the Philippines and Indonesia for experiencing outbreaks of this “hate virus,” manifest in calls to limit travel between their countries and China to prevent a viral outbreak at home.
“Since the Chinese is NOT the virus, I rather fight the virus by loving and embracing the Chinese,” the column’s author, writing from Africa, concluded. “I won’t be fair to him/her and humanity to alienate or profile or castigate the Chinese spared by the virus at a time I should be consoling them for the loss of lives, peace and livelihood.”
Through another piece on the site, People’s Daily made clear who was responsible, in its view, for all this hate: the United States.
“Many believe that the U.S. response to the coronavirus outbreak has set a bad example for other countries and created unnecessary fear and anxiety,” the newspaper contended, without identifying who “many” people were. “All countries should take appropriate defensive measures in times of uncertainty to protect the health and safety of their citizens, but we should also be careful not to heighten fears around the world, fueling a wave of panic and overreaction and a wave of racism and xenophobia.”
The article then went on to claim that American politicians “see the misfortune as an opportunity to score points against China,” specifically denouncing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for calling China “the central threat of our times” in unrelated remarks during a trip to Europe, where he was discussing Chinese telecommunications company Huawei’s espionage activities. The People’s Daily does not mention Huawei, instead suggesting Pompeo meant the virus was the threat.
“Unnecessary panic and cruel and heartless comments will do nothing to help contain the virus and will only heighten negative feelings, including racism and hostility,” the People’s Daily column angrily concluded.
President Donald Trump announced last week that, to curb the spread of the new coronavirus in the United States, foreign nations who had spent any time in China in the past 14 days would not be allowed into the country.
China Daily, yet another government media outlet aimed at American readers, also alleged that “conspiracy theories” were hampering efforts to end the outbreak. The article then took a turn, urging the Chinese Communist Party to invest more heavily in preventing foreign countries from launching biological weapon attacks within China.
“Conspiracy theories always have a market during a crisis. But without any evidence to support them, they don’t hold water,” the article read. “But the fact that the possibility is being debated reflects people’s growing awareness of modern biological warfare and fear of it. Any government, including Chinese government, should be alert to such risks and ready to counter any such attack. For this, it is necessary for people to have a basic understanding of biochemical warfare and epidemics.”
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