China’s state-run Global Times newspaper accused Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday of “betray[ing] Christianity” and bringing “shame to the evangelical Christians” of America for saying that “enormous evidence” exists linking the current pandemic to a biological laboratory in Wuhan, where it originated.
The first cases of Chinese coronavirus are known to have occurred in Wuhan, a central Chinese city of 11 million. Chinese officials initially stated that the virus originated in a “wet market,” where anyone can sell animal carcasses for consumption, and shut the market down in early January. Police “disinfected” the market, making it impossible for scientists to search for samples of the virus to study.
Now, China denies that the virus originated there, despite the fact that all earliest known cases were documented in Wuhan. Instead, Chinese officials have speculated that the virus originated in a U.S. Army laboratory in Maryland, offering no evidence to corroborate this claim. More recently – and in the anti-Pompeo editorial on Tuesday – Chinese media have begun floating the idea that some link exists between the Chinese coronavirus and diseases related to the use of electronic cigarettes in the United States.
The Global Times column on Tuesday was a response to Pompeo stating in an interview on Sunday that there was “enormous evidence” linking the Wuhan Institute of Virology to the pandemic.
“We’ve said from the beginning that this was a virus that originated in Wuhan, China. We took a lot of grief for that from the outset. But I think the whole world can see now,” Pompeo said. “Remember, China has a history of infecting the world, and they have a history of running substandard laboratories. These are not the first times that we’ve had a world exposed to viruses as a result of failures in a Chinese lab.”
Pompeo concluded that, while not complete, investigations appear to show “there is a significant amount of evidence that this came from that laboratory in Wuhan.”
The Global Times responded by attacking Pompeo’s religion in an editorial titled “Pompeo Betrays Christianity with Lies.”
“It is generally believed that Pompeo is a devout evangelical Christian. Sometimes he even ‘preaches’ at diplomatic occasions, for which he was criticized,” the newspaper claimed, without providing examples of what sort of remarks it was referring to. “It seems that he does not care about being a subject of controversy. Nonetheless, his lying for political purposes is contrary to his label as a so-called ‘devout Christian.'”
“It is widely known that Christian doctrine opposes lying – it’s a sin. A false witness shall not go unpunished. And he that utters lies shall perish,” the editorial claims, placing an emphasis on retribution and punishment that is largely absent from the four Gospels that contain Jesus’s teachings and failing to mention the Christian promise of mercy and forgiveness.
“Pompeo has been lying. He has brought shame to the evangelical Christians in the US, misusing their trust in the Republican party. He is no doubt a degenerate politician and despicable from the perspective of religion,” the article asserted.
The editorial claimed Pompeo “lied” in his remarks because he “hates socialist China and, in particular, cannot accept China’s rise. He hence launched a propaganda campaign to ruin China’s image.” It goes on to make a series of outrageous statements suggesting that the virus originated in the United States.
“For example, some Chinese, Japanese and even Americans have long suspected that some COVID-19 patients turned up when the US seasonal flu began last winter. There are even some reports that the lipoid pneumonia cases from vaping e-cigarettes observed in the US last year were actually the COVID-19 cases,” the Global Times claimed, without offering any examples of these alleged individuals who have entertained the theory.
The Global Times article attacking Pompeo’s religion is a significant escalation from Chinese state media’s initial response to his comments, which was merely to call them a “bluff” and urge Pompeo to share the evidence that he claimed existed. It also follows a documented escalation in persecution of Christians within China during the pandemic, according to dissidents and Christians in the country.
China is one of the worst most repressive nations and allows only five legal religions to operate in the country: Christianity, Catholicism (separate from “Christianity”), Taoism, Buddhism, and Islam. China forces the clergy of all religions to use their positions to promote the Communist Party, despite the fact that the Party is by definition atheist. Avoiding government propaganda, many Christians in China opt instead for group prayers at home, typically called the “house church” system, which is illegal.
Persecution of “house churches,” many led by Evangelicals, has escalated during the outbreak. Multiple incidents of mass arrests of Christians for praying together have occurred. China has also targeted the legal “Three-Self Patriotic Church,” bulldozing legal church buildings and removing crosses. Witnesses to the incident say Chinese police bulldozed a church on Easter Sunday this year, the holiest day in the Christian calendar. Police also arrested Christians using online video services to pray together on the holiday.