The White House on Monday further challenged China’s coronavirus response narrative by praising heroes punished by the Chinese government for telling the truth about the coronavirus pandemic.
Deputy National Security Adviser Matthew Pottinger addressed The University of Virginia’s Miller Center in a video, speaking in Mandarin about the story of Dr. Li Wenliang, a 34-year-old Chinese doctor who was detained by authorities after sounding the alarm about the dangers of the coronavirus on December 31. Skeptics questioned whether physical violence at the hands of Chinese authorities further damaged Li’s health after he emerged from his arrest in a weakened condition.
“Dr. Li wasn’t a demagogue in search of a new ideology that might save China, he was an ophthalmologist and a young father who committed a small act of bravery and then a big act of bravery,” Pottinger said, detailing his story.
China’s central government denounced Li’s warning as “rumor-mongering.”
He ultimately went public with his experience with the virus and the Chinese authorities, sounding a warning that reverberated around the globe.
When Li died in February from the virus, he was hailed as a hero in China while Chinese authorities censored the online revolt against the government for silencing his warning.
“The whole world paid close attention,” Pottinger said, calling Li’s death “the loss of a relative for people around the world.”
Pottinger also hailed citizen journalists like Chen Quiushi, Fang Bin, and Li Zehua who went missing after he spread the truth about the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan.
“When small acts of bravery are stamped out by governments, big acts of bravery follow,” Pottinger said.
“Let me break the rule against discussing ‘isms’ to ask whether China today would benefit from a little less nationalism and a little more populism,” he said.
Democrat populism is less about the left versus right than top versus bottom. It’s about reminding a few that they need the consent of the many to govern. When a privileged few grow too remote and self-interested, populism is what pulls them back or pitches them overboard. It has a kinetic energy.
He cited the 2015 Brexit vote, the election of President Donald Trump in 2016, and Thomas Jefferson’s own Declaration of Independence in 1776 as examples of healthy populism.
“It is an admonition to the powerful of this country to remember who they’re supposed to work for: America First,” he concluded.