Geopolitics Watch: Why the CCP is Provoking America with Coronavirus Disinformation

◎ The CCP is now aggressively distracting, “brainwashing,” and “strong-arming” the Chinese people and the world into “forgetting” that it caused the coronavirus pandemic, to instead show “gratitude” to the PRC for “saving” them.

United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Chinese Communist Party Office of Foreign Affairs director and Politburo member Yang Jiechi spoke by telephone on March 16.

According to a one-paragraph statement on the call released by the U.S. State Department, Secretary Pompeo “conveyed strong U.S. objections to PRC efforts to shift blame for COVID-19 to the United States” and “stressed that this is not the time to spread disinformation and outlandish rumors, but rather a time for all nations to come together to fight this common threat.”

PRC state mouthpiece Xinhua’s statement on the Pompeo-Yang call ran for five paragraphs, three of which contained propaganda and disinformation about how the CCP had handled the epidemic outbreak, as well as the U.S. effort to counter CCP disinformation about the origins of the coronavirus.

Why is the CCP risking the escalation of Sino-U.S. tensions and reduced bilateral cooperation on tackling the coronavirus by using a diplomatic phone call where the U.S. side attempted to address the issue of CCP disinformation to double down on spreading disinformation and propaganda?

Survive and dominate
We previously explained that survival and domination are two sides of the same coin for the CCP (see here and here). The coronavirus epidemic is an existential threat to the regime and is derailing the CCP’s domination agenda because:

a) The Chinese people will blame the CCP for endangering their lives and impoverishing them with its poor early response to the outbreak. The economic consequences of the epidemic are potentially more devastating for the CCP than the coronavirus—while it has no qualms with sacrificing the well-being of Chinese citizens as it uses draconian measures to curb the epidemic, the CCP has to keep delivering economic results for the Chinese people or risk losing its political legitimacy.

b) The world, fearing another deadly and crippling outbreak in the PRC, will eventually seek to hold the CCP accountable for a global pandemic and partially “decouple” economically from China.

Thus, to survive and dominate, the CCP is now aggressively distracting, “brainwashing,” and “strong-arming” the Chinese people and the world into “forgetting” that it caused the coronavirus pandemic, to instead show “gratitude” to the PRC for “saving” them. By deploying the levers of propaganda and disinformation, foreign relations, and trade and production, the CCP is creating up so much smoke that the Chinese people and the world are at risk of neglecting the fire—the origin of the smoke—as they endeavor to clear away the smoke to see better.

Below is a non-exhaustive list of what the CCP has been doing to distract, “brainwash,” and “strong-arm” its audiences:
1. The CCP is painting itself as the “savior of the world.”

  • The CCP is promoting propaganda narratives like “China has bought the world time” and has been passing off the sale of masks, respirators, and other medical supplies to some countries as “donations.”
  • The CCP is also promoting the idea of China as a coronavirus “safe haven,” including pushing the resumption of work and production in China, releasing political signals which hint that the CCP has gotten the coronavirus “under control” (Xi Jinping visiting Wuhan, leaked information about the possible timing of the postponed Two Sessions, etc.), and claiming that the “peak” of the epidemic has passed in China a day after the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic.
  • The objective of this propaganda narrative is to encourage “gratitude” towards the PRC and mitigate the economic consequences of the epidemic, including the pull out of global supply chains from China.

2. The CCP is shifting its narrative of the origins of the coronavirus.

  • The CCP is spreading disinformation through its foreign ministry, diplomats, official and semi-official media outlets, as well as on social media, about how the U.S. Army or the Central Intelligence Agency is responsible for spreading the Wuhan coronavirus to China.
  • The CCP is also arguing that people are “politicizing” the coronavirus by saying that it originated from China.
  • The objective of this disinformation is to get people to focus on and get bogged down with debating the disinformation and whether it is “politically correct” to refer to a disease by the place from which it originated instead of pushing the CCP to allow the world to thoroughly investigate and publicize the currently inconclusive origins of the coronavirus in China.

3. The CCP is promoting the notion that it is “racist” to use the term “Wuhan virus” or “Chinese virus” in referring to COVID-19.

  • Similar to the shifting the coronavirus origins narrative, the CCP’s main objective of encouraging the labeling of those who use the “politically incorrect” reference to COVID-19 is to distract the Chinese people and the world from demanding an impartial investigation into the inconclusive origins of the Wuhan coronavirus.

4. The CCP is tapping into its “Red Matrix” and “Great External Propaganda Plan” (大外宣) to push or coordinate the spread of its propaganda and disinformation.

  • For instance, the WHO and John Hopkins University (for a brief period) refer to Taiwan as “Taipei and environs,” a designation which the CCP prefers. In recent years, the CCP has pressured big organizations and companies into referring to Taiwan in ways that are more in line with its “one China” principle, a move that facilitates the CCP’s effort to dominate Taiwan and bring PRC-ROC “reunification” another step closer to actualization.

5. The CCP is using its control over production to hold other countries “hostage.”

  • The PRC produces the bulk of the world’s supply of masks, respirators, medicine, medical supplies, and other material essentials. This gives the CCP critical leverage over many countries during a pandemic; countries looking to buy from China will be less inclined to stand up to pernicious CCP behavior, publicly express skepticism about problematic official PRC data on the coronavirus, and robustly expose CCP propaganda and disinformation.
  • PRC state and Party media have already threatened to withhold the export of masks and medicine to the United States.

6. The CCP is preparing a Fourth Taiwan Strait Crisis.

  • We previously noted signs which indicate that the CCP is engineering another crisis in the Taiwan Strait.
  • As we previously wrote: “The CCP likely does not believe that propaganda and disinformation will be enough to ‘maintain stability’ once economic activity on the mainland is fully revived. When the Chinese people return to work and regular social activities resume, the CCP cannot stop people from talking about the epidemic, how the CCP has handled the public healthcare crisis, the real number of death and confirmed cases of COVID-19, local government corruption, rising consumer prices, and other sensitive issues. To keep the Chinese people distracted, the CCP must engineer an external ‘crisis.’” From the CCP’s perspective, provoking Taiwan, which has won international acclaim for its excellent handling of the coronavirus outbreak and stands in visible contrast to the PRC’s draconian approach, is the “perfect” external distraction.

1. In our emergency warning on the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak on Jan. 24, we offered three ways in which the world should respond to avert a serious humanitarian and human rights crisis in China and the world. All three ways are still relevant today, particularly the need for the U.S. and the world to “press the PRC to release accurate information about the Wuhan virus” and “call on the CCP to immediately curb its propaganda and influence efforts to sway the global narrative on the virus outbreak.”

2. The U.S. and the world must press the CCP to allow impartial investigations into the inconclusive origins of the coronavirus in China.

3. The Trump administration’s strategy of referring to COVID-19 as the “Wuhan virus” or “Chinese virus” to counter CCP propaganda is a “best of the worse” option. While factually accurate, there is still a risk that real racists in America and elsewhere could latch on to the U.S. reference as an excuse to attack overseas Chinese (not the PRC/CCP) and other East Asians in places where they are a minority.

A more effective way to do counter propaganda would be to refer to COVID-19 as the “PRC virus” or “CCP virus” (中共病毒) or even the “CCP pandemic” (中共瘟疫). “PRC” refers to the communist regime in China instead of to an ethnicity. Meanwhile, the CCP can rightly be faulted for causing an epidemic in China which developed into a pandemic due to its poor early response—the regime did virtually nothing for two months and instead allowed about 5 million people to leave Wuhan without being screened when the coronavirus was already spreading.

Figuring out the best way to label COVID-19 for counter propaganda purposes, however, is what Sun Tze would refer to as the “worst policy” of “besieging walled cities” (其下攻城). The U.S. needs novel strategies to “balk the enemy’s plans” (上兵伐謀), rectify the international narrative on the coronavirus, seize “discourse power” (搶奪話語權) away from the CCP, and put it on the defensive. SinoInsider has those novel strategies.