Alexandre SCHIELE, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel
This presentation will discuss the foreign media coverage of China’s responses to major health crises which could undermine its image globally and domestically: how it portrayed Chinese strategies of containment, how it came to emphasize instances of propaganda and repression, how it came to allude that science and pseudoscience were being deliberately intermeshed, and how it concluded that China’s fight against the pandemic was simultaneously a fight against the spread of the virus and against the spread of information relative to the virus.
The ongoing Covid 19 pandemic is strongly suspected of having originated in China or, at the very least, that the conditions for the acceleration of the pandemic were reunited in China. Very early on, in early 2020, China was praised for its apparent transparency and willingness to collaborate with other countries and international organizations. It was a far cry from the previous pandemic suspected to have originated in China.
Nearly 20 years ago, another zoonotic virus became a human pandemic: SARS – Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, before being traced back to wet markets in Southern China. In 2003, China had just joined the World Trade Organization, the success of the reforms after 25 years was undeniable, and for the first time in decades a younger generation of leaders had taken power. The first reaction was to censure the news with the aim of silencing at first, and minimizing later the scope of the pandemic.
As the pandemic grew more acute, the foreign media became more critical, suggesting that Chinese authorities at all levels had attempted to silence the emerging Covid 19 pandemic, espousing transparency only when it could not be covered up anymore. And even then, it lambasted China for not being fully forthcoming. It willfully echoed rumors of legal repression and of disappearances. Even when China developed a vaccine in record time, started massively vaccinating its population, and now appears to have successfully contained the virus, the foreign media remained suspicious.
Furthermore, the media has amplified the criticisms of foreign governments at China’s apparent attempt to deflect criticisms by promoting the narrative that it successfully defeated the pandemic – with political-cultural manifestations – and that the pandemic originated elsewhere, being transported on frozen food packaging – a theory which the WHO has long debunked. Now that news that the Chinese vaccine has an effectiveness of barely above 50%, China has once again become synonymous with opacity, propaganda and danger.