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Western media slamming China for ‘authoritarian’ response to coronavirus is just latest excuse to attack US’ biggest rival

Helen Buyniski
Helen Buyniski

is an American journalist and political commentator at RT. Follow her on Twitter @velocirapture23

is an American journalist and political commentator at RT. Follow her on Twitter @velocirapture23

Western media slamming China for ‘authoritarian’ response to coronavirus is just latest excuse to attack US’ biggest rival
China can’t win in its battle with coronavirus – among Western media, anyway. If they impose a quarantine, it’s “authoritarian,” a sign of weakness. If they don’t, it’s irresponsible, and they’ve lost control of the plague.

After months of lambasting China over the ongoing protests in Hong Kong, the Western media has seized a new opportunity to excoriate Beijing for its perceived lack of “democratic” values – this time, targeting its response to the coronavirus epidemic. 

The government might not have played any part in causing the disease, the narrative goes, but they’re making things worse with their efforts to control its spread. Never mind that the disease could have broken out anywhere – that indeed, the exact means by which it spread from the presumed animal carrier to humans is still not certain – it happened in China, and China will be blamed. In the quasi-religious retribution narrative implicit in much of the media coverage, the cardinal sin of challenging the US’ economic dominance without paying lip service to “democratic values” has brought the divine punishment of the coronavirus.

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Damned if you do, damned if you don’t 

Beijing’s response to the virus has been a quarantine on a massive scale never seen before. Wuhan, the epicenter of the epidemic, and other large cities in the area have been completely sealed off via closure of major roads and public transit networks, placing some 50 million Chinese behind a high-tech ‘cordon sanitaire’. With so many moving parts, this approach requires serious state muscle and is far from foolproof – individuals supposed to remain inside the perimeter are said to have slipped out with advance notice, and the disease has already spread to over a dozen countries. 

However, any other approach would be condemned as wildly irresponsible by the same people now throwing shade on China’s “radical experiment in authoritarian medicine.

Indeed, China’s 2003 SARS epidemic is on everyone’s lips as they cast aspersions on Beijing’s ability to deal with this latest epidemic. “The tendency of authoritarian regimes to cover up at times of trouble must be resisted,” the Washington Post chided last week in an editorial preemptively accusing China of mishandling the outbreak, which has killed at least 170 people in China and infected over 7,700 people around the world as of Thursday morning. One particularly lugubrious article even brought up Mao’s Great Leap Forward, reaching over half a century into the past in its zeal to slam China’s “past experience of inaccurate reporting on death numbers and infection rates in other preventable tragedies.” 

Western media is armchair-quarterbacking China’s scramble to contain the virus, and no action Beijing takes – or doesn’t take – will be good enough. While the quarantine has no doubt slowed the spread of the disease  – and even World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has praised the government’s “cooperation and transparency” in addressing the epidemic – the optics of locking down a population larger than all of the largest US cities put together still has pundits’ panties in a bunch.

Even when China’s Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission issued a blanket order against trying to cover up cases of coronavirus, warning violators that they would “be nailed on the pillar of shame for eternity,” Western media merely disparaged the wording as “a bit melodramatic” and went on to cite a former WHO official’s claim that Beijing was “lying about the spread of the Wuhan flu virus from the start.” The idea that the US’ biggest economic rival might be capable of learning from its mistakes and exercising its considerable state power responsibly is anathema to the overarching narrative painting Beijing as a corrupt, inept holdover from a bygone era.

Had Beijing immediately announced the epidemic without having all the facts about how it spread and what kind of virus it was, the government would of course have been excoriated for “fearmongering” and causing civil panic. The New York Times criticized Xi for attending a Lunar New Year banquet earlier this month as if nothing was happening, but had he not chosen to project an image of stability for the Chinese people, he’d have been attacked as weak. 

Indeed, even the Times was forced to admit that while authorities in Wuhan remained publicly silent as the number of infected first started to creep up, they had tipped off the WHO before 2019 was even over, isolating the virus and posting details about it online shortly thereafter. 

Scapegoating: the sincerest form of flattery?

Only in China is a crisis of this magnitude considered to be the fault of the government. When half of Australia was seemingly on fire, criticism of PM Scott Morrison’s response was limited to local media – the “international community” opted to blame climate change. 

Even other disease epidemics, like HIV/AIDS, which saw the US government drag its feet for years before recognizing the scale of the problem, are not blamed on governments. AIDS has killed over 35 million people globally, according to One.org, and there’s no telling how much smaller that number would be had the epidemic itself been addressed earlier. 

Taking the ‘blame-China’ line to the extreme, some outlets even tried to claim the coronavirus had “escaped” from a Chinese lab due to incompetence, pointing out that the Wuhan National Biosafety Laboratory, equipped to study high-risk viruses like SARS and Ebola, is located 20 miles from the live animal market where the coronavirus epidemic is said to have originated. 

However, there is no indication the lab was studying coronavirus at the time of the outbreak, and attempts to link the two – via a suspect “warning” from a Maryland biosafety consultant back in 2017 that China’s “culture” could make the facility “unsafe” at some vague future date, and mention of a 2004 SARS leak at an unrelated lower-security lab – appear to be irresponsible speculation mixed with cultural chauvinism.

Not everyone in the West disapproves of China’s “authoritarian medicine,” however. A disaster “scenario” scripted by the Rockefeller Foundation and Global Business Network in 2010 that chillingly presages the headlines of a decade later praised Beijing’s (hypothetical) “quick imposition and enforcement of mandatory quarantine for all citizens, as well as its instant and near-hermetic sealing off of all borders,” gushing that it (in theory) saved “millions of lives” and enabled a “swifter post-pandemic recovery.

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Such measures have already been put in place for the virus’ home city of Wuhan and to a lesser extent its containing province, Hubei. It remains to be seen whether, as the scenario predicts, Western nations will throw their democratic façades to the wind and start following China’s lead in flexing state power to contain the coronavirus, but it’s likely that at least some of these governments’ complaints about China are motivated by envy.

Western media has taken advantage of the coronavirus epidemic to let their anti-China flag fly in all its biased glory. “Never let a good crisis go to waste,” as an Obama administration official once said.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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