By Grayson Slover
The world has been brought to its knees by a novel coronavirus, and the disease caused by it: Covid-19. In just over two months, since China’s first public statement on the outbreak to the international community, Iran has begun digging mass graves, Italian hospitals are triaging critical-stage patients, and stock markets are nosediving worldwide. The bad news: all of it is almost certainly going to get much worse.
The first priority for leaders right now should be the safety of their citizens. Individuals should prioritise the same for themselves and their loved ones. Many Americans in these two groups seem to have other priorities for the time being, which they’ll likely regret in the weeks ahead. But even with those of us who realise our latent crisis, what frequently seems to be lost amidst our various attempts to mitigate the harm Covid-19 will soon cause is the fact that we’re only here because of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) egregious malfeasance.
There are still some uncertainties surrounding the virus and its exact origin, but one thing we can be confident about is that the outbreak started in the city of Wuhan, China. Most likely in a market that trafficked wild, exotic animals in squalid conditions.
From the moment when they were first made aware of the outbreak in late December, CCP officials tried desperately to suppress any efforts to alert the public or even the medical community. They silenced doctors, like Li Wenliang, who tried to warn his colleagues of the impending crisis, forcing him to author a self-criticism letter acknowledging the “negative impact” he had caused. Tragically, Dr. Li later died in his Wuhan hospital after getting infected with the very disease he had tried to sound the alarm on.
The Party also prevented hospital executives from alerting their own workers about the disease – because doing so, they said, would amount to “spreading rumours.” Eventually, Wuhan’s health authorities decided they had no choice but to make a public statement on the outbreak. But higher-level Party leaders still remained silent until January 9th — two days after the Wall Street Journal published what was the first report by Western media on the situation in Wuhan. Even after this, for several more weeks, the CCP repeatedly trumpeted the fictitious reassurance that the virus could not spread between humans – a decision that certainly killed thousands more Chinese citizens.
In light of these facts, one would think that the next step for the CCP would be to apologise to the world for their callous mismanagement during the critical early stages of the outbreak. Unfortunately, this has not been the case.
Now that the virus has reached across the globe, and they have managed — officially, at least — to get out in front of it, the CCP has shifted its focus to mounting a massive propaganda offensive to deflect all culpability away from themselves.
It began with CCP officials insisting that the pandemic originating in China did not necessarily mean the virus itself originated there. A ridiculous defence, to be sure. But this outlandish and baseless stance has now transmuted into something much more sinister.
2/2 CDC was caught on the spot. When did patient zero begin in US? How many people are infected? What are the names of the hospitals? It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe us an explanation! pic.twitter.com/vYNZRFPWo3
— Lijian Zhao 赵立坚 (@zlj517) March 12, 2020
Spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Information Department, Zhao Lijian, recently tweeted out the possibility that it was actually the “US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan.” When reporters asked him about this accusation, President Trump assured them that it wasn’t representative of his conversations with Chinese President Xi Jinping. But no Chinese government official has publicly condemned Mr. Zhao’s remarks.
In fact, the CCP has also been hard at work convincing the Chinese people through Chinese social media apps that it was the United States who brought the coronavirus to China. President Xi has explicitly called on provincial and local officials to strengthen “guidance of public opinion,” and the CCP chief in Wuhan even chillingly suggested the implementation of “gratitude education” to ensure that the people of Wuhan were sufficiently thankful for the sacrifices made by their Party overlords.
There is also plenty of misinformation that, although it can’t be connected directly to CCP officials, we can assume they contributed to. According to an unreleased report from the State Department, “roughly 2 million tweets peddled conspiracy theories about the coronavirus over the three-week period when the outbreak began to spread outside of China.” It goes on to say that a portion of these exhibited “evidence of inauthentic and coordinated activity.” At least some of these tweets we can reasonably believe were the work of the CCP, given the rest of their disinformation efforts and their broader record of online political meddling.
The CCP propaganda campaign is enhanced by the pundits and writers in the West who naively regurgitate the same CCP talking points themselves. In most cases, these writers have avoided the blatantly conspiratorial in favor of the more benign-sounding. For example, they might not deny China’s role in the pandemic, but they’ll downplay it to help highlight their own government’s missteps. This plays directly into the hands of the CCP.
To claim, as numerous people have, that the CCP “bought us some time” with their draconian containment methods once they decided to act, is an insult to the legacy of Chinese doctors like Li Wenliang, who might well be alive today if the government had heeded his warning instead of suppressing it.
For all of these reasons, we must do everything we can to forcefully reject the CCP’s blame-shifting disinformation, including when anyone else parrots the same lines. We must convey the essential truth in the most concise and widespread manner practically possible, and there’s nothing more concise and with more potential for widespread dissemination than in how we name the virus in our everyday conversations.
The name “Chinese Coronavirus,” as well as its derivative “Wuhan Coronavirus,” have been the topic of controversy lately. Their defenders accurately claim that they align with how we’ve designated many viruses historically – by their place of origin. But their detractors are also correct in that they have the potential to be interpreted as implications against innocent Chinese people who are victims along with the rest of the world. There have already been some instances of violent xenophobic attacks, and we can expect these to get worse in tandem with the virus’s trajectory.
It is also problematic, however, to refer to it as the “Novel Coronavirus” or anything similarly nondescript. Despite these being technically accurate as well, they fail to communicate anything about the virus’s origin – a crucial point to hammer down if we aim for the truth to emerge victorious in the information war.
I think there is a solid middle ground here, and that is if we call it the “CCP Coronavirus.” This terminology will help to soothe misdirected xenophobic sentiment, while also reinforcing the fact that this pandemic is of the Chinese Communist Party’s making. Indeed, it is a “foreign virus,” as President Trump has (self-servingly) described it. But it wasn’t just any foreigners who are responsible for its spread, or even a particular nationality. Those at fault fall into a very specific group. We must make that clear at every opportunity.
Throughout history, the key events of a crisis are thought by those living through them in the moment to be indelibly seared into everyone’s minds. In reality, though, it is often the case that even in the most cataclysmic of times, many people forget some of the most important facts. Sure, historians who study this in the future will recount that it was the Chinese government that bears the lion’s share of culpability for the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic.
But there is no reason to assume that the preeminent view among these historians will translate automatically to the common knowledge — now or in the future. This is why it is so important to reinforce this essential fact in the casual terminology we use to describe the disease: By calling it the “CCP Coronavirus,” people will never forget whose malevolent negligence it was that started the fire that eventually engulfed the entire world.
Grayson Slover is an undergraduate senior at the University of Colorado, Boulder, studying Politics and Philosophy. He is a regular contributor to QPerspective, the online journal run by the counter-extremism think tank Quilliam International. He is currently working on a book about his time in Xinjiang, China, last year and the human rights crisis taking place there, due to be published in December.