Questioning the Chinese origin of COVID-19 is the Foreign Ministry’s new talking point

Yesterday, we linked to a Foreign Policy piece (porous paywall) by James Palmer that noted that “conspiracy-minded sites such as College Daily” are publishing stories that insinuate the coronavirus originated in the U.S. Palmer goes on: “Most worryingly, top Chinese epidemiologist Zhōng Nánshān 钟南山…recently made an enigmatic claim at a press conference that the virus may not have originated in China — winking at these conspiracy theories without explicitly endorsing them.”

Since then, Zhong has led a Communist Party oath-taking ceremony that was heavily covered by state media (in Chinese) — we can expect the doctor to feature heavily in victory propaganda once the epidemic is really under control. And today, the Trumpish, tweeting new Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhào Lìjiān 赵立坚 said at a press conference and tweeted: “Confirmed cases of #COVID19 were first found in China, but its origin is not necessarily in China. We are still tracing the origin.”

This is classic disinformation: There is no need to offer any proof. All that is required is to plant a seed of doubt that diverts attention, and makes it more difficult to blame the Party for whatever went wrong in Wuhan. Sadly, we can expect more of the same from the Trump administration if anything goes seriously wrong in the U.S.

—Jeremy Goldkorn

Correction: Zhong Nanshan led an oath-taking ceremony for new Communist Party recruits in early March, but Zhong himself has been a CPC member for at least several decades.