The coronavirus-induced game of blame shifting between China and the U.S. reached a new low on Monday when the People’s Daily, the Party’s house newspaper, published an article titled “There are 87,182 coronavirus cases outside of China. The tide has finally turned!”
The piece (in Chinese), which was published on March 17 on the newspaper’s official WeChat blog, is essentially an infographic that shows how the infectious disease has spread in other parts of the world, with countries hit hard by the pandemic, such as Italy and Iran, ranked by the number of confirmed cases and deaths.
While the article’s content is factual, its headline has prompted criticism in China that the newspaper was exploiting the misfortune of coronavirus patients in other countries for its domestic propaganda agenda.
“The moral bankruptcy of the People’s Daily’s editors was revealed when they put ‘finally’ and an exclamation point in the headline. It seems that they were expressing excitement and enthusiasm after a victory,” a Chinese social media user wrote (in Chinese). “Is this a competition or a poker game? Are you comparing numbers?”
One critic wrote (in Chinese): “Greece has suspended the Olympic torch relay. The future of the Tokyo Olympics is still up in the air. ‘The tide has turned’ shows an outburst of nationalist sentiment. China is different from other countries, but it can’t survive by its wits alone.”
“In the eyes of the People’s Daily, these lives are just numbers that they can leverage,” wrote another internet user. “These brainwashing materials published by state media are so shameless. But some people are already buying this narrative.”
The article is representative of the coronavirus narrative that Chinese state media has been trying to sell since China’s health officials said last week that the country had passed the peak of the epidemic. In the following days, in an attempt to turn the tide of negative press surrounding its mishandling of the outbreak at the beginning, Beijing ramped up its propaganda efforts by telling journalists to stop reporting that the virus originated in China. Meanwhile, prominent Chinese diplomats like Zhào Lìjiān 赵立坚 have been pushing a conspiracy theory that claims that the U.S. Army may have had a role in spreading the virus.