In recent months, page three of the Chinese Communist Party’s official People’s Daily newspaper has regularly featured strongly-worded commentary pieces addressing various aspects of the US-China relationship, and railed against what it now almost routinely calls a “Cold War mentality” (冷战思维) on the part of American officials.

Last weekend, for example, yet another commentary attributed to “Zhong Sheng” (钟声), a pen name used in the paper since November 2008 for important pieces on international affairs on which the leadership wishes to register its view, said unspecified “certain politicians” in the United States had formed a “gang of rumor-mongers” (造谣团伙) that sought continually to “blacken China.” The commentary was also promoted by the People’s Daily on Twitter, along with a photo of the White House and a stop sign.

Today, page three of the newspaper does not include a “Zhong Sheng” column, but instead features a massive article responding to 18 “rumors” it says were pushed by senior White House trade official Peter Navarro in an op-ed published by Fox News on June 7 — addressing each of these allegations point-by-point with lists of supporting bullet points.

The Navarro counterattack, which seems unusual in its level of scope and detail, is further illustration of just how rancorous the war of words between the US and China has become.

It’s important also to note that the People’s Daily article relies heavily on the authority of mostly Western sources, including the United States Director of National Intelligence, the New York Times, Business Insider, the UK’s Daily Telegraph, the COG-UK Consortium, the University of Washington Medical Center, the organization Responsible Technology Australia and so on. While China’s party-state media regularly excoriate “Western media” as being biased and unreliable, and attack what they call “so-called press freedom,” they draw heavily on international media and expert voices wherever possible to support official Chinese positions.

The article, which takes the full bottom half of page three, begins:

On June 7, Navarro, director of the of the Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy (OTMP) at the White House, fabricated a series of China-related lies about the COVID-19 epidemic. Just as mankind faces assault by the COVID-19 epidemic, certain unscrupulous politicians in the US think nothing of combatting the virus in their own country, and even less of cooperating with the world in fighting the epidemic, but instead do everything in their power to attack and discredit China’s universally recognized success in the fight against the epidemic.

Lies are the credentials of those who are shameless and despicable, while the truth is the calling card of those who defend the truth. Here, we list 18 lies manufactured by Navarro, refuting each in order with facts and truths.

Among the “rumors” dealt with in the People’s Daily article (the first of which is the notion that the virus might have originated in a government lab) is the suggestion that Li Wenliang (李文亮), the Wuhan doctor who died of COVID-19 in February after having been reprimanded sharply by police in December 2019 for sharing information about the virus on WeChat, was a “whistleblower” and was “detained.” The People’s Daily attempts to reclaim Li’s legacy, something CMP wrote about back in March, stressing that he was a member of the Chinese Communist Party and that “his outstanding contributions have received the respect of the government and the people.”

The reclaiming of Li’s legacy was a clear propaganda tactic employed by the leadership in February and March to deal with widespread anger over the doctor’s well-documented mistreatment by Wuhan police for attempting to share information in the earliest stages of the epidemic. CMP dealt with the Chinese reporting about Li Wenliang in our February 18 article “The Li Wenliang Storm.” Today’s People’s Daily article notes only that police issued a warning to Li Wenliang on January 3, seriously playing down the intensity of the suppression of information on the epidemic by local authorities in Wuhan.

As CMP researcher Tao Lesi noted in a March article on the notion of “speaking politics” (讲政治) in the context of the epidemic, reports from a number of domestic Chinese media, including Southern Weekly and People magazine, confirmed that the Wuhan City Health Commission had warned doctors’ WeChat groups in late December: “We ask everyone please . . . . do not circulate at will to the outside notices and relevant information about a pneumonia of unclear origins . . . . otherwise the city health commission will subject them to severe investigation.”

On the question of Li, as with the other 17 so-called “rumors,” the tone of the People’s Daily article is stern: “All political manipulation of Doctor Li is immoral, and does extreme disrespect to him and to his family.”

[Featured Image: Peter Navarro, image from White House Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy available at Wikimedia Commons under CC license.]

David Bandurski

CMP Director

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