China provoked coronavirus blame game with disinformation against US: Expert

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The US-China blame game over the origin of the coronavirus was caused by China’s malicious disinformation campaign, which left the Trump administration with “no choice but to defend itself,” according to internationally recognized expert on China Gordon Chang.

The Chinese foreign ministry and state media have blamed the United States for the virus, technically known as COVID-19, including government spokesman Zhao Lijian who said “it might be the US army” that brought the coronavirus to China. American military members reportedly attended the Military World Games in the Chinese city of Wuhan in October.

“The Chinese foreign ministry and the Communist Party’s Global Times have been pursuing a relentless—and baseless—campaign to tar America over disease issues,” said Chang in an interview with Al Arabiya English.

Washington first ignored the “malicious” campaign until Lijian's allegation on March 12, according to Chang. Since then US President Donald Trump has referred to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus,” defending the name by saying the virus did in fact come from China. He has also criticized Beijing for not acting sooner to warn the world about the severity of the outbreak.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang responded by saying Trump linking the virus to China is “a kind of stigmatization.”

The spat between China and the United States over the origin of the virus is not helpful, “but Beijing is not leaving Washington with much choice,” said Chang, who is a lawyer and prominent media commentator.

A man wearing a face mask walks through a quiet retail district in Beijing on on March 23, 2020. (AP)
A man wearing a face mask walks through a quiet retail district in Beijing on on March 23, 2020. (AP)

Expert on US-China politics Peter Li said Trump should stop calling the virus “Chinese” and that Lijian and other lower ranking Chinese officials should admit the pandemic broke out in the country – something President Xi has done already.

“The Chinese government, including President Xi Jinping, accepted the preliminary scientific determination that Wuhan’s wildlife wet market was linked to the outbreak,” said Li, a professor at the University of Houston-Downtown, in an interview with Al Arabiya English.

Scientific research suggests the coronavirus originated in bats, before being passed onto another animal, and then spreading to humans at a market in China’s southeastern city of Wuhan.

“Scientists from multiple countries have published and analyzed genomes of the causative agent…and they overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife,” according to renowned independent medical journal Lancet.

“President Xi publicly acknowledged the country’s wildlife trade is the problem… We have not heard President Xi making irresponsible claims and blaming the US,” added Li.

However President Xi has not publicly condemned foreign ministry spokesperson Lijian’s statement that the US “owe us an explanation” for the virus or the Chinese ambassador to South Africa Lin Songtian’s statement on Twitter earlier this month that the virus did not necessarily originate in China.

Dark period in US-China relations

Just two months after Trump and Chinese Vice Premier Liu came together at the White House to sign a landmark bilateral trade deal, US-China relations are going through a dark period, according to Valerie Hansen, a professor of Chinese history at Yale University.

“It would be great if the US and Chinese governments could collaborate during this crisis, but I think the reality is the relationship is really at a low point,” said Hansen in an interview with Al Arabiya English.

“My sense is that the trade deal signed on January 15 is effectively suspended for as long as the coronavirus is with us,” she added. “Everything will have to be renegotiated after the coronavirus crisis ends.”

Li called the current moment “an unfortunate episode in the bilateral relations,” but said it will not permanently damage the US-China relationship.

“This pandemic should alert both countries to the understanding that all countries are interconnected,” said Li. “For the US and China in particular - the two most powerful countries on earth - they have a lot to gain by working together.”

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