China is expected to recover quickly from the Covid-19 pandemic. Photo: AFP/Hector Retamal

China has ramped up its propaganda campaign over the Covid-19 outbreak as it becomes embroiled in diplomatic disputes on three continents.

Amid continuing condemnation from the international community, the country’s state-owned media has launched a blistering defense on the way Beijing has handled the coronavirus crisis.

In an editorial, the country’s leading English-language newspaper, China Daily, went on the offensive:

“Australia has joined the United States and the United Kingdom in politicizing the pandemic as a means to put pressure on China, and it is common sense that trying to stigmatize it in this way will upset the Chinese people and may influence their choices as consumers.

“The conspiracy of these countries stems not from facts or science but from their own fear and jealousy.”

The state-controlled media group was referring to the row about Australia’s demands for an inquiry into the origins of Covid-19, as reported by Asia Times earlier this week.

Bilateral relations have hit rock-bottom after Canberra announced that an independent investigation should be launched to discover the source of the virus. Part of that review would include how the “initial outbreak” in the Chinese city of Wuhan was handled by President Xi Jinping’s administration and the World Health Organization.

Highly sensitive

Still, discussing the issue of transparency with China has become highly sensitive after the rapid spread of SARS-CoV-2 across the planet. 

So far, more than 3.5 million people have been infected globally with the death toll edging past 234,000. In the US, more than 1 million Americans have been infected with nearly 64,000 fatalities.

“There is a global battle of narratives going on in which timing is a crucial factor. China is aggressively pushing the message that, unlike the United States, it is a responsible and reliable partner,” Josep Borrell Fontelles, the leading representative on foreign affairs and security policy for the European Union, said last month.

Since then, France’s President Emmanuel Macron has cast doubts about the communiques emanating from the ruling Communist Party government. 

“We don’t know. There are clearly things that have happened that we don’t know about,” he said in an interview with the Financial Times.

Skepticism has also increased in the UK about China’s response to what has turned out to be a catastrophic world event. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab spelt out Britain’s position at a regular briefing last month. 

“I think there absolutely needs to be a very, very deep dive review of the lessons – including of the outbreak of the virus – and I don’t think we can flinch from that at all,” he said.

US President Donald Trump has been even more vocal along with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

On Thursday, Trump claimed he had seen evidence that Covid-19 originated in a laboratory in Wuhan. “Yes, I have,” he replied to a question at a media briefing but declined to disclose details.

“I can’t tell you that. I’m not allowed to tell you that,” he added.

Yet his comments came after the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence announced in a rare statement that no such assessment had been made, according to media reports.

“A rigorous examination [is continuing on whether the outbreak] began through contact with infected animals or if it was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan. [But it] was not manmade or genetically modified,” the ODNI said in a statement as reported by the American media.

In response, China has denounced calls for an inquiry and branded Trump’s remarks a “stunt” to help him get re-elected in November.

Deputy Foreign Minister Le Yucheng told the NBC network that the world’s second-largest economy was “candid’ and “open” to exchanges between the scientific community.

“What we oppose, however, is unfounded charges against China. One should not accuse China first and then run so-called international investigations just to make up the evidence,” he said.

Global Times Editor-in-Chief Hu Xijin turned the spotlight on Trump and the Presidential elections in the autumn.

“If Trump is man enough, he should prioritize protecting American lives over re-election, and be the political Batman when the US is in crisis,” Hu wrote in a commentary for the tabloid newspaper, which is owned by the Communist Party’s official mouthpiece, the People’s Daily.

“China is also the president’s biggest stunt to divert Americans’ rage toward his administration’s own incompetence in fighting the virus. It is believed Trump and his team are aware of how they have failed [in] their jobs in epidemic prevention and control. Only by making Americans hate China can they make sure that the public might overlook the fact that Trump’s team is stained with the blood of Americans,” Hu said earlier this week.

With language like that, a verbal ceasefire is unlikely to happen any time soon.