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Cockburn

Chinese diplomat’s COVID-19 PR exercise backfires

‘I think this kind of disinformation is very dangerous, I think in a sense it is like a political virus’

April 25, 2020

11:33 AM

25 April 2020

11:33 AM

As countries around the world try to work out a way to live with coronavirus, there’s a growing hostility towards China. In order to remedy any such thoughts, this week Beijing sent the Chinese embassy’s second in command to face something unheard of in her homeland — public scrutiny. Chen Wen, a London-based diplomat for the totalitarian state, took to the BBC’s World at One program on Friday to defend the Chinese Communist record on COVID-19. During the extensive interview, she declared that when it come to the global pandemic, which originated from China, the world should ‘appreciate’ the efforts of the Chinese state rather than criticizing its failings.

However, some gentle probing from the BBC’s Chris Mason meant the interview didn’t exactly go to plan. He played a clip of Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat criticizing the ‘tyrannical’ Communist party and accusing it of falsifying COVID data. Chen replied: ‘It seems to be so easy to blame China for everything, you have to look behind the thinking of these kinds of unwarranted accusations.’ Indeed, the Communist party of China is always keen to inspect people’s thinking.

So what, according to Chen, are the thought crimes behind these ‘unwarranted accusations’? ‘I think the thinking is a deep-seated bias against China, against the Chinese system, against the Communist party of China.’

Full marks for comrade Chen. There is a deep-seated bias against the Chinese system and against the authoritarian extremism of the Communist party. It’s not difficult to understand why when the state has incarcerated more than a million Chinese Muslims to eradicate ‘the virus in their thinking’. Or when the political fanatics kidnap booksellers in Hong Kong who dared publish material criticizing papa Xi. The Communist party of China is guilty of a litany human rights abuses against the Chinese people that no liberally minded individual could countenance. There is something wrong with you if you are not biased against totalitarian extremists.

But instead, according to Ms Chen, the world should be thanking the ‘swift efforts’ of Xi and his cronies (ahem). ‘These swift efforts should be recognized, should be appreciated and not be poured on [with] dirty water.’


Mason then asked if Beijing would be willing to face an independent, external inquiry to determine exactly what happened in those crucial weeks in at the start of the year. Surely, to adopt a mantra of those of an authoritarian bent, if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear?

Alas not, Chen replied: ‘The independent inquiry is politically motivated. When we are fighting the virus at the moment, when we are concentrating all our efforts on fighting against the virus, why talk about investigating into this? This is clearly a politically motivated initiative.’

Mason then pushed Chen on the question of the so-called wet markets where live animals are traded, widely believed to be the origin of the disease.

‘We don’t have this concept of “wet markets” in China,’ said Chen, ‘what we call them is farmers’ markets where you can buy fresh fruits, fresh meats, of course, they are not live but very few of them also sell live poultry.’ Now, Cockburn doesn’t get out of the city all that often, but he’s pretty sure that rural farmers’ markets rarely see the roasting of live dogs…

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The diplomat went on the offensive, claiming that it was not only wrong but ‘insulting’ to call COVID-19 a ‘Chinese virus’. Wrapping herself in the pronouncements of the World Health Organization, Chen said: ‘Well Chris, I don’t know whether you have read the rules of the WHO. The WHO’s rules have been very clear that we cannot link any specific virus with any specific country or region or animal or institution…I think it’s an insulting name.’ As ever, it seems that communists are insulted by facts.

Returning to the validity of certain ‘facts’, Mason asked about a tweet from a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman that suggested the virus had been developed in a US military base. Chen replied: ‘Well, there have been rumors, misinformation all around the world. Some reports said that it’s from a military lab in the US and some say it’s from Wuhan…’

Chen was asked whether she’d be willing to provide any evidence for the conspiracy theory she had just repeated. Mason added that the official would be guilty of spreading misinformation herself unless she backed up her claims. Chen retorted: ‘Well I don’t think so, it’s just citing the reports…all of the origins of the virus should be left to scientists and medical experts to find out. I think this kind of disinformation is very dangerous, I think in a sense it is like a political virus.’

Cockburn wouldn’t describe this outing as a successful PR exercise…

This article was originally published on The Spectator’s UK website.


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