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China Daily, one of China’s flagship state-sponsored newspapers, has regularly mimicked major American media outlets’ condemnations of President Trump’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Over the last several months, the paper, which is registered as a foreign agent in the U.S., has echoed America’s most prominent mainstream media — in some cases citing them directly — in an apparent effort to shift focus away from the Chinese Communist Party’s failure to halt the initial coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan.
After Trump defended his use of the term “Chinese virus” to describe the outbreak, saying on March 18 that “it’s not racist at all” to use the label, the New York Times reported that the president was “ignoring a growing chorus of criticism that it is racist and anti-Chinese.” That line was directly cited in a piece that then appeared on China Daily, titled “Trump’s slur against China earns global censure.”
A China Daily article from March 24 cited a widely-shared Washington Post photo emphasizing Trump’s description of the virus as “Chinese,” as well as an interview in The Hill with psychologist and author Steven Taylor on “why outbreaks like coronavirus drive xenophobia and racism,” to argue that Trump was creating “a political distraction and cover up his own mishandling of the epidemic.”
The same day, the propaganda outlet also referenced a Reuters report that the White House had pulled an epidemiologist stationed within China’s CDC in July, warning that the story “further exposes the administration’s dishonesty in claiming that it wanted to help China.” It also cited a widely circulated claim that Trump disbanded the National Security Council’s pandemic response team in 2018, which a Reuters fact-check subsequently labeled as “partly false,” acknowledging that “some of the team members were reassigned to roles that included the pandemic response.”
An April 7 story in The Guardian suggested that Trump’s bashing of the World Health Organization, which parroted Beijing’s false statistics early in the outbreak, constituted a “hunt for a new scapegoat.” The Guardian report also pointed out that Trump contradicted himself “within minutes” after initially announcing the U.S. would pull funding from the WHO because it had become too “China-centric” before backtracking and saying the plan was merely under consideration. Two days later, a China Daily op-ed claimed “Trump sees the WHO as a convenient scapegoat for his own failures,” stating that “within minutes, the US president contradicted himself” on the funding question.
In an April 16 China Daily op-ed criticizing Trump’s decision to defund the WHO, the author used the same two sources quoted in a HuffPost piece — Lawrence Gostin, the director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University, and American Medical Association President Patrice Harris — who were critical of the defunding decision.
China Daily has long been at the center of the information war between the U.S. and China. In February, it drew scrutiny from Republican lawmakers after the Washington Free Beacon revealed that it spends millions to run state-sponsored propaganda in the Times, the Post, and other newspapers, in an apparent violation of the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA). And in March, after the Trump administration capped the number of Chinese citizens who could work in the United States for the Daily and four other state-controlled news organizations, Beijing responded by taking “reciprocal measures” to revoke expiring press passes for reporters at the Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Post.
As the Times reported Wednesday, Chinese agents sought to sow chaos in the U.S. by flooding social media with disinformation as the pandemic began. But Chinese propaganda outlets’ wading into American political battles is further evidence of their nefarious intentions — and it’s hiding in plain sight.