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China’s Misplaced Pandemic Propaganda

As the COVID-19 pandemic escalates, China has shifted its propaganda machine into high gear, in an effort to change the narrative about the virus's origins and the Chinese response. But when this crisis is finally over, people will remember what China's leaders did, not what they said.

CLAREMONT, CALIFORNIA – Barely a month ago, China was in the grip of the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak. Thousands of new infections were confirmed every day. Hospitals were overwhelmed. People were dying by the hundreds. People couldn’t leave their homes. But the government’s draconian lockdown seems to have worked: the outbreak now seems to be under control. And, apparently, China’s leaders have ignored its most essential lessons.

To see this, it’s worth reviewing how they handled the crisis. Upon hearing that a new coronavirus had emerged in Wuhan in the Hubei province, local authorities’ first instinct, as we know, was to suppress the information. Police reprimanded whistleblowers like the Wuhan-based doctor Li Wenliang, who subsequently died of the disease. (Wuhan police recently apologized to Li’s family.)

This should have motivated Chinese leaders to weigh the costs of censorship and reconsider the appointment of unqualified party members to key public-health positions. The head of the Hubei Provincial Health Commission, dismissed during the crisis, had no medical training or experience in the public-health sector.