Chinese state media are amplifying a conspiracy that the Wuhan coronavirus may have originated in the U.S.
The media push may have begun in earnest on February 27 when Zhong Nanshan, a pulmonologist who has made major announcements on Chinese state media, said at a press conference: “The coronavirus first appeared in China but may not have originated in China.” Other media outlets have repeated or implied the same message.
“If it’s true that the virus originated in the United States, should China still apologize to the world?” read an article in College Daily, a WeChat account based in New York City popular with Chinese students studying abroad. On Saturday, China’s ambassador to South Africa wrote on his Twitter account, “Although the epidemic first broke out in China, it did not necessarily mean that the virus is originated from China, let alone ‘made in China.'”
“Go on WeChat, go on Weibo, look on Baidu search, and it’s full of ‘look at all the other countries getting sick,’ or ‘the virus came from the United States,’ or all different levels of conspiracy theories,” Xiao Qiang, founder of the China Digital Times and adjunct professor at the University of California at Berkeley’s School of Information, told the Washington Post.
“It’s more than just some disinformation or an official narrative,” Xiao said. “It’s an orchestrated, all-out campaign by the Chinese government through every channel at a level you rarely see. It’s a counteroffensive.”
Dali Yang, professor of political science at Chicago University, said the media campaign was an attempt to draw citizens’ attention away from China’s response to the outbreak.
“The purpose is to lessen the focus on how China bungled its response,” Yang said. “It’s a kind of blame-shifting.”