China’s state-run media continues to spread falsehoods and outright conspiracy theories about COVID-19. Chinese officials continue to claim that the virus emerged from a “US germ warfare lab,” and now they are casting doubt about the effectiveness of the recently rolled out Pfizer vaccine.
The Chinese media and officials are sowing doubts about Western vaccines and the origin of the coronavirus in an apparent bid to deflect the West’s own attacks on its coronavirus response. Both issues are in the spotlight because of the rollout of vaccines globally and the recent arrival of a World Health Organization team in Wuhan, China, to investigate the origins of the virus.
Some of these conspiracy theories have found a receptive audience in China. The social media hashtag “American’s Ft. Detrick,” started by the Communist Youth League, was viewed at least 1.4 billion times last week after a Foreign Ministry spokesperson called for a WHO investigation of the biological weapons lab in Maryland.
“It’s purpose is to shift the blame from mishandling by (the) Chinese government in the pandemic’s early days to conspiracy by the US,” said Fang Shimin, a now-U.S.-based writer known for exposing faked degrees and other fraud in Chinese science. “The tactic is quite successful because of widespread anti-American sentiment in China.”
Yuan Zeng, an expert on Chinese media at the University of Leeds in Great Britain, said the government’s stories spread so widely that even well-educated Chinese friends have asked her whether they might be true.
Inflaming doubts and spreading conspiracy theories might add to public health risks as governments try to dispel unease about vaccines, she said, saying, “That is super, super dangerous.”
In the latest volley, Chinese state media called for an investigation into the deaths of 23 elderly people in Norway after they received the Pfizer vaccine. An anchor at CGTN, the English-language station of state broadcaster CCTV, and the Global Times newspaper accused Western media of ignoring the news.
Health experts say deaths unrelated to the vaccine are possible during mass vaccination campaigns, and a WHO panel has concluded that the vaccine did not play a “contributory role” whatsoever in the Norway deaths.
Chinese Propaganda Is Trying to Control the Narrative on COVID-19
The reports in Chinese media slamming the effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine came on the heels of research that lowered the effectiveness of its own vaccine from 78% to only 50% effective. After the results of that news, researchers at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a government-supported think tank, reported seeing an increase in Chinese media disinformation about vaccines.
Furthermore, as the WHO arrived in China and once again pointed the blame for the early spread of the virus at the communist nation’s lack of response, government officials needed to strike back, once again spreading the erroneous theory that the virus originated in a “US military lab.”
The Communist Party sees the WHO investigation as a political risk because it focuses attention on China’s response, said Jacob Wallis, a senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.
The party wants to “distract domestic and international audiences by pre-emptively distorting the narrative on where responsibility lies for the emergence of COVID-19,” Wallis said.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying got the ball rolling last week by reviving earlier Chinese calls for a WHO investigation of the US military lab.
State media have referenced past scandals at the lab, but China has given no reliable evidence to support the coronavirus theory.
“If America respects the truth, then please open up Ft. Detrick and make public more information about the 200 or more bio-labs outside of the US, and please allow the WHO expert group to go to the US to investigate the origins,” Hua said.