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TM, ®, Copyright © 2017 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

    Sinophobia & Covid-19

    (originally published in March 2020)

    We are witnessing a widespread campaign, especially in the USA, to deflect blame from the Western governments, that obviously failed their countries, and blame China for the way a regional epidemic became a global epidemic and caused a massive economic crisis all over the world. Let's check the facts.

    Did China cover up what was happening in Wuhan? Yes and no. We still have to find out who lied in China and at which level and about what. Western media like Fox News routinely claim that the "the Chinese government" silenced and threatened anyone who spoke about the virus. I have seen zero evidence that the Chinese government did that. It was local regional officials of Hubei province and Wuhan municipality who did that. On February 11-13 China fired the officials in Wuhan responsible for the cover up: China fired senior officials of Wuhan including the head of the Hubei Health Commission (Feb 11) and (Feb 13) replaced Hubei's provincial party secretary Jiang Chaoliang with Shanghai's mayor Ying Yong, and Wuhan's party secretary Ma Guoqiang with Jinan's mayor Wang Zhonglin. This is the first time since 2017 that a top official has been removed. The last one was (famously) Sun Zhengcai, the party secretary of Chongqing. Has anyone been fired in the USA for the weapons of mass destruction that didn't exist in Iraq? Has anyone been fired in the USA for the Katrina disaster? Has Trump been fired for the criminally incompetent comments he made about this virus that have probably caused this epidemic in the USA? Has the CDC director been fired for the grotesque mistakes they made with the test kits and for the misleading information on the importance of face masks? We would love it if the USA took the same actions against those who fail the country. Nobody is held accountable in the USA, no matter how big and catastrophic their mistakes.

    The censorship in China didn't work too well if Wenliang Li, the doctor who first announced the existence of a new deadly coronavirus, became a national hero on WeChat and if we learned of the many funerals in Wuhan through WeChat. So far there is little or no "cover up" discovered by foreign media: it all came out on China's own media. The widely reported story of the truck driver who delivered thousands of burial urns to Wuhan was not secretely smuggled out of China but, quite simply, published on one of China's most popular online media, Caixin (the story is still here as of April 3). The picture of a stack of 3,500 urns was also originally published by Caixin.

    You can find many articles on the web that blame "Chinese lies", in line with Fox News propaganda. Let's take one of the most reliable media, the National Review. Their article looks credible until you realize how many facts have been omitted. Nothing that they wrote is false but they omitted all the facts that would absolve the central Chinese government: Jan 7: Chinese scientists announce that the Wuhan cluster is associated with a novel coronavirus; Jan 10: Chinese scientists of Fudan University in Shanghai publish the new virus' genetic sequence on; Jan 20: Chinese scientist Zhong Nanshan determines that the virus can be passed between people. None of these was blocked by the censors. By Jan 30 more than 50 scientific papers had been published by Chinese scientists in English-language journals. We are not aware of a single study that was blocked by the censors. It is just that before mid January the scientists had not had enough time to study the virus (in China or anywhere else) and the top politicians didn't know what to think. The article correctly mentions that on Jan 11 there was a big political meeting in Wuhan, but it omits to mention that top officials came from Beijing to attend it: either they were suicidal or they had no idea that this virus was so dangerous. Note that on Jan 12 there were no covid-19 cases outside the province of Hubei. If anyone in China had told the world "hey this virus will spread all over the world", people would have either ignored the warning or laughed really loud. The logical conclusion (not because we trust the communist party but because it's the logical one given the facts) is that most likely Beijing was as clueless as anyone else until mid January. Underreporting of bad news is endemic in China because of the pressure on local cadres to show good (not bad) results. Cities and provinces routinely report a higher GDP and downplay pollution and crime. Most likely, this is just another case of local officials trying to suppress bad news. Something similar happens in the authoritarian system created by Donald Trump in the USA: due to the fear of being punished for speaking up, those who work for Trump are under constant pressure to downplay bad news and exaggerate good news.

    Note that, as i said, Chinese scientists sequenced the genome of the virus in a few days and posted it on an open-source website. Because of that achivement, within a few days the German lab of Christian Drosten (who co-discovered the original SARS virus in 2003) had a test kit ready based on that sequencing and posted the instructions on the same open-source website. Unfortunately, the USA decided not to use it. China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan and many other countries rushed to use it.

    I was criticized for writing: "Sadly, we are also realizing that the information coming from a dictatorship is more reliable than information coming from a democracy." The president of China spoke rarely but he always spoke very clearly of how grave the situation was. I cannot say the same of the presidents of the USA and Britain, who misled their public and created a lot of confusion. Xi did not mislead his nation and did not create confusion: his message was very simple and very clear. Countries that trusted Xi did well. Countries and states that trusted Trump and Johnson are in big trouble. In the USA the CDC refused to use test kits that were widely available and sent out faulty ones. It wasn't until March 6 that labs around the USA received working test kits. By then the virus was already everywhere. The CDC insisted for two months that face masks were useless. The "Stop buying masks! Masks are useless!" motto was all over social media and Fox News because the CDC and the Trump officials kept repeating it. China said from the beginning that face masks were important and made them mandatory in several places. Ditto for Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore. Finally on April 3 the CDC recommended that people wear face masks, but only the nonsurgical ones, the very ones that, for two months, the CDC had described as useless. Trump promptly declared that he would not wear a mask. Compare with Xi, who was repeatedly shown wearing a mask in public: who looks like a leader and who looks like a pathetic imitation of some Hollywood macho character? Meanwhile, Trump told governors that they were on their own, that they should not expect help from the federal government. Compared this with China's massive deployment of resources throughout the country. On April 1 Georgia's governor Brian Kemp, live on TV, said "This is a game changer": he had just learned that asymptomatic people can transmit the virus... something that the whole world had known for weeks. He basically confessed that for two months he had been making decisions based on false information. Florida's governor equally dragged his feet from two months and, when he finally imposed a statewide stay-at-home order, he viciously overrode some more restrictive orders imposed by many cities and counties of Florida. Compare with the simple, clear, consistent information and actions in all of China. Meanwhile, Trump kept confusing the public with medieval-style stories of miracle cures and contradictory statements (like when he said that face masks were recommended but he was not going to wear one). While the Chinese government was giving its people common-sense recommendations, US scientists were busy warning the public against trusting Trump's senile ramblings with headlines such as "Drinking, bathing in, or injecting yourself with bleach can be deadly-and it won't cure COVID-19" (Popular Science magazine, April 24) after Trump recommended that people swallow disinfectants.

    And don't blame it only on Trump. There was clearly a big difference in the way that east Asia and the Western countries reacted to the news coming from China. A good example is what happened in Boston, one of the best cities in the world for health care and technology, and still it is telling what happened there: on February 19 Sony (a Japanese company) canceled its annual PAX East gaming expo at the Boston Convention Center, while on February 26 the Boston biotech company Biogen organized a conference attended by more than 100 people (including people from northern Italy). You'd think that a biotech company would know better. Within two weeks, 70 of the state's 95 cases were traced back to that conference.

    When (Jan 23) China locked down a giant city like Wuhan, it was obviously an epochal event that was reported everywhere. In retrospect, we Westerners spent too much time discussing what a totalitarian regime China is that can enforce such a lockdown while spent too little time admitting that something truly scary must have triggered that action. We should have focused more on the "Oh my God let's make sure it doesn't happen here" than on the "Oh my God how evil can that government be".

    It wasn't China that downplayed the threat, it was the USA.

    It is also a bit odd to make a big deal of China's lies when we are living with a US president who lies just about everything just about every day.

    If tomorrow the Chinese government tells me that there is a white elephant, i will take it seriously. Maybe there are ten, maybe it's yellow and not white, but something is wrong with that elephant. If tomorrow the US government or the British government tells me that there is a white elephant, i will ignore the statement: most likely they are only trying to politicize the elephant to win an election, and chances are that the elephant doesn't even exist, just like Saddam's weapons of mass destruction and Osama bin Laden's high-tech bunkers.

    And don't get me started on the media. China has only one version of the facts, but in most cases it is at least close to the truth: people did die in Wuhan and it was a serious case. US media are all over the place, spinning all sorts of disinformation: there is no virus, it is a conspiracy by the Democratic Party, oh there is a virus but it was invented in a secret Chinese lab, oh wait the virus is no more dangerous than the flu, oh actually just take some antimalarian drug, don't wear masks, etc; an endless storm of disinformation. The Chinese media (which is really only one) had a straight story: 1. it's deadly; 2. stay home; 3. go out only for emergencies and wear a mask. Sure, "some" Western media were accurate all the way. But if we judge the whole of Western media, the vast majority was and is garbage. Fox News, that helped spread the virus with 3 months of disinformation, still devotes hours of programming to give advice to its viewers. And of course now the same Fox News is trying to deflect blame by focusing on China: "it's a Chinese virus, we are innocent victims". No, you are the ones who spread it in the USA. As a whole, the Western media did a terrible job of confusion and disinformation. Like it or not, in the USA the media as a whole certainly contributed to spread the virus and kill people, while in China the media contributed to contain it.

    Did China ship faulty equipment to Europe? As far as i can tell, this story is even embarrassing: some European governments rushed to buy equipment from shady Chinese companies, presumably to save money, and now some media accuse the government of China (which knew nothing of these shady deals) instead of accusing the dumb Europeans. Spain bought stuff from Shenzhen Bioeasy Biotechnology, whose name sounds impressive but it is actually a startup that does NOT have a license to sell medical equipments in China. The Chinese government never authorized this startup to sell that equipment. Spain bought the equipment. The Chinese embassy in Spain says that Spain never consulted with them. Whose fault is it if it doesn't work? The stories get ridiculous: the Slovak government bought 1.2 million Chinese antibody tests from a shady Slovak middlemen without even knowing who was making them.

    On the other hand, Italy bought directly from the Chinese government a package that included masks and respirators, and those function perfectly well (delivered on March 12) and Italy received a gift from the Red Cross of China of 100,000 face masks that also work perfectly well. New York received 1,000 ventilators from the Chinese government that work perfectly well.

    The issue is not faulty Chinese equipment but the gullibility of some European governments that bought junk from unscrupulous Chinese firms. There are low-quality products in every country, but you expect that a government would have the means to ascertain the quality before buying them, especially if they are so important. We are blaming China for the colossal stupidity and incompetence of some European governments. China was forced to introduce a specific law to protect dumb Europeans (here). That law basically says "The Europeans are so dumb that they will buy garbage from anybody, so from now on if you want to export anything to the Europeans you first need approval from your government". Europeans should blush. It's like the laws that punish adults who cheat children.

    Was the virus made in a Chinese lab?. See Was covid-19 made in the USA?. There are conspiracy theories in both directions. We cannot rule out that the virus originated from an accident, whether in China or in the USA or elsewhere. If you believe that it leaked out of a lab, be aware that the USA has many more labs that can accidentally leak such a deadly virus (15 BSL-4 facilities versus 1), a much older biological warfare program than China, and a long history of biological accidents. This could be China's Chernobyl, but it could also be another Three Mile Island.

    Maybe we should re-read the story of the Spanish flu of 1918. It was named "Spanish" because Spain was the first country to report it. Spain wasn't involved in WWI and so it had no reason to conceal the pandemic. The other countries didn't want to demoralize the troops. The flu epidemic actually started in Kansas, USA, in Jan 1918. US soldiers then spread it to France in Mar 2018. From France it spread to Spain in Nov 1918. Spain was the first country to report the deadly flu, and in a highly publicized manner: the king himself got sick. And so the name stuck: "the Spanish flu". It also helped that nobody liked Spain: France disliked it because of Morocco, the USA disliked it because of the war of 1898, Austria disliked the dynasty that had succeeded the Habsburgs, England disliked it because of the Catholic conversion of Spain's queen (a member of the British royal family) and Italy disliked it because of its past as colonial oppressor of half of Italy. Spain was a very convenient scapegoat. The first country to report an epidemic is not necessarily the country where it originated, just the first one to talk about it, and, sometimes, a convenient scapegoat.

    Unfortunately, blaming the Chinese works because racism against the Chinese is as old as the Silk Road. If anyone tells you the facts as they are, you conclude that he (for example, piero scaruffi) must be a friend of China.

    A good example of sinophobia to deflect attention from the failures of Western governments: Auslin's article in National Review.

    See also:
    Trump's Virus,
    The Clown & the Virus - Part 1,
    The Clown & the Virus - Part 2,
    A Timeline of Covid-19,
    Covid-19: How it may change the World,
    Sinophobia & Covid-19 in US Media .
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2020 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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TM, ®, Copyright © 2017 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.