Coronavirus

Can We Trust China's Claims That It's Winning the War on Coronavirus?

When the state controls the media and foreign reporters are banned, outsiders should be wary of information they’re getting from inside China.

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Imagine that you live in China, and that the only news you get comes from state-controlled media. In early December 2019, you begin to see stories about a mysterious new virus, not unlike pneumonia, affecting patients at hospitals in Wuhan, a central city of 11 million people. Day by day through January, the number of reported cases multiplies, and in February, local officials order you to stay at home. It's inconvenient, but authorities seem to have the situation under control. "Despite coronavirus outbreak, China will continue to advance," the state newswire Xinhua reports on February 7.

Now imagine you're active on Chinese social media. In mid-January, doctors in Wuhan start sounding the alarm—the virus is overwhelming hospitals, and the authorities seem ill-prepared to contain it. Government censors, citing a concern over the spread of "rumors," shift into high gear. Unnerving posts pop up and then quickly vanish. One Wuhan doctor, Li Wenliang, issues a dire warning, and the government detains him for rumormongering. He falls ill with the virus and dies on February 7, just as state media is trumpeting the country's effective response. Li's last words are: "a healthy society shouldn't have only one voice." Social media explodes with a degree of outrage that even China's censors struggle to contain.

The Chinese government is widely seen as having finally gotten the crisis under control. Last week, Beijing reported that the number of new confirmed cases of COVID-19 had dropped to zero. (On Sunday, Beijing reported 46 new cases, 45 of them reportedly imported from overseas.) Quarantine measures are easing, even in Wuhan. Beijing is leading an international fight to contain and treat the illness, donating medical supplies and diagnostic tests to countries around the world. At home, it is implementing sweeping policies to aid economic recovery. And the authorities have formally exonerated Dr. Li.

Yet Beijing's well-documented record of coverups, censorship, and intimidation of critics should give us pause about accepting its narrative. It's now well-established that Chinese authorities covered up the spread of the disease in its early stages. Beijing initially refused to allow U.S. disease experts to visit Wuhan. As the virus gathered pace, it censored even tangential discussion of the crisis online. It detained hundreds of citizens, including medical workers, for "spreading rumors" or criticizing the government's response.

So are Beijing's current data accurate? Has China really stemmed the tide? "It would be really hard to speculate on this question because nobody really has any evidence whether the Chinese government is being honest or not," says Minxin Pei, a China specialist at Claremont McKenna College.

One complicating factor is the pandemic's sheer unpredictability. New information emerges on a daily basis from scores of countries, and conflicting data abound. We remain unclear about the virus' virulence, its degree of contagion, and its incubation period, which could range from less than two weeks to 24 days. Estimates of its mortality rate range from less than 1 percent to nearly 6 percent."The data collected so far on how many people are infected and how the epidemic is evolving are utterly unreliable," writes the Stanford disease prevention expert John P.A. Ioannidis.

China, as the source of the outbreak, clearly possesses troves of potentially useful information. In assessing the reliability of that information, it is important to distinguish Beijing's incentives to be transparent about its current circumstances from its incentives to be transparent about its decisions when the outbreak began.

Beijing has ample reason to be honest about its current data. The Chinese government is obsessive about its global image, and if attempts at a current coverup are revealed—especially amid their humanitarian aid campaigns abroad—their growing clout would quickly evaporate. Beijing knows the risks of a well-timed leak. (Despite its draconian information controls, it cannot control everything, as Dr. Li's protest aptly demonstrated.) We also know that China is adept at disaster control. Its authoritarian governance structure allows it to mobilize resources quickly, and to control communities with astonishing precision. When Beijing says its citizens are under strict quarantine, we have every reason to believe it.

Yet those incentives could abruptly change. Despite state media's united front of reassuring headlines, the country's situation remains volatile. Beijing's count of "confirmed cases" excludes asymptomatic carriers, according to a COVID-19 "prevention and containment plan" published by China's National Health Commission. The Chinese magazine Caixin reported provincial data on March 1 that suggested as many as one in six carriers could be asymptomatic, and their risk of spreading the virus remains unclear. Schools in Beijing are still closed, and many of the city's residents require special authorization to leave their residential complexes. Wuhan is still under near-complete lockdown. Local and regional officials are under immense pressure to report low numbers of new infections. The country risks being overwhelmed by a second wave of cases, upsetting the government's narrative and incentivizing officials toward dishonesty.

That brings us to the past. Any true accounting of this pandemic, and of humanity's efforts to contain it, will require close scrutiny of what transpired in Wuhan from December 2019 through February 2020. Yet Beijing is desperate to avoid being seen as the incubator of a global pandemic, and its accounting of that period is complicated by rampant censorship, intimidation, and deflection, leaving little room for trust.

Chinese authorities have exerted strict control over the internet since the network first entered the country in 1994. But under President Xi Jinping, who rose to power in 2012, angering authorities on the web often carries severe, real-world consequences, including police visits, extended interrogations, forced confessions, and lengthy stints in jail.

As of March 12, at least 452 internet users in China have been "punished" for "spreading rumors" related to the coronavirus, according to the nonprofit group Chinese Human Rights Defenders. People have reportedly been arrested over even benign or equivocal statements that are now impossible to corroborate, including accounts of suspected cases at small city hospitals. At least three citizen journalists have gone missing since the outbreak began; they had traveled to Wuhan, where they reported that local authorities were underestimating and downplaying the crisis. Some officials weren't implementing disinfectant measures, they reported; in some areas, food supplies were running low.

On March 15, 69 year-old Chinese tycoon Ren Zhiqiang—a longstanding critic of the Communist Party—went missing after he posted an article denouncing the government's response to the outbreak. "Without a media representing the interests of the people by publishing the actual facts, the people's lives are being ravaged by both the virus and the major illness of the system," he wrote. On March 17, Beijing expelled all China-based reporters from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post. This was at least ostensibly a retaliation against the Trump administration's restrictions on U.S.-based Chinese reporters, but the move sends a clear message that independent reporting within China's borders can carry steep costs.

This has provided fertile ground for conspiracy theories, many of them spread by Chinese officials—and many of them, especially in recent weeks, suggesting that the pandemic did not originate in China. In mid-March, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Zhao Lijian claimed that COVID-19 is an American disease spread by the U.S. Army during an autumn visit to Wuhan for the 2019 Military World Games. A Sunday editorial in the state-run Global Times implored scientists to "figure out where the virus started."

The Chinese government's role in the pandemic—both in containing it and in allowing it to spread—will be debated for years. But in a time of so many unknowns, one thing is abundantly clear: Any information coming from China should be treated with caution. The authorities there have not earned anyone's trust.

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  2. Hell, no.
    Next question.

    1. I’ll have what this guy is having…

      A better question is, if China is preventing their people from leaving China during this mess, do we even care if they’re lying about their domestic effects?

      It seems clear since mid-February that they’ve decide to soldier through this, ignore the ill effects of the epidemic, and probably send newly infected to Wuhan. Anything to “Turn those machines back on!” Rough on the population of China, but who cares? You don’t hear about them protesting Xi anymore, do you?

      Just so long as their domestic propaganda doesn’t whip the population or their leadership into doing something really rash and stupid against the US or its citizens.

      1. It matters because it informs our own response.

        1. Better to watch what is happening in a country that’s a bit more like ours: Switzerland, Germany, France (stop laughing… compared to the PRC, they do) are rather more open.

          1. As well as South Korea and Japan.

  3. Trust an oppressive, insular regime? Sure, let’s do that.

    1. There is an entire unit in the Pentagon solely dedicated to create and feed disinformation, an otherwise polite word for lies, to TV, newspapers, social media and publications not only in foreign countries, but here in the US as well, which is totally illegal. If we are the world’s bastion of truth as you seem to believe, why are they spending millions of dollars of your tax money to spread lies?
      As for the Chinese, at the moment, the Cubans and Venezuelans are the only ones in Italy helping them fend off what is health disaster. The EU, NATO or the US are nowhere to be seen. Why? The US has barely any supplies of its own. Trump the chump is touting millions of respirators. From where? The captains of capitalism have shipped all US manufacturing to the commies in China. Just about all drugs are made in India an China, we don’t even make our own pennecillin. So this is what happens when you gut your country of any manufacturing for no good reason but pure greed. To make respirators, plans have to be made, parts manufactured, machines built, plastic injection molds made and assembly lines set up. they don’t even have simple face masks and he tell you there will be hundreds of thousand of respirators. Trump seems to be oblivious that it takes time. The clue is that Pence yesterday said we are contacting all our brokers. A broker is not a manufacturer, he’s a guy who makes deals. So Pence is telling you we are not manufacturing anything as of now, we are desperately trying to dig the stuff out from global suppliers. My daughter is a PA at a local hospital, they are running out even of face masks. So you believe Trump, the guy who in the beginning said this was no big deal, just a Chinese virus affecting those dirty people and who now got rid of Dr. Fauci, because Fauci does not care to spew BS and tell it like it is. I’m sorry to say I voted for Trump the chump, he turned out to be on big fat empty suit, a buffoon, a court jester in the palace of the wall street oligarchs.

      1. Sure, that’s why US manufacturing output has increased every decade for the past century, and is more than 10 times what it was in 1920. But don’t stop your rant.

      2. I hope you enjoy your 50 cents for that post.

      3. You do realize it was the Obama administration that depleted the strategic reserves of masks and ppe not the Trump administration right?

        Aren’t you the same one who slams Trump for the very nationalism and America First agenda that would have prevented a large part of the shortcomings?

        Do you really believe what Dr. Fauci says? If so pay close attention to the fact he has repeatedly made it clear that Trump has never seconds guessed him, never countered him, never ignored his advice, and in general is working hand in hand with Dr. Fauci. Is he lying when he says Trump always listens to him and has never second guessed him or countered his advice?

  4. But we can trust our Dear Leader:

    President Trump praised Chinese President Xi Jinping early Friday for “leading the counterattack” against the coronavirus, saying the leader was leading “what will be a very successful operation.”

    “He is strong, sharp and powerfully focused on leading the counterattack on the Coronavirus. He feels they are doing very well, even building hospitals in a matter of only days,” the president said on Twitter after speaking by telephone with Xi.

    “Nothing is easy, but he will be successful, especially as the weather starts to warm & the virus hopefully becomes weaker, and then gone,” Trump continued.

    “Great discipline is taking place in China, as President Xi strongly leads what will be a very successful operation. We are working closely with China to help!”

    1. When you have TDS, everything becomes about Trump.

      Seek professional help before those brain lesions get worse.

    2. So Trump is lying through his teeth at all times except when saying generic good things about bad people to polish their ego. In that, he is being completely and utterly sincere, got it.

      Seriously, dude. The parody accounts have gone over the top. Even OBL has reduced his posts in this crisis. This is getting old.

      1. When Orange Man Bad is your religion, then…Orange Man Bad!

        1. Something about clinging to something and religion?

  5. Can We Trust China’s Claims That It’s Winning the War on Coronavirus?

    No.

    1. Keeping up the ratio for that old maxim-any headline that asks a yes/no question can be answered with “no.”

  6. I just heard a proposal to rename COVID-19 as “the CCP virus”.

    1. Community College of Philadelphia? What do you have against Fist of Etiquette’s alma mater?

    2. Didn’t we beat those guys in a hockey game or something?

      1. No, but a women’s soccer team came close – – – – – – –

  7. Can We Trust China ‘s Claims That It’s Winning the War on Coronavirus?

    No

  8. Trust the Chinese? Seriously? Are you fucking stupid?

  9. Beijing initially refused to allow U.S. disease experts to visit Wuhan.

    Well sure if that’s where you want to pick the starting line. Of course one could pick a different starting line. Like last July, when the US defunded the CDC field epidemiologist embedded in the China CDC. Who would have been already been in Wuhan – with very good relationships with those Chinese field epidemiologists – in Dec.

    1. As long as we’re counterfactualing, what makes you think the authorities would have let him remain in Wuhan, or even let him wander around on his own?

      1. That position has been funded for decades. They were around for SARS1. There is not one novel disease outbreak in China that has ever been ‘missed’ because we had no eyes-on-ground.

        But hey – you keep doing the same old head-up-ass routine you do

        1. Are there any differences in reactions to SARS and Coronavirus?

          Would those differences concern government responses?

          You tell me, Mr Smarty Pants.

        2. Also, I wonder how you know what we have missed. Did your sooper dooper secret Xi red phone give you some inside information?

          1. I wonder how you know what we have missed.

            Reuters is my only ‘news’ type feed. That should be obvious

            But hey – pretend that I even remotely give a shit about your DeRp sewer.

    2. Can we please stop with the regurgitation of fake news and propaganda?

      1) it wasn’t a “field epidemiologist embedded….” That implies an active disease management position. Instead it was a training position designed to improve cross-learnings.
      2) The person occupying that position left. It wasn’t ‘cut’ until almost 5 months later when a replacement wasn’t found.

      Rephrase it another way: A US official providing training to Chinese epidemiologists in Beijing left last year and a replacement wasn’t found. unfortunately, in hindsight, it might have provided a backdoor for the US to learn about the incipient pandemic, but that assumes the information would have been shared outside official CCP disclosures to a foreign agent.

      the tds is tiresome

      1. Instead it was a training position designed to improve cross-learnings.

        WTF is ‘cross-learnings’? You just trying to find some term to avoid the phrase FIELD EPIDEMIOLOGISTS?

        You do realize your invented narrative will have to change when the US falls behind even China in case and death count right? But hey I’m sure you buttmunchers will just come up with another one then

        1. If you don’t know what cross-learning is, you’ve certainly got a handle on the cross responses, what with the ALL CAPS and insults.

          1. Yesterday he made the assertion that during every pandemic everyone either get infected or is immune. There are no other options. He doubled and tripled down on it. And since you’re still alive you’re a super human that is immune to pandemic diseases. So stop worrying.

      2. the tds is tiresome

        This!

        No more a fan of the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue than I was of the last one, but seriously, this one really ain’t his fault. And as for how it’s being handled, it looks like the normal clusterfrak, or maybe a wee bit better, that one would expect given the bureaucratic / administrative sclerosis of our Republic.

        1. Yes it is his fault. It ain’t just China where those jobs have been defunded. In 2018, it went from 49 countries with those technical advisors to 10. China just happened a year later.

          This is all part of ‘those leeches in shitholes should be paying us for our grreaat wisdom. We’re gonna stop paying for this shit.’ And if they fail, the strategy is ‘we can build a great big byootiful wall against all them foreign viruses’.

          I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that ‘libertarian’ (and always R) goals re foreign policy (and apparently science) are to remain as ignorant as possible. This site – articles and commenters – are full of it. Because God forbid someone actually learns something, they might be tempted to ‘do something’. And that might mean someone else has to learn something in order to prevent do that something. Far better to stick head firmly up ass. What could possibly go wrong?

          1. What the fuck makes you think Trump has his fingers in every last little corner of the government? What makes you think government moves so fast that this could not have been some remnant bureaucratic flexing from the previous occupant?

            You do have TDS. The symptoms are clear. You ought to go self-isolate yourself, since you are obviously incapable of avoiding the CNNvirus.

            1. You mean apart from him also firing the global pandemic person who was part of the white House? And then saying in a press conference ‘I’m a businessman. I don’t need all these people around. If we need them, we can hire them back quickly’.

              It never crossed your mind to ask yourself – who exactly is he talking about? Well guess what. This is who. And I suspect – though I don’t know exactly which countries they left or are still in – that this is a reason our federal response is learning absolutely nothing now from the way other countries are handling their response to this specific virus. We look like we are flying completely blind because — we are.

          2. What happened to the mostly reasonable discussion you were conducting the past few days? This crap is not useful or thoughtful.

            1. He probably got the coofs and is staring in the face of his own mortality.

    3. Did the Alex Jones of the left, Maddow, give you this talking point?

  10. No you can’t trust the Chinese, but it would be entertaining to have them try to say “corona virus” real fast.

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  11. But I’ve been assured that the fundamental tenets of libertarianism are open borders and complete economic dependence on communist China

    1. “the fundamental tenets of libertarianism are open borders”

      Precisely.

      #ImmigrationAboveAll

  12. I really am overwhelmed.

    On the religious front I got this from the chief rabbis.

    1. To maintain social distancing, only two people will be allowed to attend at a time, and we will be metering entry. We will be sending a Google doc so that you can sign up for your preferred portion of the seder in 15 minute shifts: The Four Questions; The Four Kinds of Children, Dayenu, The 10 Plagues, Elijah and the Afikomen. We anticipate a lot of interest in the Plagues section so we will have to make some hard choices. (NOTE: if you have children under 5 who can only attend with their parents, as long as they are entirely wrapped in plastic, you can bring them; no need to sign them up).

    2. Some Seder practices and traditions will have to be modified. For example, the family style servings of haroset, matzoh, horseradish, and salt water will have to go. Each guest will receive a pre-packaged box of the essential ceremonial items plus a bowl of matzoh ball soup. You should be able to cry your own salt water tears.

    3. The ceremonial hand washing, however, will be emphasized. Everybody will wash their fucking hands every fucking five minutes.

    4. I inquired with the Almighty about the four glasses of wine limit and proposed raising it to eight. She said no problem at all. So there’s that.

    5. Elijah has advised that due to COVID-19 restrictions in his own organization, he will not be able to attend in person. He is learning how to use Zoom (like the rest of us) and we are hopeful that he will be up to speed by then.

    6. The 10 Plagues section will be modified to focus on the one obvious plague. The other plagues don’t seem that relevant. The kids are hard at work making custom COVID-19 plague masks. The design will be reminiscent of a dog cone. The good news is that they won’t mess up your hair! (And we are obviously not sticking our pinkies in our wine and placing drops on our plate and then drinking the wine!

    7. For the Afikomen, we have determined that having children with grubby hands engage in a hunt all over the house for a small piece of matzah split between all the guests will not work. We will conduct the Afikomen ceremony ahead of time wearing our N-95 masks and gloves and apportion it in separately wrapped pieces.

    We thank you for your understanding and cooperation. If, despite these changes, we are not able to hold the seder in person, don’t worry. We will send everyone a Zoom link and it will be like you’re actually there! If Zoom does not work, we will be participating by group text.

    Miriam will help us “navigate these unprecedented waters” when we do the water blessing, so any questions can be directed to her.

    Dayenu! ????

  13. No we can’t, just like we can’t trust Drumpf when he says there are plenty of tests for who ever wants one!

    1. Sure sure. Except the main difference is you can say that and fear no reprisal. In China you would be heading toward a close personal encounter with a cattle prod and likely execution.

        1. CotM’s relevant comment is relevant.

  14. If you call the Chinese government “China”, then no, you can’t trust them. Nobody in any government can be trusted.

  15. Sure, I trust everything any repressive, totalitarian, murderous, lying dictator tells me!

  16. How is “information” spelled, I wonder.

    1. innfourmateten

  17. …and let’s not even get into the subject of their dealings with the Coca-Cola Corporation.

  18. Dr. LI was assassinated.

      1. What do you want? The Chinese government to claim responsibility, preferably while pulling on the end of their beard and cackling loudly like every old master on Sunday morning Kung Fu Theater?

        Dr. LI Wenliang was 34. Looked to be of normal weight, and without preexisting health conditions. (Though who knows, maybe he was a cystic fibrosis survivor?) The death rate for people in that cohort is ridiculously low. Like under 1 percent low. True, he probably got a mongo viral load working in those conditions, and if he were to get really ill, there probably weren’t a lot of resources to help him.

        But c’mon already. Occam’s cutting really hard in one direction here. Most of the prisoners in GULAG didn’t die from an overt act by the Soviets either.

        1. A source in the Western media, US, UK, AU, etc, with some details

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  20. The Chinese probably are gaining control over the virus, just by the nature of their mass quarantines. Their numbers are also certainly a fraction of reality.

  21. Well, we agree that the spread of the corona virus started in China and we cannot definitely trust the Chinese government. But somewhat truth is there in their confirmation.

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  22. Short answer; No.

    As a general rule, any time the Chinese government makes an announcement that might tend to make them look good, it’s a lie. This has been true for a lot longer than China has been Communist.

  23. Advice from Hong Kong people. Never trust the CCP!

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