The New York Times

The New York Times 18 Mar 2020

How China Is Reshaping the Coronavirus Narrative


We looked at China's expansive propaganda system aimed at foreigners and analyzed thousands of English-language tweets from state media and diplomats. Here are the coronavirus messages China is projecting to the world.

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The Chinese government has one of the most extensive
propaganda networks in the world inside the country,
but it also aggressively works to influence
how it's perceived outside its borders.
"Good morning, President Xi!"
China has invested billions into bolstering its image
Its state-run news outlets push out messages in English
around the clock ——
"You're watching CGTN."
"Live in Beijing."
"From Nairobi."
"Washington D.C."
—— and its diplomats have flocked to Twitter
in the last year.
But what happens when this massive P.R. apparatus has
to do major damage control?
We analyzed thousands of tweets
from Chinese state media and official accounts
and found three dominant messages
China wants to project to the world.
Here's what we learned.
A novel coronavirus hit the Chinese city of Wuhan
in January.
Early whistleblowers were silenced.
People were angry about a government cover-up.
But in the majority of tweets we analyzed,
state-owned publications pushed a much more optimistic
view, promoting what they said was an effective response.
They are sharing videos like this.
The Chinese Communist Party refers
to this as positive energy, only focusing
on the bright side of an issue.
China did take drastic measures to try and stem
the outbreak, but that's the only story
China wants the world to see.
And state media is eager to run praise
from foreign experts to back up China's successes.
One tweet from state media that
did reveal Chinese citizens' discontent ——
—— it was quickly deleted.
Once the virus spread across the world,
China started positioning itself
as being at the forefront of fighting the pandemic.
It presented itself as a partner,
a grateful recipient, and more recently a selfless leader,
highlighting large donations from Chinese companies
and the government.
China hasn't typically disparaged
other countries' responses to the virus,
with one exception — the United States.
"President Donald Trump has been
accused of denying, downplaying
and outright rejecting the concerns over the Covid-19
Another thing we noticed are Chinese outlets disputing
the origin of the virus.
It all started in late February
with a renowned Chinese epidemiologist.
Around the same time, the C.D.C. reported the first case
in the United States with an unknown origin.
A screenshot of the announcement incorrectly
translated in Chinese began to trend online
and was untouched by Chinese government censors.
And a high-ranking government spokesperson
actively pushed disinformation about where
the virus came from.
A government giving an optimistic spin to bad news
is not unique.
"We want to go big, go solid.
The country is very strong. We've never been so strong."
But the scale of the Chinese propaganda machine
is, and it's clear that it's being deployed
to try and tell the world a new story
about the coronavirus pandemic.

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