DEHRA DUN, India, 19 April 2020
The Coronavirus pandemic that originated in Wuhan, China, is the biggest crisis facing the world today. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is doing its best to sanitize its image and wash itself of any blame, while using current events to assert its dominance in the world.
The Coronavirus, also known as SARS-CoV-2, has now caused over 150,000 deaths around the world. The virus that originated in a ‘wet market’ in the city of Wuhan is said to have jumped from a bat to a pangolin and then to humans. In December of 2019, doctors in Wuhan warned Chinese authorities about this novel, deadly virus and its potential consequences. Unfortunately, instead of listening to the experts, the authorities had these doctors silenced. Some of these experts eventually themselves succumbed to COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.
In January of 2020, when the novel Coronavirus was still just an epidemic within China, and could have been controlled or contained, around seven million Chinese from Wuhan left the country. At the end of January, all flights out of Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, were banned, but by then it was too late. According to The New York Times, outbreaks were already growing in over 30 cities across 26 countries, mostly seeded by travellers from Wuhan. This was now a pandemic. Interestingly, netizens observed that there were still some active flights departing from Wuhan to the cities of Lhasa, Xinjiang, and Hong Kong — all well-known political hotspots for the Beijing government.
Media reports suggest that most of the seven million Chinese who left Wuhan ended up in Italy and the United States, while other travellers landed in Thailand, Australia, Hong Kong, and Japan. Italy had recently signed an agreement with China as a part of China’s ‘One Belt One Road’ initiative, a move which has increasingly opened Italy’s borders to Chinese business. The earliest documented case of COVID-19 in the United States was a Chinese man from Wuhan who came to Seattle. The first individual in Thailand to test positive for the Coronavirus was also a native of Wuhan.
While we fight to overcome this virus, we must acknowledge why we are in our current situation in the first place. The Chinese government’s negligence helped cause this pandemic. The CCP is directly responsible and must be held accountable. Since August 2019, non-profit newsroom ProPublica has tracked more than 10,000 suspected fake Twitter accounts involved in a coordinated influence campaign with ties to the Chinese government. China is currently trying to shift responsibility and change the narrative around the Wuhan Coronavirus pandemic. This is not a new tactic for Chinese authorities. As of April 10, a Wall Street Journal article stated that China has bought more than 200 political ads on Facebook since the end of 2018, but more than a third were purchased in the past two months. This is a clear propaganda move — the irony that Facebook is banned for Chinese citizens notwithstanding.
Tibetan activists fighting the CCP’s propaganda machine for the past sixty or so years have directly witnessed and experienced these sorts of tactics. In the wake of the global pandemic, slogans like ‘China Lied Tibetans Died’, that have been used on banners by Tibet support groups for the past half-century, are now being shared around the world. A few days ago, a prominent US Senator tweeted ‘China Lied People Died’, in a remarkable and clear example of the popularizing of once more Tibet-specific discourse. All around the world, there is genuine anger against China’s Communist government. A petition going around to fire Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of the World Health Organization, for his failures in handling this crisis has crossed the million-signature mark. Another online petition to hold China accountable, launched by the Tibetan Youth Congress organization, garnered over 10,000 signatures in just a few days.
Today, wars are not fought in the streets or in the mountains, but through the media and on the Internet. Once this crisis is over, there must be a collective effort to ensure China is held responsible, not only for the pandemic but also for the years of atrocities which it has committed against Tibetans, Uyghurs, and other minorities as a violent, colonial superpower. Tibetan groups may need to lead and form coalitions with our allies to put pressure on governments and hold China accountable. A large-scale ‘Boycott Made in China’ campaign must be launched, along with initiatives aimed at encouraging corporations to divest from China. The Japanese model of providing stimulus to companies who bring factories back to their country from China is something that other nations should consider.
Educational outreach programmes on the dangers of using Chinese social media apps such as WeChat and TikTok, which are known to be exploited by the CCP for surveillance, must be developed and successfully executed. In place of baseless conspiracy theories, governments must be notified of the security risks of installing Chinese telecom company Huawei’s 5G network. A travel boycott to China and trade sanctions must be encouraged. These steps will certainly send a message to the CCP and, more importantly, will inspire and set the tone for other movements for freedom and democracy in Hong Kong, Taiwan, East Turkestan, and Tibet.
It is often said that the Chinese word for ‘crisis’ is a combination of ‘danger’ and ‘opportunity’. The current unprecedented crisis is seen by the CCP as an opportunity to reshape their image and reemphasize their power and efficiency around the world. We must thus be steadfast, firm, and committed in our unveiling of the truth and counter-responses to their propaganda.
The people of China are rising up. There are reports of sporadic protests taking place all over the country indicating growing anger towards the Xi Jinping-led government. Reports also confirm that high-ranking officials in the party want Xi Jinping removed. Whether that will happen is yet to be seen, but what we do know is that only a few key events are required to start a revolution.
The death of Dr Li Wenliang, the Wuhan physician who first warned the government about the virus, has provoked much anger amongst Chinese citizens. A netizen on the Chinese website Weibo wrote, “This is not the death of a whistleblower. This is the death of a hero.” The BBC has likewise reported that comments and tributes to the doctor expressing similar sentiments and demonstrating outrage against the Party have over one billion views. Many of these comments have been censored by the government.
Ultimately, Dr Li Wenliang died trying to stop the Wuhan pandemic, but he may have just started a revolution in the process.
About the author
Tenzing Jigme is a Tibetan activist and musician. He is a former President of Tibetan Youth Congress and a member of Tibetan rock group Melong. Twitter: TYCJigme