What's behind Western media forecasts of China's COVID-19 collapse?

CGTN| 2020-09-04 10:09:20|Editor: Wang Xiaoyu
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Medical staff in Shulan City, China's Jilin Province, May 25, 2020. (Xinhua photo)

Editor's note: Keith Lamb is a University of Oxford graduate with a MSc degree in Contemporary Chinese Studies. His primary research interests are international relations of China and China's "Socialism with Chinese Characteristics." The article reflects the author's opinions, and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

The Diplomat, in hackneyed rhetoric but with a Cold War sentiment, published an article entitled "Is COVID-19 China's 'Chernobyl Moment'?" in March 2020 – China was supposed to be in a state of collapse by now.

However, China's economy is currently bouncing back strongly. J.P. Morgan has predicted 2.5-percent growth for 2020 while all other major economies are set to contract. Considering China appears to be doing relatively well, why is it that the Western media has been so spectacularly wrong?

A charitable explanation is that the Western corporate media is profit driven. Under the pressures of tight news deadlines and with the burden to produce stunning headlines checking facts may not be a top priority.

However, if this is true, where then is the self-promulgated image of objectivity depicted by the liberal media? The fact is, except for the odd "needle in a haystack," there has been a tidal wave of negativity towards China concerning COVID-19.

Having personally experienced lockdown in both China and the UK, I was only too aware of the efficiency of China's response vis-à-vis the UK's. This made watching the shocking image portrayed of China that I encountered in op-eds on a day-to-day basis embarrassing and cringe-inducing.

Westerners are brought up believing that liberal democracies' media provides unbiased and truthful news coverage. However, what then are we to make of stories that characterized China's lockdown as one of incompetence and repression?

During COVID-19, I was in three provinces and not once did I witness anything close to repression unless one counts – being "forced" to wear a mask and have one's temperature taken several times a day as an attack on civil liberties.

No doubt, it's possible to cherry-pick a few sources representing a repressive and incompetent narrative. There were some tragic cases but to pass this of as an accurate presentation of China, as a whole, is an outright fraud.

Undoubtedly, the Western media, concentrated into the hands of a few transnational oligarchs, that stand above and beyond state power plays a huge part in the mischaracterization of China.

However, equally culpable are some Western experts who are also leveraged by these same media giants who have an exorbitant "democratic privilege" within liberal democracies where their capital, positioned across numerous industries, so easily infiltrates into government, academia and civil society.

The fall of China in relation to COVID-19, in fact, is just another episode of the rehashed "coming collapse of China" soap opera that rages on in certain Western academic circles. Some academics are akin to doomsday cult leaders, who time and time again, predict the end of the earth only to conjure up a new date when their crystal ball fails them.

I have had long conversations with many academics sincerely espousing views like, "China can't innovate; the CPC does not enjoy mass support and the government doesn't care about the people." These sorts of views are also mirrored in Western media portrayals of China too.

While these claims still persist, the current historical juncture has proved them wrong. China stands at the forefront of technologies such as quantum computing, 5G, maglev transport and digital banking.

An empty street near the White House is seen during rush hour in Washington, D.C., April 23, 2020. (Xinhua photo)

The developmental success of China, guided by the CPC which has lifted 800 million people out of poverty, has generated widespread approval. Like China's success in tackling COVID-19, some may not like this truth but we nevertheless must accept it.

The problem is that the academic experts who feed the press opinions justify their careers on being China naysayers. They are organically raised up within the system, showered with grants and subsidies, by 'the powers that be' where the media picks up on their opinion because their view already chimes with certain elements of elite transnational capital who remain stuck in history and ideologically hostile to communist states.

These elites of course have an 'unbalanced vote' through their connections in government and media ownership.

As an example in point, Adrien Zenz, a scholar who, according to the Grayzone, claims to be on a mission from god to bring down China has accumulated fame with his report claiming that there are one million Uygurs in "camps." He looks at government procurement bids which total 108 million U.S. dollars as evidence or 108 U.S. dollars per person!

The figures don't add up but that didn't stop the report being published in the anti-China Jamestown Foundation think tank which then quickly spread to the mass media. The one million figure then quickly snowballed in some reports to three million.

Looking at the board of the Jamestown Foundation, populated by military figures such as General Hayden and Spalding, it becomes obvious why Zenz's report would be magnified. Brigadier General Spalding ardently lobbied President Trump to counter China's 5G technology and General Hayden was the former director of the CIA and the NSA.

Under Hayden's watch, he oversaw the NSA's warrantless surveillance, supported water boarding and was instrumental in implementing drone strikes in Pakistan.

While one might think Hayden's being on a think tank lecturing China about counter terrorist and surveillance activities is more than slightly ironic, it must be remembered that this same war on terrorism, sparked by the think tank Project for a New American Century (PNAC), had its sites set not only on invading Iraq but in dominating China too.

In a further twist, Zenz now works for the ideologically named Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation which too has links to the founding members PNAC.

What we have then explaining what's behind Western media predictions about China's COVID-19 collapse, and indeed the demonizing of China in general, is a network of government actors, organic intellectuals, think tanks and media elites who with a mutual agenda seek to present an image of China which is usually devoid of context, which lacks any nuance and at times is completely deprived of truth.

The problem is when lies are repeated so often, fiction becomes the foundation of publicly believed fact. This fiction taking on a life of its own can dangerously become the basis for constructing further structures of knowledge within academia which then recycle themselves into the mass media and government policy circles.

As facts demonizing China are wished into being attention is distracted from the West's own chronic problems. It is this smoke and mirror act that if not rectified could lead to our own "Chernobyl experience." As such, in order to not become the "sick man of the world," we must seek truth from facts whether we like them or not.(Keith Lamb)