China is actively attempting to deflect criticism of its role in the coronavirus pandemic spreading across the world by promoting conspiracy theories about the origin of the virus.
The spread of these malignant conspiracy theories is not coming from Chinese citizens but from the highest echelons of the Chinese government.
"Patient zero" in the global pandemic may have come from the United States -- not from the Chinese metropolis of Wuhan, where cases were first reported in late 2019, suggested Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian in Mandarin and English tweets last week.
"It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe us an explanation," tweeted Zhao, who is known for his provocative statements on social media.
The United States March 13 summoned China's ambassador after Zhao's inflammatory tweets, deeming them "ridiculous", the US State Department said.
"China is seeking to deflect criticism for its role in starting a global pandemic and not telling the world," a State Department official said.
"Spreading conspiracy theories is dangerous and ridiculous. We wanted to put the government on notice we won't tolerate it, for the good of the Chinese people and the world," the official said.
The pandemic started in a market in Wuhan that sold exotic animals for human consumption, scientists widely assert.
US President Donald Trump, speaking to reporters to announce a state of emergency over the pandemic, also dismissed the Chinese conspiracy theory.
"They know where it came from. We all know where it came from," said Trump.
The circulation of disinformation is not a new tactic for the Communist Party state. The United States, in particular, is often a foil of Chinese propaganda efforts.
Rampant conspiracy theories
Conspiracy theories have circulated widely on social media as the novel coronavirus takes a heavy impact, with more than 5,300 people dead and 140,000 infected worldwide so far.
Last month it was revealed that thousands of Russia-linked social media accounts had launched a co-ordinated effort to spread conspiracy theories about the coronavirus, suggesting the United States was behind the COVID-19 outbreak.
False personae on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are advancing Russian talking points in multiple languages, US officials tasked with combating Russian disinformation told AFP.
Additionally, international concern has grown over the Iranian regime's failure to deliver accurate information to the public as the uncontrolled coronavirus outbreak in the country threatens neighbouring countries and beyond.