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China's self portrayal as COVID-19 hero contradicts true role in pandemic

Pakistan Forward and AFP

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Shown is one of the paintings on display now at the National Museum of China, depicting the country's efforts in the coronavirus pandemic as "heroic". [Jiang Dong/China Daily]

BEIJING -- The Chinese regime is actively pushing the narrative of its "heroic deeds" in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, but this self portrayal contradicts the reality of Beijing's role in spreading the outbreak and profiting from the global crisis.

Since the discovery of the deadly contagion in Wuhan at the end of 2019, the Chinese Communist Party has sought to model itself as the vanguard in the fight against COVID-19.

In the most recent example of this push, the National Museum of China opened up a new exhibit, "Unity of Strength", which showcases paintings, sculptures and calligraphy that depict what the regime says is its success in responding to the crisis.

Among the large canvases on display at the museum in Beijing, a painting shows an ecstatic nurse reading a letter from President Xi Jinping to her colleagues.

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Shown is "Eternity and Brevity", a painting by Pang Maokun at the National Museum of China. [Jiang Dong/China Daily]

The state-run China Daily said, "Despite not working on the front line to battle coronavirus, artists spare no effort to document the heroic deeds of those that did, hailing their great contribution to the cause."

In the middle of the room, life-size sculptures of soldiers disembark from a plane to come to the aid of stricken inhabitants, with their uniforms evoking a scene from the Long March -- a defining ordeal for Communist guerrillas in the 1930s during the civil war.

One emotive piece depicts a nurse with a face mask adjusting the full protective suit of a colleague, while another features a close-up portrait of the country's most famous medical specialist, Zhong Nanshan, with a tear streaming over his mask.

As of mid-August, an estimated 20 million people have been infected by COVID-19 with over 750,000 deaths, unleashing an unprecedented crisis that has taken an incalculable political, economic and health toll on every country in the world with no seeming end in sight.

Cover up

This event and the regime's ongoing efforts to flood social media and the news environment with disinformation represent a far cry from the reality of Beijing's response to the worldwide health crisis.

If the regime had been transparent about how dangerous COVID-19 was at the beginning, the world would have had time to react, saving thousands of lives and avoiding much of the current chaos, world analysts and observers say.

Chinese authorities, knowing a deadly outbreak was afoot, said nothing for almost a week, allowing the virus to take hold in Wuhan and spread across the world, the Associated Press reported in April.

At the same time, the Chinese regime deliberately suppressed or destroyed evidence of the coronavirus outbreak, according to an intelligence report compiled by the Five Eyes intelligence agencies of the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United Kingdom in May.

The 15-page report, which was obtained by The Saturday Telegraph of London, said the Chinese government -- to the "endangerment of other countries" -- covered up news of the virus by silencing or "disappearing" doctors who spoke out, destroying evidence of COVID-19 in laboratories and refusing to provide samples to scientists working on a vaccine.

Since the beginning of the crisis, Beijing has been actively attempting to deflect criticism of its role in the coronavirus pandemic by promoting conspiracy theories.

The European Union (EU) on June 10 released a report charging that the Chinese and Russian regimes have sought to undermine European democracy and to burnish their own reputations during the COVID-19 pandemic with "targeted influence operations and disinformation campaigns".

Twitter on June 12 said it had deleted more than 170,000 accounts linked to Chinese government disinformation campaigns.

Profiting from the pandemic

Meanwhile, Chinese companies are taking advantage of the pandemic to turn a profit.

China launched a huge effort to produce personal protection equipment (PPE), such as masks, to meet shortages amid the outbreak. More than 73,000 companies registered as mask makers in the first half of the year -- including over 36,000 new companies in April alone -- as prices and demand soared.

Between March and May, China exported more than 50 billion face masks -- a 10-fold increase from total production last year, according to analysts.

China is set to remain the world's top mask provider, according to analysts, with the big companies ramping up production as the virus continues its global march.

As part of this effort, Chinese authorities are forcing Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang region to work in PPE factories, according to a video report by the New York Times, which cited evidence found in hundreds of videos, photos and government documents.

The programme is part of an effort by Beijing that over the past few years has sent more than a million Muslims, including ethnic Kazakhs and Kyrgyz, into indoctrination camps.

The masks are sold internationally or used in donations as a propaganda tool described by analysts as "mask diplomacy" to deflect blame for the virus --though this gambit has backfired in some cases because of shoddy quality.

In one case, a Chinese firm sold half a million "fake" COVID-19 masks meant to protect doctors. The company falsely claimed the masks met the N95 standard for medical personnel working with coronavirus patients and also falsely claimed they were officially certified.

Chinese malfeasance is not limited to supplying fake or low-quality health equipment.

Chinese-backed hackers are attempting to steal research and intellectual property related to treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) warned in May.

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