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Telling China’s COVID-19 Story Well: Beijing’s Efforts to Control Information and Shape Public Narratives Regarding the 2020 Global Pandemic

Josiah Case
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Beijing is deeply invested in shaping the domestic and international public narratives around the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • At stake is the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) legitimacy in the eyes of the Chinese public, as well as the PRCz’s standing in the international community.

Beijing’s public stance on the outbreak has three main stages:

  • Suppression (late December 2019–19 January 2020): the initial weeks of the outbreak in China during which the government tried to minimize the amount of information about the new virus that leaked to the public.
  • Waging a “people’s war” against the virus (20 January–mid-March): the period when the PRC government declared defeating the outbreak in China its “top priority” and launched a “people’s war”to combat it.
  • Leading the global fight against the virus (mid-March–present): the stage following China’s declaration of victory over the outbreak within its borders,when it worked to position itself as an international leader in the global fight against the virus.

Beijing is engaged in a propaganda campaign that promotes narratives favorable to the CCP and seeks to suppress those that would undermine the Party’s legitimacy and China’s international image. The core arguments of this propaganda campaign are:

  • China has responded competently to its outbreak and achieved victory over the virus. 
  • China has responsibly led the global battle against the pandemic.

To further promote these narratives, Beijing has used Washington as a foil by portraying the US as having failed to control COVID-19 and as hindering global efforts to fight the pandemic. For example, Beijing has:

  • Attributed Washington’s struggle to contain the virus to poor leadership, the US system of government, and an unwillingness to cooperate with the rest of the world.
  • Responded to complaints about Beijing’s transparency with counter-accusations that the US has falsified its COVID-19 numbers and silenced “whistleblowers” to hide the extent of its outbreak.
  • Praised China’s global assistance efforts while claiming that the US government has overpromised and under-delivered on aid.
  • Contrasted Beijing’s support for the World Health Organization (WHO) with Washington’s break from the organization.
  • Frequently commented on the impact of COVID-19 on US military operations around the world while maintaining the
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DISTRIBUTION STATEMENT A. Approved for public release: distribution unlimited.
This work was performed under Federal Government Contract No. N00014-16-D-5003.

Details

  • Pages: 186
  • Document Number: DRM-2020-U-028558-Final
  • Publication Date: 12/1/2020
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