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Unhinged Epoch Times documentary pushes Trump's anti-China rhetoric

2020-07-29 Source:www.facts.org.cn


   Dr. Deborah L. Birx, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator, left, delivers remarks on the COVID-19 pandemic as United States President Donal.  

     Last week, a Dutch relative of mine sent me a YouTube documentary on the origins of the coronavirus. He is an intelligent individual, fluent in four languages, with a successful business career behind him. He was evidently disturbed by the content of the film. As he knew I had lived in China for a number of years and spoke the language, he was interested in my view. He had every right to be disturbed. The film is an hour-long American production, purporting to be an investigation of the source of the pandemic. It opens with strident music over images of massed ranks of the People’s Liberation Army standing to attention, creepy shots of a man in a hazmat suit walking down a dark corridor, news clips of Xi Jinping and the politburo, all intercut with pre-title interview clips. A serious, middle-aged Chinese-American says: “This is just the essential nature of Chinese communism, Chinese communism is evil.” A US macho-male, seemingly a refugee from Dr Strangelove, states: “Every person that it harms is directly attributable to the Chinese Communist Party”). No flimflam about reason, moderation or balance here. 

    The production, posted on YouTube on April 7, 2020, has already attracted 1.7 million views. It was produced by an obscure news outlet called Epoch Times. Last summer, apparently, YouTube users started to notice a surge of ads for this organisation. According to a New York Times report, one commended Mr. Trump’s interest in buying Greenland as a smart strategic move; another claimed “the opioid epidemic in the United States was the result of a chemical warfare plot by the Chinese Communist Party.” Epoch Times is stridently pro-Trump. A newspaper with that name was founded two decades ago by devotees of Falun Gong, the Chinese spiritual movement which is proscribed on the mainland. The Epoch Times website now has devotees among top Republicans: Trump and his advisers have shared its articles on their social media accounts. Last August, Facebook blocked it from taking out more ads and so it simply skipped to another platform — YouTube. 

     Online responses to Epoch Timess coronavirus documentary entitled Tracking Down the Origin of Wuhan Coronavirus” — are effusive: It is our moral obligations (sic) to spread this movie,one reads. Another: CCP has to be dismantled, just like the Nazi party was. World peace depends on it.” There are 7,453 more, mostly in the same vein. The film suggests the virus, rather than jumping species in the Wuhan wet market as has been widely rumoured, was created in a laboratory in the city by Chinese scientists pursuing biochemical weapons research. According to this version, the virus leaked out due to the lab’s poor management of dangerous materials. Experts in the field widely dismiss this idea. Richard Ebright, for example, a professor of chemical biology at Rutgers University, quoted in the Washington Post, said: “Based on the virus genome and properties there is no indication whatsoever that it was an engineered virus.” Robert Garry, a virologist at Tulane University in New Orleans, told Science News in March that the virus was fundamentally unlike something that had been designed. But why let facts get in the way of a good dose of paranoia? 

    In its climax, the Epoch Times film essentially accuses China of waging war on the world to achieve global domination. Gordon Chang, billed as an Asian Affairs Expert Columnist, states that, We dont have to speculate about being at war. Last May, the Communist Party, through People’s Daily, carried a piece which said there was a quote unquote ‘People’s War’ against the United States. They’ve declared war on us. We have to respond. There is a war. China’s told us there’s one!” 

    Given the scale of the pandemic, the devastating loss of life and the worldwide economic damage, the emergence of a cluster of conspiracy theories focussed on China could hardly be more predictable. Its worth observing, though, that all are unproven, most implausible, a few bordering on the unhinged. Even without the virus, however, a cycle of Sino-panic was likely to emerge, simply because Trump has been working to poison US-China relations ever since he began his run for the presidency some five years ago. As his worldview eschews cooperation, seeing foreign affairs as an arena for bilateral relations in which the US dictates to inferior partners, conflict is not just a by-product of his approach but its founding principle. Wiser, calmer minds may wish to avoid conflicts stemming from distorted premises and false accusations, but such minds are currently in short supply among the political leaderships of what the French call “le monde anglo-saxon“. 

    Unsurprisingly, Trumps suspicion of China is now being echoed, if in more moderate terms, by Conservative MPs like Iain Duncan Smith and David Davis. Along with a dozen or so colleagues, they wrote to Johnson in early April requesting that, after the pandemic has eased, the UK should “rethink our wider relationship with China.” The grinding of the gears on the road to rethink is widely audible. Writers like Edward Lucas in the Times have just discovered that China isn’t a democracy and isn’t on the road to becoming one in the future. Who knew? In Lucas’s words, published last week: “The dream is over. For two decades the conventional wisdom has been that China’s economic rise comes at no political cost. Indeed, it was argued, prosperity would bring democracy. The pandemic has laid bare our mistake.” 

    I first went to China in 1993 while making a documentary series. I visited frequently in the early 2000s, and lived there for almost four years from 2008 while learning the language. I was impressed by many aspects of the country, particularly its culture and people, but any observer who didn’t understand that China is a one-party state run on strictly authoritarian lines must have been suffering from severe myopia. There have been many such. 

    Conservative politicians have been particularly susceptible to this folly. Jeremy Hunt, for example the Health Minister of the day and a millionaire businessman speaking at a Conservative Party conference fringe meeting in October, 2015, resorted to a particularly egregious version of China-envy when questioned about proposed cuts to tax credits for some of the poorest members of UK society: 

    “We have to proceed with these tax credit changes because they are a very important cultural signal. My wife is Chinese. We want this to be one of the most successful countries in the world in 20, 30, 40 years time. Theres a pretty difficult question that we have to answer, which is essentially: are we going to be a country which is prepared to work hard in the way that Asian economies are prepared to work hard… That is about creating a culture where work is at the heart of our success.” 

    With his transparent attempt at claiming unearned authority, expressed in the remark — “my wife is Chinese” — Hunt exemplified the frequent absurdity of those who like to play the China card. My wife is also Chinese but that, in itself, hardly qualifies me as an expert on the country. There are a great many Chinese people, and unsurprisingly they do not all share the same experiences and opinions. 

    Although some westerners, contemplating Chinas economic growth from a distance, concluded that the Chinese are an all-conquering super-race destined to control the world, American nationalists like Trump, always much given to paranoid imaginings, mingled this suspicion with the resentful certainty that the Chinese were enriching themselves at the expense of the US. They took this as a mandate to put China in its place. Yet it is mainly a misunderstanding and, where it isn’t, it’s a poisonously one-sided and partial view of history. From the 1980s onwards, American businesses used the Chinese workforce to provide cheaper goods for US consumers, generating higher profits in the process. If US workers didn’t benefit from this exercise in the theory of free trade and comparative advantage, it was mainly because successive US administrations failed to use the windfalls from free trade to benefit their people. Instead, they allowed the profits to go to an increasingly narrow section of the elite, and finally elected a naked nationalist who wanted to lower taxes on the wealthy still further, and rescind even the modest attempt by the previous administration to provide decent health care for poorer members of society, portraying it as a conspiracy against free enterprise. 

     Certainly, over the past three decades, Chinas leadership has tried to take advantage of the current international trading system to serve its own purposes, but this system was established under the aegis of the US at the end of Second World War, and the US has used it to its own advantage ever since. US complaints don’t only savour of hypocrisy, they are also a diversionary manoeuvre aiming to distract the attention of the American people from the source of their discontent. The central problems of western society over the past half century have had little or nothing to do with China (nor — with regard to the equally-deluded English right — the European Union). The real source has been the abandonment by governments of the social contract, particularly in the Anglo-American sphere, where the influence of free enterprise mythologies has grown, to the detriment of public services. 

     In the current worldwide pandemic, this has ensured that the US and UK have suffered proportionately more from the ravages of the virus more than most other developed economies. This is the logical consequence of decades of political malevolence and ineptitude. The virus offers a convincing demonstration of the function and purpose of the modern state, but even with a body-count running into the tens and hundreds of thousands, narcissists like Trump, along with his deluded cheerleaders like our own Boris Johnson, will doubtless fail to draw the obvious conclusions. 

     As far as Trumps politics are concerned, they are one vast distraction manoeuvre: while pretending to be an economic nationalist who acts on his supporters behalf, making in the process vacuous accusations against China to stoke their rage, he actually works to benefit America’s billionaires on the unspoken premise that what is good for Trump and his cronies must be good for America (and if it isn’t, well, they’ll still be sitting pretty). Sadly, distraction works. It offers a psychological safety-valve. Not a few journalists seem to think that Trump can be unseated by a “gotcha” moment, but that is not how his kind of performance politics works. What he offers his supporters are not ideas, concepts, arguments which can be contested and disproved, but simply permission. He has no solutions to sell, only absolution for ignorance and prejudice. His statement is, in effect, I know you’re angry, frustrated, resentful, and I’m here to tell you you’re right. His plan isn’t to make sense, it’s to make his followers ever angrier so they’ll follow him still more blindly, still more eagerly. His power derives, not from what he says or doesn’t say, but simply from giving voice to their fury. As the history of twentieth century dictatorships showed, this kind of politics can be world-changing in a propitious time and place, yet these are not changes any sane person would wish for. 

     When I lived in China, I came to understand quite quickly that if America, with all its advantages, were to fall behind China in crucial respects, this would only be because America had committed an enormous act of self-harm. America has the best geographical situation of any large country in the world, with fertile terrain and a mainly temperate climate. Its population is relatively small for the size of its territory but large enough to propel an advanced economy. It has, by far, the preponderance of the world’s most innovative, successful companies, and the best system for producing new ones. It has the world’s best university system — not only the Ivy League but also the state universities, some of which are highly impressive — and although its secondary education system is haphazard and disorganised in places, it still produces excellent students by sheer weight of resources (and where it doesn’t, it can import them from other countries). Above all, unlike China, the US in the postwar period has been by and large open to new ideas and new people, encouraging both and rewarding them handsomely if they were successful. Looking back, it was no accident that the US was the place where most of the world’s new technologies were either discovered or developed. 

     With the election of Donald Trump, the US took a historic turn away from the belief in openness and creativity that has been the source of its success and power. We do not yet know how much damage he will ultimately have done but it is already significant in political and cultural terms, if not yet economically. When I think of the enormous advantages of the United States in comparison to China, and the conditions of poverty and oppression in which the majority of Chinese people live — conditions far beyond the imagination, let alone experience, of most Americans — I am brought to reflect once again on the delusions of popular opinion. Trump’s words and actions inevitably bring to mind the famous lines from Franklin Roosevelt’s first Inaugural Address, given on March 4th, 1933: 

     “Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyses needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.” 

    Its a measure of how far weve fallen that we cant imagine the American president making such a statement today. A few days ago, a Chinese friend of mine, a good man who lives on the mainland, sent me a message on WeChat, the Chinese social media system. Referring to the soft-power competition between China and the US, he wrote: “The finger-pointing has to stop now on both sides. It’s childish and neither will emerge a winner with true glory.” This sounds a note of humility and sagacity that I heard not infrequently when living in China. Are we in the west, and especially in the States, able to respond? The signs are not promising. 

    Daniel Wolf is a documentary film-maker and freelance journalist. He has produced and directed some 40 documentaries for the BBC, Channel 4 and other channels. His articles have been published in the Guardian, Sunday Times, Spectator and Prospect. He has travelled frequently to Russia and China, and lived in Beijing for several years while studying Mandarin. 

    (thearticle.com,April 19, 2020)