Winter is coming
The author is a Beijing correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
I am witnessing public opinion controlled by the Chinese government up close. It is no news that critical postings disappear quickly. But hearing it is different from seeing it personally.
On April 17, it was revealed that the suspected statistics fabrication related to Covid-19 by the Chinese government was indeed true. The Wuhan disease control authorities announced the death toll of Covid-19 was 3,869. Which is 1,290 more than the initial figure of 2,579. This is not a time of war, but more than 1,000 deaths were confirmed later? There is no way to see it other than intentional omission. I heard Chinese people’s response from the scene was, “That shouldn’t be all.” They also said foreigners wouldn’t believe China’s statistics, when even they don’t believe them. To cover the story, I checked Weibo. Xinhua News Agency’s story had some 5,600 comments, many of them critical.
“When possible fabrication and omission were raised, the authorities claimed it was a rumor. In the end, correct information was removed,” someone commented. Another posted, “More people died because of the false report. Who will take responsibility?”
When I checked back to take a photo of the comments a few hours later, they were gone. I wouldn’t be able to record it if I hadn’t taken a screen capture. Remaining comments were “It is best to correct it on time when you find a mistake,” “I am thankful to the medical staff on the front line” and “The government is working based on evidence and has public confidence.”
In February, at the height of Covid-19, I contacted a Wuhan resident after reading his posting on Weibo. “My father’s temperature is running over 40 degrees Celsius [104 degrees Fahrenheit], but no one is coming when I called the hospital. We need help from anyone,” he wrote. I couldn’t interview him as the posting was removed. He was warned not to contact media.
As Covid-19 subsides in China, a greater crisis is sensed. China’s accountability for spreading the virus around the world by controlling information and distorting public opinion in the early stage is growing. U.S. President Donald Trump raised the possibility of the virus leaking from a lab in Wuhan and blames China for lying. French President Emmanuel Macron was harsh on China. “Things happened that we don’t know about,” he said. German newspaper Bild criticized that the government and scientists knew that Covid-19 spread from person to person but did not make it public.
For the human rights issue for the Uighur people in Xinjiang and the Hong Kong crisis, China could argue that other countries should not intervene in domestic matters. But Covid-19 is different. Many countries are ready to call China accountable for growing Covid-19 damages. As said in “Game of Thrones,” “Winter is coming.”
JoongAng Ilbo, April 21, Page 28