I will begin by citing Sun Tzu: Therefore, one who is skilled in warfare principles subdues the enemy without doing battle, takes the enemy’s walled city without attacking, and overthrows the enemy quickly, without protracted warfare. His aim must be to take All-Under-Heaven intact. Therefore, weapons will not be blunted, and gains will be intact. These are the principles of planning attacks.
I am certain Beijing has employed this approach for the last twenty years and it has been quite successful. With this I mean that up until the beginning of the pandemic the image of China in the West was actually a positive one. Few citizens in Poland, for instance, or any other European country believed China to be a threat to global peace, despite an opposite opinion being held by foreign policy experts, political experts, journalists, diplomats and intelligence services. All of them agree that Beijing’s ambitions do not stop at being the world’s factory, but instead focus on becoming an influential superpower. China’s ambitions and political games manifest in the militarization of its surrounding region and the growing of mysterious islands in order to directly or indirectly subdue its neighboring nations. This was evident in the disunity among EU member governments in a disinformation review that had apparently “spared” China.
In Poland, Beijing has invested tens of billions of dollars, and in interviews representatives of the Chinese embassy constantly stress how important economic cooperation between both nations is, along with attempts to shift blame from itself for the outbreak of the pandemic and painting China as a savior, including the savior of Europe.
In a report, an intelligence alliance comprised of the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, known as the “Five Eyes”, warn of China’s attempts to cover-up information concerning experiments with the coronavirus in Wuhan in the initial stage of the outbreak.
China deliberately withheld information or destroyed evidence about the beginning of the outbreak and the fact that the virus is easily transmitted between humans and extremely contagious.
I already wrote that EU member states had different reactions to China’s soft power during the pandemic, while Washington maintained the role of the global policeman with its odious leader Donald Trump. We can forgive his hotheadedness and sometimes completely wrong statements that contradict the position of the US, but Trump’s eagerness to blame China for causing the COVID-19 outbreak is justified, and we cannot forget that. Almost for the entire duration of January, China did not inform the World Health Organization (WHO) about the new coronavirus and how contagious it is, and this is an undisputable fact. Additionally, China did not admit that the virus is something serious, at the same time increasing the imports of medical goods and decreasing their exports. The government wanted to hide this by denying any export restrictions have been imposed, as well as delaying or completely withholding official trade data.
Currently, China-US relations are at their lowest point in decades, with growing distrust and tensions between both countries, US accusing China of unfair trade and disputes over Hong Kong, Taiwan and territories in the South China Sea. This lowest point in their relations can be easily explained. Beijing is attempting to justify itself by saying that it had done everything openly, while Washington is providing new indirect evidence that China is, in fact, lying. The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has already condemned the US for attempting to shift blame to China for the outbreak of the virus and has urged everyone to stick to the facts. In reality, however, the facts are well known – Beijing allowed the disease to spread outside of its borders. Some European nations have tested blood samples of previously deceased persons and found that the first victims of COVID-19 were already in December of the last year.
Now, Chinese propaganda outlets China Daily, People’s Daily and Global Times report that China is able to assist other nations in fighting the virus, because China itself has only a couple daily cases of infection, and even those are imported by foreigners. The truth is that these are Chinese citizens who have caught the virus in some hotspots and are now returning to their homeland. One thing is clear – Disneyland in Shanghai will open this week, because everything is just fine.
Beijing’s attempts to silence scientists, journalists and members of the public along with it spreading disinformation has furthered the threat posed by the current health crisis. At this point, China’s image in the eyes of Western people has become something completely different (people don’t think China is cheap, they don’t think China is good; all they think of when they hear “China” is the new virus). It will take some time for this to change. The current Chinese leaders have to reread Sun Tzu’s The Art of War – Tibet is not forgotten, and Taiwan too has friends!
*Konstantin Zigar, Polish journalist and graduate from the Lomonosov Moscow State University as an historian.