Donald Trump has claimed China’s handling of the coronavirus is proof that Beijing “will do anything they can” to make him lose the presidency in November. While on the surface, it’s a fanciful claim, the invocation of “China” as an all-around boogeyman is a trend that is being amplified online. Meanwhile, the Chinese Communist Party has been quick to claim “racism” as the motivator for its many critics.
Here is an excellent little summary of one wing of the coronavirus debate: anti-CCP activity backed by Guo Wengui (aka Miles Kwok) who owns GNews and former Trump-adviser Steve Bannon with his anti-CCP website America’s Voice.
Guo Wengui and his media outlet GNews, along with Steve Bannon and his anti-CCP website America’s Voice, are pushing a pro-US, anti-CCP narrative. Wengui is a Chinese billionaire who now lives in the US and works with Steve Bannon. This partnership has often been accused of stoking tensions between the US and China using sensationalist and often conspiratorial content. Popular content … includes videos featuring Guo Wengui that claim the coronavirus is a bio-weapon and that the death toll has been underreported by the Chinese government. This narrative appears to have spread to other conspiracy groups, including the dedicated coronavirus “news” group, where GNews is among the most shared domains…Their goal, as stated in their website description, is to be the bridge between breaking Chinese news and the Western world, though their main outputs are Fox News and America’s Voice clips that have been translated into Mandarin Chinese. Similarly, the English account translates Guo Wengui and GNews clips into English.The COVID-19 “Infodemic”, Graphika
But the Bannon-Kwok axis is just one side of the effort.
The Epoch Times, founded by the Falun Gong, has “evolved from a nonprofit newspaper that carried a Chinese-American religious movement’s anti-communism message into a conservative online news behemoth that embraced President Donald Trump and conspiracy content.”
Epoch Times‘ ads were blocked from Facebook last year for trying to evade Facebook’s review system. At the time it spend some “$2 million worth of ads that promoted the president and conspiracy theories about his political enemies.” That was more than the Trump campaign itself at the time.
(Hardcopies of the Epoch Times are distributed free in various locations in Australia. It’s not difficult to find them.)
I have no evidence Bannon-Kwok axis and Epoch Times are coordinated between each other, just that the share similar pro-Trump, anti-CCP goals.
To give a sense how this international meta-blame game is being directed with focus into the 2020 election, see how Trump, in recent weeks, has claimed that Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has been weak on China.
Biden has responded in kind, drawing attention to Trump’s trust of China over coronavirus.
From the Los Angeles Times:
President Trump’s intensifying criticism of China isn’t just about deflecting blame during the coronavirus crisis — it’s opening up a new line of attack against Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee…. Trump’s reelection chances now rest heavily on his ability to successfully frame the choice voters will face in November as a referendum on China, according to the president’s campaign aides and allies.
For Trump, it’s an update of the unapologetic nationalism he ran on four years ago, when he played up dangers supposedly posed by Mexicans and illegal immigration, and cast opponents as weak and naive… Unwilling to let Trump’s arguments go unanswered, Biden’s campaign battled back Friday with a spate of ads disputing his alleged support for China, and going on offense — blaming Trump for being too trusting of President Xi Jinping as the coronavirus spread.April 17, 2020
Amping up a loathing for “China” (rather than specifically “the Chinese Communist Party and its various organs”) can create a level of tension that cuts through the ambient noise of the US political information sphere. At the same tine, the emotion of fear and loathing for “China” could overwhelm voters’ creeping anxiety for Trump’s record. (60,000 US dead of coronavirus so far).
A campaign stretching around the world and involving perceptions of China and Trump would likely hit all the right notes: blame-shifting away from Trump and the US, towards China and Biden. Specific stories can be seeded in global media this way. But the real power would the scale and persistence.
Already I see friends on social media with Asian backgrounds calling out a resurgent anti-Asian bigotry (comments, signs in public aimed at “Chinese.”) The Biden campaign has come under fire of its ad assailing Trump’s handling of “China.”
Part of tension arises from the fact that the parties involved, China-born Falun Gong members, people of ethnic Asian backgrounds, people with no -Asian identity have real feelings about the China and its rise. Instrumentalizing existing organisations like the Epoch Times helps embed the feeling more deeply into individuals already invested in them. Why reinvent the wheel? The Kremlin did something similar with WikiLeaks fans and the cadres of Noam Chomsky leftists, who adopt views that the Kremlin promotes – all in the name of combating Western “imperialism.”
There is another dimension that many people outside of China, many people in the US may not realize: The Chinese Communist Party itself – the actual rival to the US government (not the Chinese people) uses race and claims of “racism” as a way to advance the regime’s goals.
As John Garnaut has written of the Australian example:
A key to the party’s operations in Australia is collapsing the categories of Chinese Communist Party, China, and the Chinese people into a single organic whole—until the point where the party can be dropped from polite conversation altogether. The conflation means that critics of the party’s activities can be readily caricatured and attacked as anti-China, anti-Chinese, and Sinophobic—labels that polarize and kill productive conversation.Mind your Tongue, ASPI, 2019
The CCP has access to some huge megaphones to project this message.
All of which means that the hot blast of racism around the issues of “China” and people who are “Chinese” may be flowing from both side of the Pacific. The Trump campaign is happy to marshal anti-Chinese racism for domestic political gain. The CCP, meanwhile, would seek to conflate racism with any criticism of the authoritarian party.
In this world view, the CCP calling itself “China” speaks for people as unrelated to mainland China as former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang, for example.
As always, the defense against the polarization on race, identity and otherness is to refocus the debate onto issues of governments, politics, actions, and the ideals that define democracy.
In our current information environment, imprecise, reckless communication is easier than ever. The issue of “China” in the 2020 election will likely prove that.