(By Sarah Zheng, South China Morning Post)
Zhao Lijian has urged his followers to share allegation from conspiracy website that the disease originated in United States. It comes as senior US officials including President Donald Trump have sought to describe it as a ‘foreign virus’.
Zhao urged his more than 287,000 followers in two tweets on Friday morning to widely share an allegation from a Canada-based conspiracy website that the coronavirus – which has become a global pandemic – originated in the US rather than the Wuhan seafood market that is thought to be its source. “This is so astonishing that it changed many things I used to believe in,” he wrote on his official account.
A spokesman for the US embassy in Beijing declined to comment on Zhao’s tweets. The allegation was apparently linked to the US Army’s participation in the international Military World Games held in Wuhan in October, which drew competitors from more than 100 countries.
The incendiary and unverified claim from Zhao – a prolific tweeter promoted to deputy director general of the foreign ministry’s information department in February – came despite a widespread backlash to his first tweets on the subject late on Thursday.
Beijing in recent days has increasingly pushed back on the idea that the coronavirus, which causes a disease known as Covid-19, originated in China, even though the first cases were reported there in December. The virus has since spread to more than 100 countries, with
As Washington has struggled to slow the spread of the virus in the United States, senior US officials including President Donald Trump have sought to describe it as a “foreign virus”, with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Republican leaders going further to label it the “Wuhan virus” or “Chinese coronavirus”.
Zhao last week told reporters at a briefing that “no conclusion has been reached yet on the origin of the virus”, and that there were “ulterior motives” in labelling it as having originated in China. He cited remarks by Zhong Nanshan, the prominent Chinese respiratory expert who has become an authoritative voice on the outbreak, that the coronavirus may not have originated in China.
Amid an already tense strategic rivalry between the major powers, Beijing and Chinese state-backed media have been further emboldened in their criticism of the US, at first for not being sufficiently supportive of Chinese efforts to combat the virus, then for “stigmatising” the outbreak as originating in China, and now for Washington’s own missteps in handling the epidemic in the US.
Chinese diplomats, many of whom have taken to Twitter in recent months in Beijing’s push for greater international engagement, have actively defended Beijing’s policies to contain the outbreak in China on social media platforms.
High-profile China watchers including Bill Bishop, editor of the Sinocism newsletter, and James Palmer, senior editor at Foreign Policy, have said they were blocked by Zhao on Twitter after criticising his latest tweets about the coronavirus.
Asked in February about blocking people on Twitter, including China watcher Bonnie Glaser from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Zhao said: “If you don’t like someone’s remarks, you have the right to block him or her.”
Source: South China Morning Post, 13 March 2020