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Stephen Roach and Weijan Shan say that the Trump Administration's smoking gun in its case against China's COVID-19 response fires blanks

Stephen Roach and Weijan Shan say that the Trump Administration's smoking gun in its case against China's COVID-19 response fires blanks

By Stephen Roach & Weijian Shan*

Public opinion in the United States pins the blame for the COVID-19 pandemic squarely on China. After all, that’s where the virus started. And President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have fanned the flames by accusing China of covering up the outbreak and knowingly allowing the novel coronavirus to spread. But their supposed smoking gun, the tragic fate of the heroic whistleblower, Li Wenliang, fires only blanks.

Li, a doctor, was purportedly silenced and chastised by Chinese officials for warning on December 30, 2019, about a new virus in the Wuhan hospital where he worked. When it became evident that he was on to something serious – so serious, in fact, that it ultimately killed him – the Chinese government changed its tune and celebrated Li’s bravery. If only that had happened sooner, the argument goes, the world would have avoided this horrific pandemic.

But that’s not what happened. Li was a courageous young man. His actions, however, were relatively unremarkable. Indeed, his role has been distorted without regard for fact.

The first Chinese doctor to report a new virus was not Li, but Zhang Jixian, the 54-year-old director of the respiratory and intensive care departments at the Hubei Provincial Hospital of Integrated Chinese and Western Medicine, also located in Wuhan. On December 27, three days before Li’s actions, Zhang diagnosed a family of three suffering from a viral pneumonia of unknown type and immediately submitted a report to her hospital, which, in turn contacted the Wuhan Health Commission on December 29.

Contrary to the Western narrative, the initial response of local authorities was prompt, albeit not without error. Facts and dates are important here. One day later, on December 30, the Wuhan Health Commission sent an urgent warning to all medical institutions under its jurisdiction about the outbreak of a mysterious new pneumonia.

Within hours, the central government dispatched an expert working group from the National Health Commission to conduct on-site investigations and organise a potential epidemic response. The team arrived early the next morning, December 31, and by 1 p.m. that day, the Wuhan Health Commission issued a public announcement about 27 pneumonia cases of unknown origin. The warning added that there was “so far no discovery of cases of obvious human-to-human transmission or infection of medical workers” – a mistake that would haunt China.

Following standard protocols for infectious diseases, the World Health Organisation was informed immediately on December 31. The WHO’s Disease Outbreak News acknowledges receiving a report that day “… of cases of pneumonia of unknown etiology (unknown cause) detected in Wuhan City.” In other words, the WHO sounded a global alert only two days after Zhang’s hospital filed its initial report.

Li, an ophthalmologist, was not trained to diagnose complex respiratory diseases. He and a few other doctors probably saw the December 30 urgent notification from the Wuhan Health Commission. Out of understandable concern, they sent instant messages to friends a little before 6 p.m. that day, warning of a potential outbreak.

The message went viral. Local police then came in, having tracked Li’s warning through China’s notorious Internet surveillance. Yes, the police reprimanded Li on January 1 for spreading a rumour, and he signed a “paper of admonishment” on January 3. But this is not as disturbing as it may seem. At that point, no one, including Zhang and Li, had any insight into the true nature of the disease. Nor did the Wuhan police, who were understandably concerned about seemingly alarmist messages. But Li was not arrested or otherwise punished for rumormongering. Unfortunately, Li died of the coronavirus on February 6, the same day Zhang was officially honoured as the real whistleblower.


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So where is the smoking gun? After testing a stricken family for known viruses, all Zhang knew was that this ailment was different and sounded the alarm, which was enough to spur a quick response from officials at both the local and national levels.

The major early mistake – the failure to consider the possibility of human-to-human transmission – was a judgment error, which probably reflected an under-reporting of cases. Sadly, that lesson has been lost on the US, which continues to suffer from a glaring deficiency of testing and a related undercounting of infections.

This is where the Trump administration’s conspiracy theory falls apart. COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus – it had never occurred before. Local Chinese officials were just as confused as anyone at the first signs of this outbreak. And they remained confused for some time. Why else would they have allowed street parties and holiday travel out of Wuhan prior to the Chinese Lunar New Year? When China’s national health officials did comprehend the virus’s highly contagious nature, Wuhan was shut down and sealed off, on January 23, 2020. Moreover, contrary to the Trump administration’s cover-up narrative, China did not deliberately keep US officials in the dark. The director of China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) briefed his US counterpart on January 3 – within a week of Zhang’s initial report.

While initial contact between the two CDCs was interrupted by the New Year holiday, the coordination between the two countries’ public health officials was much closer – and, as WHO Disease Outbreak documentation verifies, the time lags were considerably shorter – than is widely believed in the West.

The contrast with America’s response is striking. Whereas 27 days passed from Zhang’s initial report to the Wuhan shutdown on January 23, the US took exactly twice as long (54 days) to go from its first official diagnosis of COVID-19 (January 20) to Trump’s declaration of national emergency (March 13).

Li’s death plays a central part in the conspiracy theories that drive the anti-China discourse of Trump’s Republican Party. The “Corona Big Book,” a leaked 57-page GOP Campaign 2020 strategy document is, in fact, filled with distorted accounts of the so-called intimidation of Li. It makes no mention of Zhang.

Equally important to the GOP strategy is the charge that COVID-19 was spawned in a lab at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Notwithstanding the rejection of such allegations by US and other Western intelligence sourcesleading scientists, and Anthony Fauci, America’s foremost expert on infectious diseases, the GOP’s mendacious claims persist.

Whether it’s the lab in Wuhan or the alleged martyrdom of Li, the implications are the same: the more the US struggles with the ravages of COVID-19, the more desperate Trump and his loyalists are to blame China. In a political strategy laced with conspiracy theories, facts matter little.


Stephen S. Roach is a faculty member at Yale University and the author of Unbalanced: The Codependency of America and China. Weijian Shan, CEO of PAG, is the author of Out of the Gobi and the forthcoming Money Games. Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2020, published here with permission.

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24 Comments

11
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Could it be that Trump is a numpty AND there is actually a smoking gun? Neither are mutually exclusive.
CCP's prevarication and bully-boy tactics are a strong indicator, all is not what it seems. Until there has been a proper and impartial investigation into the origins of COVID-19, without interference and skullduggery from the offices of XI-dadda... There will always be strong and lingering doubt into Beijing's version of events.
No investigation needs to be conducted into Trump's numptyness, the evidence is clear....

This article is written clearly for political purpose and ignores the facts, the WHO have some real questions to answer and not Trump!
31 Dec Taiwan "The WHO denied that Taiwan ever alerted them to the potential person-to-person spread of the virus, but Taiwan's CDC said that because they specifically mentioned "atypical pneumonia" – reminiscent of SARS, which is transmitted via human contact – "public health professionals could discern from this wording that there was a real possibility of human-to-human transmission of the disease," they said in a press release

my2c - Some other facts - 10,000 Urns delivered to Wuhan crematoria - about 4,000 deaths reported across all of China - was the CCP expecting more deaths or were there more deaths?? CCP delivered 40 mobile container incinerators - to deal with hospital waste for Hospitals that routinely deal with 40,000 patients a day? Each incinerator had a capacity to burn 5000Kg a day assuming an average corpse at 100Kg and only 20 incinerators working = <> 1000 Bodies a day. Reports from Taiwan with folk with relatives in Wuhan that local fixed base crematoria working 24/7 and rumours/guess's of deaths closer to 120,000. Cities in Hebie province with 60 Million locked down for so few deaths? Few deaths anywhere else in China -yeah right - reclassified perhaps? Pollution reduces 70% as Chinese stay at home - perhaps they know more that we are told? No proof but interesting circumstantial evidence that "Official" figures may be a tad wrong or totally wrong through manipulation?

Why not read Trumps version of the timeline, let us see who has the facts correct.
https://twitter.com/vjmc/status/1262603359611236354
My recollection is clear that the WHO was saying carry on, don't stop travel out of China all while China blocked ALL internal travel.

seems like an attempt at whitewashing,they knew it was spreading when they told the WHO that there was no evidence of human to human transmission mid january.

17
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"Facts and dates are important here".

And yet you omit many. Such as the letter the Taiwanese government sent to the WHO informing them of a new strain of pneumonia in Wuhan.

Or that the WHO said in mid Jan that there was no human to human transmission. Li was concerned about human to human transmission obviously so I doubt it was unknown on China in December let alone early Jan

China lobby is active but no smoke without fire.

Is it The fable of the Chinese whistleblower or is it that the writer is trying to create a fable.

19
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I can't believe this propaganda is being published on this website.

12
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Me too

CCP is buying PR (propaganda) in NZ right now... https://www.reddit.com/r/newzealand/comments/gmi0ex/i_found_this_disgust...

17
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Four very good replies. I couldnt add to them other than to say I am a little surprised to see this article published here. More whitewashing, whether that be from China the WHO or the USA, we need to find the real truth. And we need to back Aussie through this. Can we buy some of their barley? I could use some myself for cattle tucker in this drought.

Anglosphere desperately needs a new leader.

The US is on the highway to hell.

Go Jacinda! Just a joke....

Xi-Dadda is that guy right?

What is Anglosphere xingmiwang? Can you explain it to me a little just so the readership can truly understand what you mean by this comment.

Well you only know what you know and when it comes to dealing in facts with the Chinese Govt that simply isn't possible because it is a totalitarian regime. I am interested that this website has elected to publish such an out of the square article at this time. I also think its fairly credible that China can't be trusted with its responsibility to be a open global citizen, anymore than the USA, USSR or Great Britain for that matter. That is why the WHO investigation will be of such importance and why Taiwan should be part of it.

Watching Documentary about different political leaders and dictator :

Many may not know full details so the entire series is interesting/ watch and below is on China.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=WxaWmqgmJxs

Mao, great guy, knew all about farming. Only 30 to 70 million (depending on who you believe) died during peace time. Success! Guaranteed him having massive portraits all over the country forever. Sweet.

2nd February Ms Hua, Chinese spokesperson declares the USA is doing the opposite of helpful by closing its border with China. It is certainly not a gesture of goodwill she went on to say. That to me sums everything up in a nutshell. The fact that a Chinese national had arrived on a flight from China at Washington DC on 27 January with a poly bag of dead birds in his luggage, tells me the Chinese regime does not give a stuff about anyone else but themselves.

But they like to eat birds. What's wrong with that? I find your post offensive. You must recant your 'wrong thinking' and sign a 'paper of admonishment'.

Trump is so confident and refuses to wear any PPE. Because he knows.

I am shocked how many CCP supporters there are in this comments section. If this viewpoint is replicated throughout the NZ populous then we might as well surrender right now instead of in the future. I am ashamed!!!

"In a political strategy laced with conspiracy theories, facts matter little."

I think the author has just summarized his own article. Facts matter little especially when you can pick and choose to include and/or omit, amend and insert with what fits with your persuasion. More questions to be asked of the CCP and in turn answered by the CCP. But rest assured the CCP will wipe out any trace of explicit and tacit evidence to ensure there is enough room to misinform and obfuscate.

Its just a pitty they (CCP) can't just say ok, come in and have a look. If they did, this type of article wouldn't be taking up valuable web space on interest.co.nz.

Responsible nations would want an investigation immediately. Not just to learn from their mistakes but to also instill confidence in every other nation around the globe that they really do care. Does the CCP care?

Days to the General Election: 24
See Party Policies here. Party Lists here.