- China’s state-controlled media outlets have frequently boosted the remarks of Dr. Bruce Aylward, a top WHO official who has come under scrutiny following an interview in which he suggested Taiwan is part of China.
- Aylward has been a staunch defender of Beijing’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
- “If I had COVID-19, I’d want to be treated in China,” Aylward said in February after returning from a fact-finding mission to study coronavirus.
- Propaganda outlets like CGTN, China Daily and Xinhua News Agency have circulated Aylward’s pro-China remarks.
World Health Organization official Bruce Aylward has become a favorite of the Chinese government’s propaganda machine over his praise for the communist regime’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, a review of China’s state-controlled media outlets shows.
Propaganda mills like Xinhua News Agency, China Global Television Network (CGTN) and China Daily have amplified numerous clips of Aylward, a WHO assistant director-general, praising Beijing’s response to the coronavirus crisis.
“If I had COVID-19, I’d want to be treated in China,” Aylward said during one press conference that CGTN highlighted on Feb. 27.
“They’ve done this at scale, they know what they’re doing. They’re really, really good at it, and they’re really keen to help,” Aylward said of Chinese health officials.
Aylward, who led a 25-person team on a fact-finding mission to China last month, has also called China’s response to the pandemic “agile and aggressive.”
He said during a Feb. 24 press conference highlighted by Xinhua News that “China’s bold approach” had “changed the course” of the spread of coronavirus around the world.
While the Chinese government’s draconian measures seemingly have slowed the spread of coronavirus within its own borders, the regime has been widely criticized for letting the pandemic get out of hand in the first place.
The government has been accused of covering up the extent of the outbreak, threatening doctors who called attention to the crisis, lying about case numbers, and waging a disinformation campaign to pin blame for the pandemic on the United States and other Western nations.
As of Monday, the United States has recorded nearly 160,000 cases of coronavirus. China has reported around 82,000 cases, though those figures are widely disputed.
The cover-up allegations have not deterred Aylward and WHO from defending China’s response to the pandemic.
WHO as an organization has been dogged by allegations of doing China’s bidding during the coronavirus crisis. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus won his election in 2017 with the backing of China.
On Jan. 14, WHO published a tweet that circulated the Chinese government’s claim that there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission of coronavirus. Coronavirus is widely recognized now as being highly transmissible.
Aylward’s deference to Beijing was highlighted during an interview he conducted Friday with a Hong Kong-based journalist who asked the WHO official about Taiwan’s response to coronavirus. The democratic nation, which has claimed independence from China, has kept a tight lit on coronavirus cases there.
During the interview, Aylward appeared to pretend not to hear questions during an interview when a journalist implied that Taiwan was independent of China. China does not recognize Taiwan’s independence.
After pretending not to hear the question about Taiwan, Aylward ended the interview, which was conducted over the internet. When he was contacted again, he told the reporter asking about Taiwan that he had already addressed China’s handling of coronavirus.
Whether witting or unwitting, Aylward’s remarks have been in line with the Chinese government’s spin of its response to the pandemic.
The State Department warned earlier in March that the Chinese government’s propaganda machine has waged a disinformation campaign to portray Beijing as helping other nations cope with outbreak.
State Department official Lea Gabrielle said Friday that the propaganda campaign aims “to turn the crisis into a news story highlighting supremacy of the Chinese Communist Party in handling the health crisis.”
In mid-February, the State Department classified all of the news outlets as being part of a “foreign mission.” The U.S. Justice Department already requires them to register as foreign agents of the Chinese government.
On Feb. 24, CGTN published video of Aylward praising China’s “bold approach” to containing the spread of coronavirus.
“There’s no question that China’s bold approach to the rapid spread of this new respiratory pathogen has changed the course of what was a rapidly escalating, and continues to be a deadly epidemic,” he said.
“The world owes you a debt,” a message to #Wuhan residents from @WHO expert Dr. Bruce Aylward, who said China’s response to #COVID19 has shifted the curve of the rapid rise in new cases of #COVID19 – an 80% drop in two weeks of a tricky and dangerous virus pic.twitter.com/u4zBXQnH4o
— CGTN (@CGTNOfficial) February 24, 2020
Aylward failed to mention the extent of the Chinese government’s clampdown in Wuhan. Various news outlets reported that officials in the Hubei province erected barricades, welded shut the doors of houses and businesses and used electronic surveillance measures to slow the spread of coronavirus.
China Daily, another leading propaganda outlet, quoted Aylward praising China’s response to coronavirus as the reason that cases had dropped substantially there.
— China Daily (@ChinaDaily) February 25, 2020
— China Daily (@ChinaDaily) March 5, 2020
Aylward also granted an exclusive interview to China Daily in which he said that he was fielding phone calls from colleagues asking him how China was able to curtail the spread of coronavirus.
“And now that cases are picking up, my phone is ring much more and people are saying: How did China do? What they did exactly? ”Bruce Aylward, Assistant Director General of the WHO, told China Daily in an exclusive interview. #COVID19 #coronavirus pic.twitter.com/PnPJtiB3bg
— China Daily (@ChinaDaily) March 7, 2020
Xinhua News Agency, the largest government-controlled news outlet, quoted Aylward praising the Chinese government’s “agile and aggressive” response through 5G technology.
— China Xinhua News (@XHNews) February 25, 2020
Xinhua News also quoted Aylward criticizing travel bans targeting China.
As China has the most experience in the world with #COVID19, WHO expert Bruce Aylward says “if countries create barriers between themselves and China in terms of travel or trade, it is only going to compromise everyone’s ability to get this done” https://t.co/v0GcDnLu82 pic.twitter.com/Yyi8Ue8Tam
— China Xinhua News (@XHNews) February 26, 2020
President Donald Trump implemented travel restrictions on China in late January. Though he was heavily criticized at the time, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert in the United States, has praised the move for preventing a heavy influx of cases to the United States.
Since Aylward’s remarks, shipments from China of coronavirus tests and equipment have been found to be defective. Spain, the Netherlands, and the Czech Republic have all reported that shipments from China contained defective equipment and test kits.
There is also growing evidence that coronavirus continues to spread more widely in Wuhan and other parts of China than the government lets on. Residents of Wuhan has told reporters at independent news outlets about a massive number of urns that have showed up at funeral homes there, indicating that there are far more coronavirus fatalities than the government has acknowledged.
The South China Morning Post, an independent news agency, reported on March 22 that Chinese government officials quarantined more than 43,000 residents of Wuhan who had coronavirus but displayed few symptoms. South China Morning Post reported that the government did not include the patients in its official tally of coronavirus patients.
Not only did the report provide evidence that Beijing has fudged its numbers, it also undercut assurances that Aylward made after his WHO investigation about the transmissibility of the disease.
Aylward told The New York Times in an interview that data from China’s Guangdong suggested little evidence that coronavirus was being spread by asymptomatic carriers.
“There is no evidence that we’re seeing only the tip of a grand iceberg, with nine-tenths of it made up of hidden zombies shedding virus. What we’re seeing is a pyramid: most of it is aboveground,” he told TheNYT.
WHO did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
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