The Stew Reporting on government and politics

The cost of China’s info wars

Politics | Holding Beijing accountable for COVID-19 disinformation
by Harvest Prude
Posted 4/09/20, 05:37 pm

In late December, a Chinese doctor warned former classmates about a new severe respiratory disease he had treated. Later, he realized it was a new coronavirus, the same kind of pathogen that caused the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in the early 2000s.

With that, Dr. Li Wenliang, a 33-year-old ophthalmologist in Wuhan, China, became the first to sound the alarm on what would become the COVID-19 pandemic.

Instead of heeding his call, Chinese Communist Party officials and hospital managers interrogated Li. They accused him of spreading rumors and forced him to retract his statements.

“This is a classic play out of the Chinese playbook,” said Olivia Enos, a China analyst with the Heritage Foundation, who noted the Communist Party also suppressed the SARS whistleblower in 2003.

Despite pressure to remain silent, Li continued to dispute government statements denying the possibility of human-to-human transmission of the disease. Soon, he came down with it himself. Li died from COVID-19, sparking widespread mourning among Chinese citizens who hailed him as a hero.

The suppression of information about the new coronavirus delayed the world’s readiness for the eventual pandemic—leading some to lay blame for every worldwide death at the feet of the Chinese government. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill and human rights advocates increasingly demand that the United States use its economic policy to hold the Chinese government accountable.

“We’re dealing with disinformation that means dead or wounded people, job loss, and terrible dislocation,” said Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., a member of the Congressional-Executive Committee on China. “So much suffering because [the Chinese government] lied aggressively, by design, about this terrible pandemic.”

On Tuesday, Smith sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo calling for an investigation into the Chinese government’s early handling of the outbreak. He also advised the United States to use sanctions to punish any officials who violated human rights during the crisis.

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., also called for an international investigation into the matter, while Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., is leading a similar effort in the House.

Meanwhile, Sens. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and Bob Menendez, D-N.J., introduced legislation to lessen U.S. dependence on Chinese pharmaceuticals. The United States manufactures less than 30 percent of active pharmaceutical ingredients domestically.

So far, President Donald Trump has not threatened retaliatory measures against China, but his administration knows not to rely on the news coming from Beijing officials. Last week, the U.S. intelligence community reported to the White House that China vastly and systematically underreported its coronavirus infections and deaths.

This week, Trump said he wants to defund the World Health Organization, which he accused of being “China-centric.” (Japanese deputy prime minister and finance minister, Taro Aso, said some have started calling the WHO the “Chinese Health Organization.”)

Bob Fu, president of the international religious liberty group ChinaAid, said defunding WHO is the right step: “The global community has become a victim as a result of WHO’s complacency and [bad] advice because the Chinese Communist Party placed pressure.”

Activists like Fu have long argued that U.S. policy toward China needs an overhaul. Since the Clinton administration promoted China to “most favored nation” trade partner status, the United States has operated with the belief that more prosperity in China would lead to more democracy and freedom, Fu noted, adding, “But really, that whole proposition turned out to be totally wrong.”

Katrina Lantos Swett, president of the Lantos Foundation, which promotes human rights, and a former chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, said the United States should continue its existing effort to breach China’s internet firewall and promote the free spread of information.

“Nobody doubts at this point that if China had been transparent and honest and open at very early stages of this virus, the world might have been spared this health and economic catastrophe we’re all grappling with,” she said. “This is going to be a very instructive moment for Western policymakers vis-à-vis China.”

Associated Press/Photo by Charlie Neibergall Associated Press/Photo by Charlie Neibergall A man mows the lawn at Glen Echo Christian Church in Des Moines, Iowa, on Wednesday.

Clarity for houses of worship

Last week, the federal government rolled out a $350 billion forgivable loan program for small businesses, nonprofit groups, and houses of worship. Some religious leaders and pastors raised concerns over taking the money, wondering whether it would come with strings attached.

On Saturday, the Trump administration released two final rules documents and an FAQ guide specifically for religious organizations.

The Small Business Administration said religious organizations that receive the loans retain their right to make hiring decisions consistent with their beliefs. The guidance also says churches will not have to change their religious practices, including membership, Bible studies, weddings, or funerals. They do have to offer goods, services, and accommodations without discrimination for the duration of the loan period.

“Nearly every faith-based organization or church is already doing so,” the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission wrote in corresponding guidance. The ERLC cited as an example, a soup kitchen that serves the general public.

The Small Business Administration’s FAQ notes that this nondiscrimination regulation does not “limit a faith-based entity’s autonomy with respect to membership or employment decisions.” —H.P.

Associated Press/Photo by Patrick Semansky Associated Press/Photo by Patrick Semansky Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell

Draining coffers

Senate Democrats have blocked an effort to fast-track a $250 billion financial aid package for small businesses. Money allocated for small businesses in the previous $2.2 trillion coronavirus aid bill is already running low, according to the White House.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Tuesday called for Congress to shore up the funds with a new injection of cash. But on Wednesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Democrats wanted to pass their own proposal. They called for at least $500 billion to include funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (also known as food stamps), hospitals, and state and local governments. After the vote failed, McConnell adjourned the Senate until Monday. —H.P.

Trump vs. Biden

Former Vice President Joe Biden is working to unite the Democratic Party after his last remaining rival for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Bernie Sanders, ended his presidential campaign on Wednesday. Biden issued a call to Sanders supporters: “I hope you will join us. You are more than welcome. You’re needed.”

The departure of the independent senator from Vermont all but assures that Democrats will nominate Biden to run against President Donald Trump in November, but Sanders has not yet endorsed his former opponent. —H.P.

Read more of The Stew Sign up for The Stew email
Harvest Prude

Harvest is a political reporter for WORLD's Washington Bureau. She is a World Journalism Institute and Patrick Henry College graduate. Harvest resides in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter @HarvestPrude.

Read more from this writer


You must be a WORLD Member and logged in to the website to comment.
  •  phillipW's picture
    Posted: Fri, 04/10/2020 01:36 pm

    The Democrats and the Chinese government have a lot in common.  Both lie for a living, and both like to suppress the truth that others might actually try and speak to the masses.

    Posted: Fri, 04/10/2020 01:56 pm



    Posted: Fri, 04/10/2020 01:50 pm

    Why are Dems giving our taxes to state and local gov't? 

    Who tells the state and local gov't how to spend the money?

    What does that do for small businesses?

  •  Xion's picture
    Posted: Sat, 04/11/2020 03:38 am

    "They do have to offer goods, services, and accommodations without discrimination for the duration of the loan period."

    Non-discrimination could be a Trojan horse for churches, depending on what it means.  The Bible is full of discrimination, discernment, discretion.  If taken to its full extent, non-discrimination could mean no gospel talk, no heaven or hell, no discussion of sin, or of male and female or marriage, or family rearing, or anything whereby someone might feel bad.

  • DrJay's picture
    Posted: Sat, 04/11/2020 09:33 am

    Read the link to FAQs to see where "without discrimination" applies to churches. As an elder in a session praying over this, I am not concerned based on my research.

  • OldMike
    Posted: Sat, 04/11/2020 01:22 pm

    The clarification of the availability of Small Business Administration loans to churches: another reason I’m grateful to the Lord that Donald Trump is President, and not Hillary Clinton. 

    If our country had a Dem president during this pandemic, the Dems would certainly not miss the opportunities to aim blows at conservative churches. Any loans that might be available would be conditional on such things as allowing gays to serve as pastors, conducting gay weddings, etc. 

    Totally incredible to me that the LBGTWhatever group, though small in number, has such huge influence in our Nation and the world.