China defends use of Twitter, Facebook in virus campaign

Health Watch
Hua Chunying

FILE – In this Sept. 1, 2020 file photo, a smartphone records Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying as she speaks during a daily briefing at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing. “I’d like to stress that if the United States truly respects facts, it should open the biological lab at Fort Detrick, give more transparency to issues like its 200-plus overseas bio-labs, invite WHO experts to conduct origin-tracing in the United States,” she said at a January 2021 MOFA press conference that went viral in China. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

BEIJING (AP) — The Chinese government defended its use of Twitter and Facebook on Thursday, following a report that it had used its growing social media presence to spread disinformation about the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.

When asked about the report, the Foreign Ministry’s top spokesperson, Hua Chunying, didn’t directly address the allegations about China’s role in spreading virus disinformation. However, she called the report hype and said China should have the right to use social media too.

An Associated Press investigation, conducted in collaboration with the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, found that powerful political figures and allied media in China as well as the U.S., Russia and Iran flooded the globe with disinformation about the virus.

The report, published earlier this week, said that Chinese officials went on the offensive in reaction to a narrative — nursed by former U.S. President Donald Trump among others — that the virus had been manufactured by China. Experts have largely ruled out that possibility.

Hua, asked about the AP report at a daily Foreign Ministry briefing, said that some people in Western countries, such as the U.S, don’t want to hear China’s objective and true voice.

“They are afraid that more people will learn the truth, so that they can no longer spread false information unscrupulously and do whatever they want to mislead and monopolize international public opinion,” she said.

China’s response, though, was to start spreading rumors that the virus had been created by a U.S. military lab and released during an international competition for military athletes in Wuhan, the Chinese city where the new coronavirus was first detected in late 2019.

The search for the origins of the virus has become highly politicized. Trump sought to pin the blame on China, in part to deflect criticism of his administration’s response to the pandemic in the United States.

China, in turn, has played up reports that the virus was circulating outside of the country before the outbreak in Wuhan, suggesting it may have been brought in from elsewhere.

Determining where the virus started is likely to take years of research and may never be known. Most scientists say the most likely scenario is it was first carried by bats in southwest China or neighboring Southeast Asia, and then spread to another animal before infecting humans.

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