The People’s Republic of China (PRC) and its ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) have deceived the world about the coronavirus since its appearance in late 2019. In this situation brief, the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation compares the timeline and facts with China’s ongoing disinformation campaign about the coronavirus’ origins, nature, and spread. This brief also demonstrates how the World Health Organization (WHO) has promoted and helped legitimize China’s false claims.
The consequences of China’s deception and the WHO’s credulity are now playing out globally. It is normally difficult to assign culpability to governments and organizations charged with ensuring public health in any pandemic, but the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is materially different. The denial of information, outright fabrications, and disregard for human life—both within and outside of China’s borders—is so shocking and pervasive that the contracting of the virus by millions worldwide and the resultant death toll was not only foreseeable but entirely avoidable.
If the Chinese Communist Party had taken early steps to warn the world instead of covering up its spread, and if the WHO had simply questioned or cautioned against China’s assertions, the harm would have been significantly reduced. Instead, the PRC’s actions and WHO’s inaction precipitated a pandemic, leading to a global economic crisis and a growing loss of human life.
As a matter of justice, and to prevent future pandemics, the PRC must be held accountable through demands for economic reparations and other sanctions pertaining to human rights. China should also be suspended from full membership in the WHO and the WHO, which U.S. taxpayers fund annually, must be subject to immediate investigation and reform. Media organizations reporting on the claims of China and WHO regarding the pandemic without scrutiny or context must be cautioned against misleading the public.
Communist regimes have been responsible for the death of more than 100 million worldwide, according to global experts.1 The final human toll of the current pandemic cannot yet be determined, but those who have perished and will perish from the novel coronavirus must be included in that count—victims of the Chinese Communist Party and its willful disregard for both human life and its own international legal obligations.
CHINA’S EARLY DECEPTION (NOVEMBER – MID-JANUARY)
The world first learned about a mysterious pneumonia-like virus in Central China in mid-December 2019, when a 57-year-old merchant at a seafood market reported feeling ill and visited a clinic.2 On January 9, 2020, the virus was identified by PRC authorities as “a new type of coronavirus” (SARS-CoV-2).
But recent reporting indicates that the first case was recorded in Wuhan, China, on November 17, 2019—a fact still not acknowledged by the PRC. Despite readily available information and a rapidly spreading outbreak, it took more than two months for the PRC to inform the world that the coronavirus was being transmitted among humans, which the regime finally admitted on January 20.3,4 The PRC knew about human-to-human transmission by late December, yet ordered the evidence destroyed.5 Such information was vital to preventing the global pandemic.
Chinese Communist Party Chairman Xi Jinping stated on February 3 that he “made requests for prevention and control of the new coronavirus pneumonia” in early January, but the evidence indicates that by then, the PRC had deliberately prevented the dissemination of knowledge necessary to stop the illness from spreading.6 Notably, the CCP took early measures to silence individuals in China’s scientific and health communities from publicizing information about the disease.7 These actions delayed the world’s understanding of—and response to—the novel illness.
Dr. Li Wenliang who warned the world of coronavirus, was forced to make a self-criticism, and later died from the virus on Feb. 7, 2020.
The PRC simultaneously prevented outside health experts from the United States and the WHO from independently verifying data about the health situation in Wuhan. The simplest explanation for these actions is that the PRC was covering up a major outbreak which was an embarrassment to the communist leadership. The CCP has a long record of misleading the international community on health matters, most notably with previous outbreaks of SARS and AIDS.8
Through the middle of January, Chinese state-run media claimed that the virus was containable.9 Yet other actions indicate the PRC already knew otherwise. Beginning that same month, the PRC activated a predatory global campaign to acquire medical supplies and equipment from North America and Europe for urgent shipment to China—a sign that the virus was spreading faster than Chinese authorities acknowledged.10 Special attention was given to personal protective equipment such as respiratory masks and gloves, meaning the PRC knew that the coronavirus was spreading between humans, though it refused to publicly acknowledge this fact.11
The WHO was also aware of human-to-human transmission at an early date. Taiwan highlighted this concern to the agency on December 31.12 The next day the WHO asked China for more information, but on January 14 the WHO was still reporting that “preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission.13,14
At no point has the WHO criticized China for refusing to let it verify the PRC’s data or for pilfering global medical supplies. Instead, the WHO quickly praised China in glowing terms, even saying they were “reassured of the quality of the ongoing investigations and the response measures.”15 The WHO also repeated the PRC’s claim that there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission despite doctors contracting the coronavirus from patients. The WHO maintained its position about the unverified or limited nature of human-to-human transmission until January 23—three days after the PRC admitted the fact.16
CHINA CREATES A GLOBAL PANDEMIC (MID-JANUARY – MID-MARCH)
By the time Chinese officials acknowledged that the coronavirus spread between humans—a fact they already knew—it had already made its way across Asia and to Europe and North America. The reported number of infected people in the PRC also increased rapidly during this time.17 But China’s tally of infections and deaths were severely under-counted, as the PRC continued to crack down on free speech and prevent independent medical investigations. This further lulled the world into a false sense of security.
PRC oppression significantly increased beginning in late January. It detained and disappeared independent Chinese journalists, expelled foreign journalists, and shut down the internet in certain areas, according to netizens.18 State censors were simultaneously given more powers to remove more content from the internet.19 The CCP made every available effort to hide what was happening not only in Wuhan, but across China.
Many Chinese citizens risked their lives exposing the lies of the Communist regime. In late January and early February, Citizen journalist Chen Qiushi and salesperson Fang Bin published dozens of YouTube videos documenting images in Wuhan: long lines outside of hospitals, grieving families, and body bags. “In front of me is the virus. Behind me is China’s legal and administrative power,” Qiushi said in one video a week before his disappearance on February 6. Fang described himself as “a person, just an ordinary person, a silly person who lifted the lid for a second.”20 He has not been heard from since his last video, posted February 9.
In conjunction with its domestic cover-up, the CCP began a global disinformation and propaganda campaign. From February onward, Chinese communist officials accused the United States of initially spreading the virus and intentionally planting it in Wuhan. The PRC also began shipping faulty medical supplies and equipment to foreign countries, including some whose medical resources it had already hoarded.21 Despite contributing to the mounting global crisis by withholding vital information about the coronavirus, the PRC nonetheless sought to benefit from it geopolitically and financially.
President Xi Jinping visits a Beijing neighborhood in early February. (Xinhua via Associated Press)
During this time, the WHO continued to tout Chinese efforts and spread erroneous data. WHO officials praised PRC transparency and cooperation in late January, even though a WHO team was not allowed into Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, until late February.22 Its refusal to question PRC actions likely delayed the WHO’s declaration of a global pandemic until March 11, 2020, by which point it was far too late for most nations to effectively protect their citizens.
The WHO has continued to accept and repeat China’s claims, but others have begun to recognize the truth. On March 26, Peter Navarro, White House Trade Advisor stated that Beijing “did not tell us early to mid-December that there was a crisis of human-to-human transmission with a new novel coronavirus. That has set the world back six weeks.”23 Dr. Deborah Birx of the White House Coronavirus Taskforce stated on March 31 that experts modeling the virus spread “were missing a significant amount of the data” from China, and, most notably, on April 2, The New York Times reported that the Central Intelligence Agency had warned the White House since early February that PRC officials had been “lying about infection rates, testing, and death counts.”24
CHINA FLOUTS INTERNATIONAL COMMITMENTS (ONGOING)
China is a signatory to the 2005 International Health Regulations (IHR). Articles 6 and 7 of the IHR specifically require member states to notify the WHO—within 24 hours of assessment—of any events which may constitute a “public health emergency of international concern.” Failing to disseminate credible information about infectious diseases is a violation of the IHR.25
The PRC is guilty of violating the IHR because it failed to notify the WHO about the outbreak of the virus in November and December. It also silenced Chinese doctors who spoke publicly about it and refused offers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control to visit Wuhan on January 6 and delayed offers of epidemic investigation assistance from the WHO.26 The Chinese Communist Party refused to cooperate with international partners and willfully perpetrated a cover-up from the start—even though it meant violating its treaty obligations.
Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (Denis Balibouse/Reuters)
The CCP has continued to undercount—likely dramatically—the number of cases in Wuhan, even claiming no new cases for multiple days in a row during mid-March. Such claims are challenged by a number of eyewitness Chinese accounts of overburdened funeral homes, extrajudicial killings, and the continued crackdown on the free flow of information. Several factors point to continued PRC misinformation:
New cases have not been reported. Local residents report this, and health professionals have described political pressure to report good news and not to admit new likely COVID-19 patients to hospitals.27
Chinese test kits are notoriously unreliable. At least three European countries have stopped using imported Chinese tests, which have error rates as high as 80 percent.28
Asymptomatic patients are not counted. PRC documents say that asymptomatic infection is not considered as a confirmed case, contrary to global standards.29
Medical teams were called back to Wuhan. A much-touted medical team withdrawal has been quietly paused, without satisfactory official explanation.30
Large numbers of funerary urns. Local funeral homes are receiving 2,500-plus cinerary caskets a day,31 even though the total official PRC death count in Wuhan is 2,531.32 Daily incineration volume has been four to five times higher than usual.33
High volume of untested coronavirus victims. An unverified number of patients with coronavirus syptoms have died and thier bodies incinerated without testing.34
The WHO remains silent on these issues. Nor has it pointed out the PRC’s apparent violations of the 2005 International Health Regulations. Instead, the WHO has repeatedly praised the PRC’s “transparency”—even though the Chinese Communist Party has deceived and dissembled at every stage and is still doing so. A timeline of pandemic events published by the WHO on April 8, 2020 omits many of the incriminating facts contained in this situation brief and demonstrates the continued efforts of the WHO leadership to participate in the CCP’s coverup.
CHINA LIED, PEOPLE DIED
The Chinese Communist Party’s deception has had a terrible human cost, with more than 100,000 global deaths and counting. Entire countries are shut down and economies are contracting, pointing to a global crisis that will likely outlive the pandemic itself. According to a study by the United Kingdom’s University of Southampton, if Beijing had acted three weeks earlier, the number of COVID-19 cases could have been reduced by 95 percent, and its geographic spread would have been severely limited—thereby preventing a pandemic.35
Dr. Anne Schuchat, Chief Deputy Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) admits suspicion of under-reporting from China at a news conference on February 11, 2020. (en.australia51)
The CCP has criticized the United States’ political system as incapable of having an efficient response, even though the U.S. has been the top single-country donor to China in its efforts to counter the spread of COVID-19 and has provided essential support to the WHO, including a higher level of funding than from any other country. In addition to the $400 million contributed by the U.S. to the WHO in 2019,36 the United States also made $274 million of emergency funds available to 64 countries to assist in their pandemic responses.
To counter U.S. leadership, the PRC has attempted to shift blame and shore up its own international standing. Notably, the PRC has also lied about the origin of the virus, with senior CCP officials and state-controlled media outlets claiming that the U.S. Army is responsible for the coronavirus.37
The PRC is also engaged in a global propaganda campaign to provide medical aid to countries suffering from a pandemic that the PRC precipitated. Indeed, the CCP has portrayed itself as the global savior during the pandemic. Yet its so-called “facemask diplomacy” has resulted in the shipment of thousands of defective supplies around the world. Many countries including the Czech Republic, Spain, the Netherlands, Turkey, Australia, and the Philippines have recalled hundreds of thousands of faulty respiratory masks and testing kits imported from China. Far worse, China continues to deprive the international community of its most important asset to respond to and stop the spread of the virus—accurate information.
The World Health Organization has praised China’s aid campaign, despite evidence of its delivery of faulty equipment. Once again, it is echoing the PRC’s line of propaganda, giving it global credibility instead of the criticism it deserves.
Many experts recommend greater engagement or cooperation with the PRC to address the current pandemic and to prevent similar crises in the future, but this approach ignores the clear record of the Chinese Communist Party as dangerously irresponsible and a threat to U.S. and global health and safety, as well as prosperity. This has been true for more than 40 years; the coronavirus pandemic is merely the latest proof. U.S. policy must be formulated in light of this pattern of behavior.
As for the WHO, it has served as a “useful idiot” that repeats CCP propaganda without question. Not only has this diminished its credibility, it has helped cause the pandemic that is wracking the world. It appears unlikely that the WHO will ever acknowledge China’s culpability in the coronavirus pandemic—much less its own.
China’s President Xi Jinping visits patients and healthcare workers in Wuhan. (Agence France-Presse and Getty Images)
The situation demands a strong and principled response. U.S. officials should pursue the following policy objectives:
The U.S. should work to suspend the PRC from full membership in the WHO. Treating the PRC as an equal partner in safeguarding world health made the WHO captive to the PRC and less able to accomplish its mission.
The U.S. should work toward Taiwan’s admission to the WHO as a counterbalance to the PRC. Taiwan has proven to be one of the most responsible countries in responding to the COVID-19 crisis.
The U.S. and other countries should explore using legal means to hold the PRC accountable for violating its treaty obligations and seek reparations for economic damages incurred as a result of the pandemic.
The U.S. should enact stronger sanctions on the PRC specifically related to its human rights violations which contributed to the coronavirus’ spread at the very beginning and at every phase of the crisis.
The U.S. should cooperate with other countries to demand an independent investigation into the outbreak of the virus in Wuhan, China.
The White House should form an inter-agency office specifically to deal with PRC and CCP propaganda and foreign influence operations.
TIMELINE OF CORONAVIRUS CCP COVER-UP AND WHO COMPLICITY
At every stage of the coronavirus pandemic, PRC and WHO statements have failed to reflect reality. The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation has compiled a timeline showing these blatant and dangerous discrepancies.