Jianli Yang, a mathematician and human rights activist, survived China's Tiananmen Massacre in 1989, after which he left China for the United States. He returned in 2002 and was jailed between 2002 and 2007 for supporting the country's labor movement. He was intermittently held in solitary confinement for a total of 15 months – as detailed in a previous IranWire interview – and returned to the US after his release.

In a weekly series for IranWire, Jianli Yang analyses Chinese disinformation around the origin of coronavirus and its handling to date, and other recent affairs.


On July 2, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a white paper entitled “What's False and What's True on China-related Human Rights Matters”.

Purporting to be making “corrections” with “the purpose of setting the record straight with facts”, the document asserts: “Full of ignorance of and bias against China, some people from the US and other Western countries have recently made groundless accusations against and disseminated many fallacies about China's human rights conditions concerning Hong Kong, Covid-19, and Xinjiang.”


What the White Paper Claims About Coronavirus

On close inspection, this fact-sheet is an exercise in goalpost-shifting. Among the 37 falsehoods listed in the white paper is, at number 11, the claim that “China tried to cover up Covid-19, resulting in its spread across the world with over 10 million infections”. How far this may or may not be the case is still the subject of heated debate, but instead of addressing this issue head-on, the paper “debunks” the idea by instead citing the praise it has received for the “robust intervention” in Wuhan, and listing a series of discrete locations in the Western world where the first cases of coronavirus “did not come from China”.

For instance, the paper cites New York governor Andrew Cuomo, who said the first case of coronavirus in his state might have come from Europ. This skipps over the more cogent point that the first case in the whole of the United States, identified a whole 45 days earlier, was a businessman returning from Wuhan. The paper also states that most cases in Canada, France, Russia, Australia, Singapore and Japan “did not come from China”: a baffling stance to take more than six months down the line. How the paper defines “came from China” is not clear; if it means contracted from Chinese citizens, this is still completely beside the point. Coronavirus originated in Wuhan, China; as such all cases can be said to have come from China.

In response to another “fallacy” that the Wuhan lockdown infringed on citizens’ rights, the so-called fact sheet again attempts to shift the spotlight onto the United States, citing media reports of the US “exporting coronavirus” by deporting illegal immigrants during the pandemic. It accuses the US of having “ignored science, played down the threat of the virus, and” – without a shred of irony – “even resorted to blame shifting”.

The paper also attempts to change the discourse around the treatment of the late Dr Li Wenliang, stating he “was not a whistle-blower and was not detained”. It is already a matter of public knowledge that Li Wenliang was not detained. He was summoned to a police station and later became one of eight people reprimanded by Wuhan’s Public Security Bureau for “spreading rumours” due to raising concerns about coronavirus. The fact that a medical practitioner was harassed by Chinese law enforcement for this reason remains deplorable.

Since the publication of this official “truth-telling” missive, the Chinese Communist Party has yet again come under fire for statements issued on the origin of coronavirus: this time from Japan. In its annual white paper on defense policy, Japan accused China of “propaganda” and “disinformation”, citing as examples a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman who claimed in March that Covid-19 had been introduced into Wuhan by the US military, and the promotion of Chinese herbal medicines to treat the disease.


What the White Paper Claims About Hong Kong

Number 6 on China’s list of reported “fallacies” is: “The legislation on safeguarding national security in Hong Kong violates China's commitments and obligations under the Sino-British Joint Declaration.”

The truth the white paper asserts to correct the above falsehood is that the legal basis for the Chinese government’s governance of Hong Kong is the Chinese Constitution and the Basic Law of the Hong Kong SAR. The Sino-British Joint Declaration, signed with Britain in 1984 to settle the future of Hong Kong, it claims is “not relevant” in this regard.

“As China resumed the exercise of sovereignty over Hong Kong in 1997,” it claims, “all provisions concerning the UK under the Joint Declaration have been fulfilled.”

The main body of the Sino-British Joint Declaration  states that China’s basic policies regarding Hong Kong  “will remain unchanged for 50 years”: including the promise that the city will retain a high degree of autonomy. It also stipulates that Hong Kong’s legal and judicial system will be unchanged for 50 years after 1997. This document, binding at the level of the United Nations, states:

The current social and economic systems in Hong Kong will remain unchanged, and so will the life-style. Rights and freedoms, including those of the person, of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of travel, of movement, of correspondence, of strike, of choice of occupation, of academic research and of religious belief will be ensured by law in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

The UK Government  justly insists that “the Joint Declaration is a legally binding treaty, registered with the United Nations, which continues to remain in force. It remains as valid today as it did when it was signed over thirty years ago”. It is by now crystal clear that with the recently passed and enacted National Security Law on Hong Kong, Beijing is determined to disregard its promise and commitments made to the UK in this joint declaration.

The current social and economic systems in Hong Kong will remain unchanged, and so will the life-style. Rights and freedoms, including those of the person, of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of travel, of movement, of correspondence, of strike, of choice of occupation, of academic research and of religious belief will be ensured by law in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

Beijing’s new white paper says: “The basic policies regarding Hong Kong stated by China in the Joint Declaration are not commitments to the UK”. To whom, then, whom were these commitments made? If not Britain, then it must have been to the people of Hong Kong. But ever since the handover, Beijing has repeatedly breached both the Hong Kong Basic Law and the Joint Declaration. The new national security law has literally killed the autonomy of Hong Kong’s people and subjected them to a constant, direct threat of tyranny – the same that has been routine in mainland China for more than 70 years.  

Also in this series: 

Missing Data, Mud-Slinging and “Miracle Cures”: Why Disinformation Is Bad For Your Health

Iranian Online Network Still Peddling Coronavirus Disinformation

Putin’s Domestic Problems Eclipse Russian Disinformation Campaigns

China's Campaign to Protect President Xi against Coronavirus Criticism

Chinese Embassies Work Overtime to Diffuse International Fury Over Coronavirus

Russia Bans Coronavirus "Fake News" and Slams US Over Press Freedom

China Blocks Investigations Amid Refusal to Shut Down Wet Markets

From Coronavirus to the Second World War: On the Frontlines of the Russian Disinformation Battle

Russia Blames West for Propaganda While Reporting Unlikely Number of Covid-19 Deaths

As Criticism of China Falters, Time for a NATO for Human Rights?

Guest Post From Russia: How do You Put the Brakes on a Fake News Machine?

Has China Really Given Assent to a Global Coronavirus Review?

Russian Disinformation Back to Targeting Ukraine as Putin Declares Covid-19 Peak has Passed

Will the Post-Coronavirus World Stand Up to China's Bullying Business Tactics?

Coronavirus: An Opportunity to Advance Russian Interests in Latin America

The Shi Zhengli Identification Criteria: How Do We Know Where Coronavirus First Emerged?

Covid-19 and Black Lives Matter Unrest Targeted by Russian Disinformation

Occupy First, Talk Later: China Turns Border Conflict Into PR Opportunity

China Deploys Coercive Tactics to Deal with Disinformation Accusation

Putin Tries to Rewrite War History to Assert Russia's Position on the World Stage

Revealed: The Depth of China’s Influence on European News

Putin Can Stay: The Use of Disinformation in Russia’s Constitutional Vote

Behind the Smokescreen: What are China’s Anti-EU Pandemic Narratives Really About?

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