J Michael Waller / Center for Security Policy / March 22, 2020 – The Trump Administration is mounting the nation’s first challenge to the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party since President Nixon opened up to Chairman Mao. This crucial effort is in response to Beijing’s repeated accusations that the United States military is behind the COVID-19 virus.
President Trump and other administration officials made offhand statements or tweets about the #ChineseVirus, but a strategic, coordinated effort appears to be emerging to counter Beijing’s sophisticated, multi-part propaganda strategy to deflect blame away from its own coverups, disinformation, and censorship.
The Center for Security Policy is running an ongoing track of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) propaganda and related actions about the virus.
Trump administration shows a thoughtful strategy
What started as comments has evolved into a global US counteroffensive against hostile CCP disinformation and propaganda.
The administration effort is showing a thoughtful strategy crafted by White House National Security staff and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
The strategy is part of a larger State Department information and aid effort to help American citizens and others cope with the virus.
Pompeo implemented the strategy on March 20 in public comments to the press, and sending a NSC memorandum in a cable to American embassies worldwide to coordinate thematic points to deliver to foreign audiences. The Daily Beast received a leaked copy of the cable, with context indicating that the leaker is in the State Department.
The reputed NSC policy document, titled “NSC Top Lines: [People’s Republic of China] Propaganda and Disinformation on the Wuhan Virus Pandemic,” reportedly went out under Pompeo’s name to US diplomatic posts.
Excellent talking points, for starters
The themes show a well-considered plan based on responses to anti-US propaganda from the CCP, and based on traditional American foreign policy values. Quotations from the cable are below, with the Center’s summaries in bold:
- CCP officials are responsible. “Chinese Communist Party officials in Wuhan and Beijing had a special responsibility to inform the Chinese people and the world of the threat, since they were the first to learn of it.”
- CCP officials covered up the virus and repressed those who raised alarm. “Instead, the… government hid news of the virus from its own people for weeks, while suppressing information and punishing doctors and journalists who raised the alarm. The Party cared more about its reputation than its own people’s suffering.”
- CCP’s shifting of responsibility to US is ‘futile.’ “The [Chinese Communist Party] is waging a propaganda campaign to desperately try to shift responsibility for the global pandemic to the United States. This effort is futile.”
- CCP coverup cost lives and released the plague on the world. “Thanks to the… cover-up, Chinese and international experts missed a critical window to contain the outbreak within China and stop its global spread. Saving lives is more important than saving face.”
- US is a great humanitarian power. “The United States and the American people are demonstrating once again that they are the greatest humanitarians the world has ever known.”
- US will send help to China is CCP permits it. “The United States stands ready to provide more assistance to China, if the Chinese Communist Party would allow us to do so.”
Pompeo calls out ‘Chinese Communist Party’ for covering up
Coinciding with the NSC-written cable to US embassies, Secretary Pompeo publicly called out the “Chinese government” and “Chinese Communist Party” for knowing about the virus all along.
- “The Chinese government was the first to know of this risk to the world. And that puts a special obligation to make sure that data gets to our scientists, our professionals,” Pompeo told reporters on March 20.
- “This is not about retribution,” Pompeo said.
- “We’re in a live exercise here to get this right. We need to make sure that even today, the data sets that are available to every country, including data sets that are made available to the Chinese communist party, are made available to the whole world. It’s an imperative to keep people safe,” said the secretary of state.
- Pompeo called on the Chinese leadership to make virus details “available to the whole world.”
This effort could be comparable in scale and significance to the Reagan Administration’s strategic challenge to Soviet active measures in the 1980s – a challenge that was integrated with an economic warfare strategy against the Soviets within an even larger strategy to have the Communist Party of the Soviet Union collapse under its own rigidity and weight.
Perspective: Bipartisan opposition is a given, so don’t quit
Some perspective here: Although Reagan enjoyed strong support from a minority of anti-communist Democrats in challenging the USSR, he faced bitter opposition from most Democrats in Congress as well as prominent figures of his own Republican Party. We should expect something similar concerning China today.