China turbocharges bid to discredit Western vaccines, spread virus conspiracy theories



Europe and Australia should reject the “hasty” American vaccines linked to elderly deaths, Chinese scientists say. Western media refuses to investigate the dangers of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot, fumed a state television anchor. The coronavirus could be a plot involving former U.S. defense secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, suggested a state media editor. And the real origin of the virus? Perhaps the U.S. Army’s Fort Detrick should be investigated, intoned a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman.

One year after the coronavirus was first widely reported in China, the country’s state media and officials are again pitching a flood of theories about its origins (not China) and which vaccines are safe (not American).
The reports, claims by officials and unchecked online speculation this month appear to be part of a renewed Chinese push to cast blame for the pandemic elsewhere and undermine public confidence in Western vaccines.

International researchers say some Chinese theories, such as cold-chain packaging carrying the virus to China, could be possible, if unlikely. And most experts say that the side effects of new vaccines — and the definitive story of how and where the pandemic emerged — indeed require further investigation.

But China’s aggressive promotion of its narratives is muddying the waters precisely when a World Health Organization team in Wuhan is seeking to investigate the virus’s origins. The drumbeat of Chinese skepticism toward Western vaccines — one a joint production between U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and German biotech firm BioNTech, another from U.S. biotech company Moderna — ramped up in recent weeks as clinical data showed vaccines from Chinese pharmaceutical firms potentially lagging U.S. rivals.

Politics frustrate WHO mission to search for origins of coronavirus in China

“This defensiveness is all certainly against the background of the WHO investigation and a return of China to the media spotlight,” said Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations.

After Chinese officials and researchers spent months telling the public that China’s vaccines would win the global development race, Huang added, “there’s now a gap between expectation and reality that needed to be addressed, so you see this effort to disparage Western vaccines.”
Since early in the pandemic, Chinese leader Xi Jinping has avoided discussion of China’s role in the contagion and cast China as a world leader that would help others — particularly developing nations — recover. In speeches, including at the World Health Assembly, Xi has pledged that China would promote global vaccine cooperation.

In state media, the tone has been decidedly less lofty.

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