The New York Times reported this on Friday, but it seems we all missed it: China Spins Tale That the U.S. Army Started the Coronavirus Epidemic

It seems that back in October China held Military War Games in Wuhan — a kind of Olympics for armies — and the US sent around 280 military athletes to compete there. Now the Chinese Foreign Ministry had endorsed a series of twitter posts by one of its spokesman charging the US Army with introducing the virus then — even though it was 2 months before the first cases appeared.

The insinuation came in a series of posts on Twitter by Zhao Lijian, a ministry spokesman who has made good use of the platform, which is blocked in China, to push a newly aggressive, and hawkish, diplomatic strategy. It is most likely intended to deflect attention from China’s own missteps in the early weeks of the epidemic by sowing confusion or, at least, uncertainty at home and abroad.

I found this tweet:

There were a number of other tweets on his feed blasting the US for blaming China for the virus, so this may partly be payback as well as trying to distract from China’s initial mishandling of the crisis. But as the Times story observes,

Victor Shih, an associate professor at the University of California at San Diego who studies Chinese politics, said that while the campaign was very likely an attempt to distract and deflect blame, a more worrisome possibility was that some officials fabricated the idea and persuaded top leaders to believe it.

“If the leadership really believes in the culpability of the U.S. government,” he warned, “it may behave in a way that dramatically worsens the bilateral relationship.”

And this comment:

“There are a few Chinese officials who appear to have gone to the Donald J. Trump School of Diplomacy,” added Mr. Gewirtz, who recently published a paper on China’s handling of the AIDS epidemic, after a similar disinformation campaign.

The State Dept. summoned the Chinese ambassador to complain, while back in Beijing, an MFA spokesman accused US officials and lawmakers of smearing and attacking China. That would include the IMPOTUS, who has gone from praising China to blaming China for the “foreign virus,” and Pompeo repeatedly calling it the “Wuhan virus” even after the WHO asked him not to.

No word yet whether Xi Jinping approved this message, but seeing as how it has the ministry’s blessing, it does seem likely. So now we have two autocrats in a burning house busily sniping at each other over whose matchstick was bigger.

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