China shifting narrative from coronavirus origins to Wuhan's "success story"
As criticism against China on the global forum mounts, the country is working tirelessly to highlight its success against the coronavirus pandemic, rather than addressing questions about the disease's origins. At the focus of this narrative is Wuhan — the epicenter of the pandemic — which China wants to project as a "heroic coronavirus victim." But, China's script surrounding Wuhan isn't without flaws.
Coronavirus, which ravaged countries, destroyed economies, left millions jobless, and killed a staggering 896,957 globally, originated from a wet market in Wuhan in December. When the highly-contagious disease was reported, China looked the other way, its first response coming weeks later. By then, the virus, which is transmitted among humans, had traveled globally, prompting countries to announce lockdowns. Till now, 27,497,147 have been infected.
Countries, still reeling under the disease, have been slamming China
As more information about the virus became public, countries launched a blitzkrieg on China, accusing it of withholding crucial information. The World Health Organization (WHO), which declared the outbreak a pandemic in March, was also berated for accepting China's statements at face value. Some called the outbreak China's Chernobyl, referring to the 1986 nuclear disaster that raised questions on the Soviet Union's governance.
Now, China has been loudly talking about Wuhan's "recovery"
Notably, the country which was infected the first also recovered faster than others and the epicenter Wuhan has now dropped all its curbs. As Wuhan "finds itself again," China's PR machinery has gone on an overdrive to talk about "success." Last week, when primary schools welcomed students again, the development garnered domestic headlines. Not only this but Wuhan also "hosted" executives from MNCs.
Masks are no longer essential in Wuhan
As part of the highly-choreographed visit, executives from Panasonic, Dow, and Nokia were given a tour of Wuhan. A Chinese official, Lin Songtian, proudly told the visitors that Wuhan is one of the few places in the world where one "doesn't need a mask." "This testifies to Wuhan's triumph over the virus and that (the city) is back in business," Songtian declared.
Ditching distancing norms, Wuhan residents recently partied at water park
Just last month, images from Wuhan's Maya Beach Water Park also went viral, causing much displeasure to countries that are still locked down. In the images, hundreds, if not thousands, of Wuhan residents were seen frolicking on rubber floats and enjoying a music festival. None of the attendees donned masks, sending out a message that the epicenter is "now free from the virus."
China opened up Wuhan but not the seafood market
However, China's story about Wuhan isn't as pleasant as it would like everyone to believe. A Reuters report said the Huanan seafood market, from where the disease originated, is still off-limits to visitors. The market is surrounded by large blue fences and anyone who lingers longer than allowed is chased away by security guards. "We are just doing our jobs," said a guard.
At another market, shopkeepers were disallowed from speaking to reporters
The news agency added that its reporters were tailed by security staff at another wet market in the Northern part of the city. Traders and shopkeepers were stopped from speaking to the press. Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow at Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, said, "If you don't allow people to visit these places, you give the impression you have something to hide."
Tellingly, China wants to convince globe about its achievements
By letting images from a party go viral, organizing trips, and welcoming students with fanfare, China wants to quell the criticism. "Beijing wants the narrative to be: we handled it, we can help you handle it. That's really the only way China can come out ahead of the idea that a wet market in Wuhan started this crisis," Kelsey Broderick, Asia analyst with Eurasia Group, told AFP.
Pushing China's description, Xi said his country "saved lives globally"
To further embolden its narrative, China hosted an event to honor COVID-19 heroes on Tuesday where President Xi Jinping refuted allegations leveled against his regime. He said China acted on coronavirus in an "open and transparent manner," in turn saving millions of lives globally. Hailing the Chinese resilience, Xi said the country was the first one to record economic growth after being battered.
Contrary to China's retelling, some Wuhan residents aren't celebrating yet
While China is focusing on Wuhan's reincarnation, some locals are still wary. Millions who left the city in the initial days have still not returned, sparking fear among residents that their eventual homecoming will spell doom. Separately, in what sings tunes about a crippling economy, employers are struggling to find labor and shopkeepers are facing a dearth of customers.
"Summer is over but winter is coming"
51-year-old Yi Xinhua who sells tofu at Wuhan told AFP that the city has recovered but will be hit again if the virus returns. She said, "Everyone is afraid the epidemic will return, you know? The summer is over, and winter is coming."