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India’s Covid tragedy is a propaganda tool for Chinese State. Not even dead are spared

On Chinese platforms Sina Weibo and Baidu, official accounts have posted messages mocking scenes of funeral pyres at India's cremation sites.

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The Chinese State has unleashed a propaganda blitz against India’s worsening Covid crisis on social media platforms, where India’s battle with the second wave is a hotly debated topic.

Across the world, leaders and citizens have expressed their sympathies and offered support to India. But the Chinese State media and propaganda machinery have sought to use the crisis as an opportunity to undermine India.

On Twitter-like platform Sina Weibo, the search trend “India” appeared more than 139 million times in the last seven days. “Indian Epidemic” began trending in April and has been viewed over 1.86 billion times on Weibo.

Little remorse for the dead and suffering

The Communist Party of China (CPC)’s Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission (Zhongyang Zhengfawei) shared a post on 1 May comparing how China and India have done during the Covid-19 pandemic. “China lighting a fire versus India lighting a fire,” read the caption of the post.

The post compares China’s recent launch of Tianhe core module for the new space station with funeral pyres at India’s cremation sites resulting from the rising death toll during the second wave. The post was later deleted after backlash by Chinese citizens on social media. The Commission is currently headed by Guo Shengkun, who is also a high-ranking official of the CPC.

On 30 April, the official Weibo account of the Public Security Administration Bureau under the Ministry of Public Security shared a post comparing China’s construction of hospitals in Wuhan at the height of the Covid-19 crisis with India’s funeral pyres. This post too was later deleted.

“The Indian people have never sympathised with us, and India’s anti-China sentiment is no less than that of the United States. Therefore, the Chinese nation’s virtues of kindness and friendship don’t apply to India!” commented a user on Weibo.

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Arguments, criticisms on Chinese social media

Some commentators have criticised the posts shared on the official Weibo accounts.

“We have reason to be proud of China’s good response to the epidemic; India and other countries are very poor. We can criticise India’s rulers and management; But let us not gloat over the dead Indian people…It is wrong to take the initiative to draw hatred,” said Du Jianguo, a prominent Weibo user with over 1 million followers.

Another prominent Weibo account shared the pictures of four Chinese soldiers who are said to have died during the June 2020 Galwan Valley clash in eastern Ladakh and said, “Sympathise with India? I really can’t.”

The images of four Chinese soldiers were juxtaposed with pictures of the Covid-19 pandemic from India. Some experts say the death toll of Chinese soldiers during the Galwan clash was higher than what China has made public.

A prominent Chinese activist living in the US compared the images shared by official accounts with the images shared by Indian embassy’s Weibo account in 2020. The Indian embassy’s Weibo posts were empathetic as compared to the vitriol shared by China’s official Weibo accounts.

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China says one thing, does another

The Chinese state media has brought sharp attention to India’s vaccine shortage over the supply of raw materials by the US.

“Analysts said that after making nearly zero contribution to the global fight against the pandemic, the US has fully exposed its selfishness in refusing to offer substantial help to India and is obstructing global efforts in vaccine distribution to developing and needy countries,” Chinese state media outlet Global Times reported. China has repeatedly tried to create a wedge between India and the US over the recent exchange around vaccine raw material.

“India’s vaccine manufacturer CEO escaped to the United Kingdom,” was the second top hashtag on Weibo. The hashtag was viewed 73 million times at the time of writing this article. The social media trend was based on an interview of Serum Institute of India’s CEO Adar Poonawalla with The Times. On Google-like Chinese search engine Baidu, “Indian vaccine manufacturer CEO fled to the UK” was the fifth top trend on 2 May. Over the past week, stories related to India’s Covid-19 pandemic have trended on Baidu every day.

“I would like to extend my sincere condolences to the government and people of India. Mankind is a community of shared destiny. Only through unity and cooperation can countries in the world finally overcome the epidemic. China is willing to strengthen cooperation with India in the fight against the epidemic and provide support and help to India,” said President Xi Jinping in a recent message sent to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“China will make its utmost efforts to provide help to India in accordance with the demands of the Indian side, and the production of at least 40,000 oxygen generators as the orders placed by India is underway,” Chinese ambassador to India Sun Weidong told Global Times in an exclusive interview.

Most of the supply of oxygen and other medical devices that China has offered are a fulfilment of commercial contracts made by private Indian entities.

A blogger on WeChat wrote a post with a headline “Too much! 25,000 oxygen generators were sent to India, but Modi thanked Western countries”.

China says it wants to help India during the worsening Covid crisis, but it has simultaneously unleashed its propaganda machinery to one up against India when thousands of people are dying every day and millions of citizens are suffering.

The author is a columnist and a freelance journalist. He was previously a China media journalist at the BBC World Service. Views are personal.

(Edited by Prashant Dixit)

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