The new 'yellow peril': Behind U.S. coronavirus propaganda
Updated 17:00, 04-May-2020
By Zeng Ziyi

Looking at the U.S. right now feels like watching events unfold in an insane asylum - just when you think it couldn't get any crazier, something happens and tops the previous day.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who by now has practically argued that he knows more about anything than anyone, recently offered a range of techniques he thinks would help treat the coronavirus, from injecting bleach to taking dangerous drugs to using a combination of "light and heat." Then, in a distinctly "Trumpian" flair, he said the next day that it was all in the name of sarcasm, despite nearly 100 Americans being hospitalized after following his advice.

In the face of one of the biggest public health challenges in U.S. history, Trump has done everything except showing any serious concern about the well-being of average Americans. The president and his allies in media and government have peddled dangerously misleading conspiracy theories one after another in a last stand effort to save his fading reelection chances. 

Now that the U.S. has roughly 1.16 million, or one-third, of the world's total COVID-19 cases, the White House has yet to come up with any concrete measure to halt the skyrocketing infections. Instead, it opted to orchestrate a massive show of smoke and mirrors aimed at distracting the public from its own massive failures by redirecting their attention to another country – China. In fact, this is one of the oldest tricks in the book of colonial propaganda.

The new 'Yellow Peril'

In 1895, German emperor Wilhelm II presented an intriguing sketch to other European leaders. The painting depicted archangel Michael hinting Germany itself, standing before a clifftop warning other Christian warrior-goddesses the "yellow peril" in the distance - an ominously glowing Buddha resting in eerie black smoke. By casting East Asians as aggressors in an imminent race war, the painting helped justify Germany's entry into the West's colonial conquest in China. Four years later, it took over Jiaozhou Bay in China's Shandong Province.

By almost all measures, "yellow peril" was a highly successful propaganda campaign that evoked instinctual fears in the hearts of average Europeans about a "mad" and "primitive" race taking over a pure and innocent Europe. As sinologist Dr. Wing-Fai Leung explained, "the phrase yellow peril […] blends Western anxieties about sex, racist fears of the alien other, and the Spenglerian belief that the West will become outnumbered and enslaved by the East."

Over a century later, the blame-and-conquer technique has been perfected by the U.S. through decades of military adventures all over the world all the while blasting through its sophisticated propaganda machines about vague, sometimes fabricated foreign threats. As the country is facing another major crisis, it seems only natural for the U.S. to dump all the criticism on its biggest strategic rival.

"This is typical behavior of autocrats and dictators," said former professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Noam Chomsky in an interview with Democracy Now!. "When you make colossal errors which are killing thousands of people, find somebody else to blame. And in the United States, it's unfortunately the case, for well over a century, century and a half, that it's always easy to blame the 'yellow peril.'"

However, despite having cried wolf many times before – from the Gulf of Tonkin to invading Iraq – the timeless method has worked again and again including this time.

A recent poll by Pew Research Center shows that Americans' view toward China has fallen to record low as the outbreak continues to spread throughout the United States. Almost two thirds of Americans having a negative opinion of the country – a lowest point since the Center began asking the question in 2005.

Wuhan lab

At the center of the "yellow peril" redux is a group of U.S. neoconservative vanguards and China hawks, including Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas who was one of the first and most eager in spinning the Wuhan lab conspiracy.

The theory – a key talking point of U.S. coronavirus propaganda – claims that the virus was leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology either by accident or deliberately as a biological weapon by the Chinese government. When Cotton first began pushing this theory publicly in mid-February, it was swiftly dismissed by scientists as well as majority of news media.

However, as Trump administration's incompetence becomes clearer toward mid-April, the fringe Wuhan lab theory was revived by the White House and neocons. This time, the supposedly more moderate Washington Post entertained with the idea through an article by neoconservative guru Josh Rogin.

Rogin's article added weight to the conspiracy theory by quoting a January 2018 cable produced by U.S. Embassy in Beijing. The cable warned that the work conducted at the Wuhan research lab represented danger to a "new SARS-like pandemic."

Soon, other mainstream media including MSNBC and Buzzfeed, began flirting with the same idea that was almost universally shunned as baseless and ludicrous just a month ago. 

However, as independent news site The Grayzone pointed out, the cable quoted in Rogin's article had all the telltale signs of a story planted by administration officials looking to turn up the heat on China. 

The Grayzone revealed that a key figure in story - "research scientist" Xiao Qiang - turned out to be a professional dissident with extensive links to the U.S. government's regime-change arm, the notorious National Endowment for Democracy. The organization has played a key role in subverting governments worldwide, including Ukraine, Venezuela and many others. It has also trained many pro-U.S. violent separatist elements including protest leaders of Hong Kong. 

Meanwhile, French government officials who have worked with China to establish the lab in a joint-venture back in 2004, also shot down allegations linked to the institute, according to Reuters. 

"We would like to make it clear that there is to this day no factual evidence corroborating the information recently circulating in the United States press that establishes a link between the origins of COVID-19 and the work of the P4 laboratory of Wuhan, China," an official at President Emmanuel Macron's office said.

Despite, objections to the theory by credible scientists all over the world and even the United States' own intelligence community, President Trump and other senior officials have used it as facts in a relentless PR campaign to lower China's credibility. Moreover, this conspiracy was even used as basis to seek damage compensation in several lawsuits.