Former CCTV host says China should apologise to world for coronavirus ‘mess’

Linda Lew

A former host at state broadcaster CCTV has added fuel to the Wall Street Journal expulsion row by suggesting China should say sorry to the world “for the mess” caused by the coronavirus epidemic.

Qiu Menghuang posted the suggestion to Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, on February 20, prompting many users to leave messages criticising him before Qiu scrubbed all posts from his account.

“Even though the stereotype of ‘sick man of Asia’ has been shattered for over a century, can we be more gentle and apologetic in our tone, humbly put on some face masks and give a bow to the world and say ‘sorry for the mess’?” he wrote in the now-deleted post.

That was a reference to the headline of an opinion piece about the coronavirus outbreak, “China is the real sick man of Asia”, published by The Wall Street Journal on February 3, which the Chinese foreign ministry said was racist.

Qiu Menghuang’s controversial post on Weibo was later deleted. Photo: Weibo

On February 19, China expelled three Wall Street Journal reporters, claiming the decision was retaliation for the opinion piece.

It also came a day after Washington designated Chinese state media operating in the United States, such as Xinhua and CGTN, as foreign government functionaries.

Many Chinese social media users accused Qiu of betraying China and failing to see the sacrifices people had made to contain the spread of the new coronavirus, an epidemic that no one wanted to see.

“Why does China have to apologise? We didn’t intentionally start this catastrophe? The people of the world should apologise to China, because China proactively worked to contain the virus … other countries can copy us and save time from making mistakes,” one user wrote on Weibo.

Sonny Lo Shiu-hing, a political commentator, said the epidemic had polarised sentiments, with many people blaming China as the origin of the new virus when there was no evidence yet to show where it came from.

The epidemic also had the unintended consequence of inflaming nationalism, he said.

“Qiu has freedom of speech, but the challenge was that his view was easily overwhelmed by the nationalists. The coronavirus matter has very unfortunately polarised the ultranationalist issue on the one hand and unnecessarily anti-China or anti-Chinese sentiment on the other,” Lo said.

The expulsion triggered a debate over the phrase “sick man of Asia” – regarded as derogatory by some – and press freedom.

Over 50 Wall Street Journal reporters and editors sent a letter on February 20 urging the publication’s management “to consider correcting the headline and apologising to our readers, sources, colleagues and anyone else who was offended by it”.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo earlier condemned the expulsion as a restriction of free speech.

“The United States hopes that the Chinese people will enjoy the same access to accurate information and freedom of speech that Americans enjoy,” Pompeo said.

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