Repaint Wuhan as a heroic victim of the coronavirus, or even cast doubt on the real origins of the virus: the Chinese government wishes to regain control of the narrative thread of the pandemic in a context of global mistrust of it.
The massive public relations operation is being played out in particular through the laudatory press campaign which Wuhan benefits from the state media.
They cite a revival of this central Chinese city and praise the government’s efforts to control the epidemic as the United States finds itself in trouble.
The climax came last week when primary schools across the country once again welcomed their students with great fanfare, and Wuhan was visited by dozens of heads of multinationals, such as the Japanese Panasonic and the Finnish Nokia. They were able to benefit from a choreographed tour of the city. “There are few places in the world today where you don’t need masks and where you can congregate,” a Chinese official told them, Lin Songtian.
“This attests to Wuhan’s triumph over the virus and that (the city) is back for business,” he added.
This narrative rewrite is however carried out without taking into account the fact that a Wuhan market is suspected of being the epicenter of the origin of the pandemic.
While on a European tour, the Chinese Foreign Minister hinted on August 28 that the virus may not have been born in China.
Analysts say the operation proves China is aware of the damage COVID-19 has on its image and is trying to use its relative remission to its advantage.
Beijing is indeed facing more and more foreign criticism of its handling of the coronavirus, in particular because of the initial attempts by officials in Wuhan to cover up the epidemic.
The Chinese government’s increasingly strong hold on Hong Kong and its aggressive stance internationally are further reasons for such criticism.
“Beijing wants the narrative to be: we’ve got it under control, we can help you get it under control and – hopefully – we’ll be the first to have a vaccine that works,” said Kelsey Broderick, an analyst on the Asia for Eurasia Group.
“This is really the only way for China to abandon the idea that a Wuhan market is the source of the crisis,” she continued.
“A big help for China”
Another aspect, the problematic management of the pandemic by the United States represents a real opportunity for Beijing according to Yun Jiang, director of the Center for Political Studies on China at the Australian National University.
“The fact that the United States is not only not doing enough, but that it is going against American interests, is a great help to China,” she said.
The three-day visit to Wuhan included members of the foreign press and ended on Saturday.
On the program, an excursion to a food market presented as a model of disinfection, a performance of traditional opera and ballet by schoolchildren, or a cruise on the Yangtze River under the artificial lights of Wuhan screens evoking the healing of city.
More than 80% of the 4,634 deaths from COVID-19 in China took place in the city of 11 million people, which became a ghost town during the weeks of containment at the start of the pandemic.
No local contamination has been recorded for several months, traffic jams are back, like dinners on the terrace to taste the typical dish: spicy crayfish.
Masks are absent from faces or worn hanging from the ear.
A pool party in Wuhan last month drew in thousands, a symbol the government says of China’s success in controlling the coronavirus.
” Winter is coming “
But celebrations are not the order of the day for everyone in the city.
Many voiced concern over an uneven recovery, while fear of a new epidemic wave persists.
“The economy has really deteriorated. The interest in coming to work is questionable, ”said Yi Xinhua, a 51-year-old tofu seller in the Wuhan fresh produce market.
A common grievance for traders in Wuhan who attribute it to people’s fear of going out, and the widely shared idea that millions of residents who fled the city at the start of the epidemic have still not returned.
The available labor force is also becoming scarce in the city due to the exodus.
“Everyone is afraid the epidemic will come back, you know. Summer is over, winter is coming, ”said Yi Xinhua.