One of Georgia’s U.S. senators is taking issue with Chinese censorship she believes hampered the world’s preparation for the coronavirus pandemic that has now sickened nearly 2 million people and killed more than 125,000 around the world.
U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler joined with four of her Republican counterparts in the Senate to urge the State Department and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft to document instances and lodge complaints when governments use the pandemic as a “guise” for cracking down on dissent and increasing surveillance.
The letter refers to an analysis saying China could have reduced its case totals by 86 percent if interventions were introduced two weeks sooner than Jan. 20, which Reporters Without Borders said could have been achieved without censorship.
“Now, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is using this public health emergency as a thin veil to cover a crackdown on peaceful dissent and freedom of speech,” the letter reads, highlighting China’s recent expulsion of longtime correspondents from U.S. news outlets. The CCP also took the unprecedented step of banning them from working in Hong Kong and Macau.
“Additionally, a number of Chinese citizens reporting from Wuhan—such as Fang Bin and Chen Qiushi—have disappeared. Populations already suffering under CCP repression, to include Tibetans and Uyghurs, are being targeted and arrested in transparent attempts to suppress their voices,” the letter reads.
China, the senators argue, is the first and most egregious offender, but it’s just one government that has abused its power when it comes to the crisis, they say. The letter documents instances in which Iran, Bangladesh, Egypt, Venezuela, Turkey and other countries have stymied reporting, detained journalists or censored citizens for publicizing information about the virus or criticizing their government’s response to the outbreak.
One of the signers of the letter, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, has been among the most vocal critics of alleged Chinese efforts to cover up the severity of the virus or to silence doctors and other whistleblowers who sought to raise the alarm during early days in the outbreak’s epicenter in Wuhan.
China originally reported to the World Health Organization that the virus could not be transmitted between humans. U.S. President Donald Trump has blasted the WHO for its perceived leniency toward China.
The virus has been a sore spot in already-fraught U.S.-China relations, though Mr. Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping have pledged increased collaboration after recent phone conversations. Mr. Trump has largely stopped using the term “Chinese virus,” which activists blasted as encouraging racist attacks against Asian-Americans.
The senators asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Ms. Craft to use all diplomatic levers to address these alleged abuses, from requesting briefings at the U.N. Security Council to bilateral meetings.
“We stand with the defenders of free speech and expression in China, and in any nation across the globe where an illiberal regime is threatening these fundamental human rights.”
Read the full letter below:State and UN Letter 04.13.20_0