China reframes coronavirus narrative, touts Xi's accomplishments despite bodies piling up

Even as coronavirus casualties piled up in China, President Xi Jinping spent the week trying to change the narrative -- even touring Wuhan, ground zero of the outbreak.

His victory lap was intended to send a strong message to the rest of the world that China, the Communist Party and its people had beaten a global pandemic he once labeled a "devil."

The tailored-for-TV tour was broadcast globally and designed to show a seemingly successful China muscle its way through a monster health crisis led by Xi at a time when international efforts to contain the virus have fallen short of expectations.

Minxin Pei, a professor specializing in Chinese politics at Claremont McKenna College in California, believes Xi has world leaders exactly where he wants them.

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"Now things are getting better and he wants to show that his leadership has been a success," Pei told The Washington Post. "The messaging is that we should see the West's response as bumbling and incompetent."

In an effort to rebrand its sluggish response to the coronavirus, Chinese officials have hammered the United States' handling of it, even claiming that the virus, which has been scientifically traced back to Wuhan, was planted by a U.S. service member in China.

Nearly 81,000 people in China, the world's most populous country, have been diagnosed with coronavirus, with more than 3,100 deaths. Of those, about 61,000 have recovered from COVID-19, which causes similar symptoms to the flu, such as fever and cough. In older adults and people who already have health problems, the virus strikes harder, causing severe illnesses such as pneumonia. While most recover in about 14 days, for those who are in the high-risk category, getting better could take up to six weeks.

A Friday morning global roundup showed a 6 percent jump in cases of COVID-19 around the world with Cuba, Guyana, Turkey, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the Ivory Coast seeing the disease on their shores for the first time.

The number of cases in the U.S. has surpassed 2,000.

According to China's National Health Commission, mainland China reported only five new cases on Friday -- the second day in a row its numbers have been less than 10 new cases, with no locally transmitted infections reported in the rest of the country.

Mainland China only had 11 new confirmed cases on Friday, according to Reuters. This was up from 8 cases a day earlier, but only four of those cases, all in the virus epicenter of Hubei province, were locally transmitted, according to data released Saturday. The rest came from international travelers.

In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, Chinese President Xi Jinping talks by video with patients and medical workers at the Huoshenshan Hospital in Wuhan in central China's Hubei Province, Tuesday, March 10, 2020. 

In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, Chinese President Xi Jinping talks by video with patients and medical workers at the Huoshenshan Hospital in Wuhan in central China's Hubei Province, Tuesday, March 10, 2020.  (Xinhua via AP)

The low numbers have given Xi a global platform and a powerful pen to rewrite history.

Xinhua News Agency, widely regarded as the state-run mouthpiece for Xi and the Community Party, has published one glowing article after another on Xi's personal efforts against battling the worldwide pandemic, which included his frontline visit with medical workers and his offers to help other nations. One of the articles in Xinhau boasted that Xi's dedication to fighting COVID-19 was proof he has a "pure heart like a newborn's that always puts the people as his number one priority."

Then came the "gratitude education" campaign pushed by officials in Wuhan that ordered residents to thank Xi for his hard work and leadership even as COVID-19 swept through the country. While there was an initial backlash to the Xi love-fest online, those voices were quickly suppressed by government censors.

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As China's most powerful leader in decades, Xi had been tackling an economic crisis, trade tensions with the United States and large-scale protests in Hong Kong. Now, he is being hailed in as a hero in some parts of the world, ready to help save everyone from the pandemic.

China has pledged $20 million to help the World Health Organization (WHO) improve public health systems in poor countries, according to a letter obtained by Foreign Policy.

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The letter "appeared calculated to rebut growing criticism from the United States and elsewhere over its initial handling of the outbreak that allowed the disease to spread so rapidly," Foreign Policy wrote.

Written by China's U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun, the letter to U.N. member states paints Xi as someone who can lead the international community in its fight against COVID-19.

"We are ready to strengthen solidarity with the rest of the international community to jointly fight the epidemic."