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Zhao Lijian #conspiracy #racist theprint.in

Top Chinese diplomat pushes conspiracy theory that US army is behind coronavirus

A Chinese foreign ministry official pushed a conspiracy theory the U.S. army may have had a role in spreading the virus, highlighting growing tensions between the world’s biggest economies as both governments seek to deflect blame for the outbreak.

“It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan,” Zhao Lijian, a foreign ministry spokesman, said in a tweet. “Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe us an explanation!”

He later followed up with another tweet urging his 284,000 followers to share an article arguing that the virus originated in the U.S. It was posted on a website promoting conspiracy theories, including articles lambasting the “Vaccine Deep State” and questioning whether Osama bin Laden ever existed.

With the coronavirus spreading from China into the U.S. and around the world, both nations are trading tit-for-tat claims about its origins. While it’s unclear whether Zhao was being facetious, earlier this month he became the first official in China to suggest that the virus didn’t originate there, even though he hasn’t provided any evidence for that claim.

Asked about the claim, Geng Shuang, another foreign ministry spokesman, said “the origin of the virus can only be determined by science” and expressed hope the issue would not be used to “stigmatize” any country.

This isn’t Zhao’s first controversy on Twitter. While serving as China’s deputy chief of mission at its embassy in Islamabad in July, he posted a string of messages aimed at highlighting U.S. hypocrisy in criticizing Beijing’s human rights record at a time when Washington was ramping up criticism of detention camps in western China’s Xinjiang province.

Zhao mentioned everything from school shootings and income inequality to racial segregation, adding that if “you’re in Washington, D.C., you know the white never go” to the Southeast part of the U.S. capital, home to historically African-American areas. That tweet, which he later deleted, drew the attention of former U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice, leading to an heated online argument.

“You are a racist disgrace. And shockingly ignorant too,” Rice tweeted at Zhao. Probably on the assumption that Zhao was based at China’s mission in Washington, she also addressed the Chinese ambassador to the U.S., Cui Tiankai, who had recently joined Twitter. “Ambassador Cui, I expect better of you and your team. Please do the right thing and send him home.”

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Samira Sood #wingnut theprint.in

Picture this: You’re at a party with many people. Some are family, some are close friends, some are colleagues, some are friends of friends, some are school and college friends. There are all kinds of conversations going on. As it always happens, someone starts talking politics. Then someone finds the political chatter so abhorrent that they pick up a mic and announce that everyone present who supports X political party, should just shut up.

The better, classier, more constructive thing to do would be to either engage with the person you disagree with and try to understand, or extricate yourself from that conversation and move on.

Now, replace the party scenario with social media. You may not pick up the mic and shout literally, but many people see this kind of rude, aggressive, attention-seeking behaviour as perfectly kosher on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

I’ve lost count of the number of Facebook posts I’ve seen, especially in the last couple of months since the Citizenship (Amendment) Act protests took off, that say, “If you still support the BJP and Narendra Modi, please unfriend me now”, and frankly, I’m tired of it.

A bubble
There are two aspects to the act of unfriending, whether IRL (in real life) or online, that I find problematic. One is that sanitising one’s life/news feed/timeline to such an extent that it becomes an echo chamber is dangerous. Of course it’s tricky, because there are many factors that come into play here – how close you are to the other person, if you’ve tried to engage with them on politics in the past and failed, whether they have actually said anything problematic or just voted for a party you don’t like, and so on.

Maybe it’s a random college acquaintance, so you rationalise it as: “Well, we’re not even in touch except for birthdays, so why not just delete?” Maybe someone has repeatedly made remarks that displayed extreme bigotry.

But what if it’s neither? What if it’s your favourite uncle or your work bestie and what if they’re not saying anything hateful per se, but simply voicing their support for a party that they truly believe has done some good work, even if not in the same departments that you care about? What if they have the numbers to show for it, numbers that you, given your preference for an echo chamber, might not otherwise have seen? Would it not be worthwhile to understand why someone you love is politically so different from you? Would it not enhance your own understanding of India and the motivation of its people at the polling booth?

There can be many reasons why someone votes a certain way, but painting every BJP voter and Modi fan as a bigot who needs to be ‘cancelled’ seems counterproductive. This limitation of ‘liberals’ has clearly been proven in the last two Lok Sabha elections.


Just do it, without virtue-signalling
The second problem with unfriending is the performative virtue-signalling, which is very much an online problem. If, for whatever reason, you have decided that you would like to unfriend people based on their politics, then just go ahead and do it. What is the need to write a social media post telling them to unfriend you? They don’t seem to have a problem with your divergent views being on their news feed, but somehow you become the liberal darling because 73 people liked/loved your post and a dozen even shared it (they couldn’t even be bothered to write their own breakup note).

I asked someone close to me, who had recently asked pro-BJP people to unfriend her on Facebook, why she felt it was okay to put the onus of unfriending on other people. Her response was that she did not know exactly who on her friend list was pro-BJP and that she didn’t have the time to find out and delete multiple people, and that she was making it easy for them. To me, though, it came across as the opposite – when you do this, you’re making it easy for yourself. If you don’t even have the time to find out who the other person is, much less why they vote the way they do, but you want them out of your life, aren’t you doing liberalism a massive disservice? It gets enough flak in India as it is.

No one is born woke, just like no one is born a bigot. Everyone is learning, most people are trying. But the problem with so many liberals (and I count myself as a liberal too) is that in trying to out-woke and out-liberal each other, we are ending up with a fragmented liberalism that has no room for anyone who doesn’t have exactly the same views. And it is precisely this fragmentation that makes it so easy for the other side to exploit the cracks and push liberalism to the losing side.