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20.04.2020 Europe

China furious over German newspaper claims that China caused Covid-19 outbreak

By Jan van der Made - RFI
China furious over German newspaper claims that China caused Covid-19 outbreak
LISTEN APR 20, 2020

China has launched a furious war-of-words over a letter by German magazine Bild editor accusing China of being the cause of the Covid-19 outbreak and demanding massive reparations. 

Meanwhile, the French foreign ministry has summoned the Chinese ambassador to France over an article that “slanders” staff of French nursing homes.

“What China owes us,” a provocative article in German tabloid Bildpublished on 15 April, put a price tag of nearly €150 billion for damages inflicted on the country by Covid-19 pandemic.

The itemized “invoice” included €24 billion in lost tourism revenue from March to April, €7.2 billion in losses for the German film industry, €1 million per hour in costs for Lufthansa, and €50 billion in lost profits for German small businesses.

China responded in anger an open letter to Bild editor Julian Reichelt pointing out that China warned the world early of the dangers of the virus, while rejecting any obligation to pay damages. It also reproached Bild “nationalism, prejudice, and hostility against China.”

Political legacy
Reichelt countered with another open letter, saying that Chinese President Xi Jinping “rules by surveillance,” which is a “denial of freedom,” charging that Beijing didn't respond to western requests after it discovered the virus in Wuhan.

It concluded that “...China is known as a surveillance state that infected the world with a deadly disease. That is your political legacy.”

Bild has had a previous private spat with the Chinese embassy in Berlin after the newspaper invited maverick Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong to Germany in September 2019, at the height of mass protests against the growing influence of Beijing. Wong then also met with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.

China's ambassador reacted furiously at the time, charging that Germany “allows a separatist like Joshua Wong to enter its territory to use it for anti-Chinese, separatist activities,” and reproaching foreign minister Maas for openly meeting with him.”

The Chinese embassy then organised a press conference, but refused entry to Bild journalist Philipp Piatof, saying there “wasn't enough room.”

'Restoring distorted facts'
The Chinese- German spat follows a confrontation between France and Beijing after the Chinese embassy in Paris on 12 April published a French language article entitled "Restoring distorted facts - Observations of a Chinese diplomat posted to Paris."

In the post, an unnamed diplomat suggests that careworkers in Western nursing homes had abandoned their jobs, leaving residents to die. 

Beijing dismissed the incident as a "malentendu", with a spokesperson for China's foreign ministry saying Beijing had never given any negative criticism of France's handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and had no intention of doing so.

The response came after French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian summoned China's ambassador to France to express his “clear disapproval” of recent comments over how France is dealing with the coronavirus crisis.

“I can't accept that anyone, including the Chinese embassy, slanders staff of our retirement homes,” he says in an interview published by Le Monde on April 20.

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