China has recast itself as a global leader in defeating coronavirus — and nowhere is that more apparent than in their military.
The fantastical claim is being labeled an implausible narrative that scientists and scholars find bogus and warn is a classic and transparent tactic meant to intimidate regional rivals.
Chen Jingyuan, health division director of the Logistic Support Department under the Central Military Commission, claimed there were no cases of infection because the military’s prevention measures had been perfect. He said in a press conference that instead of falling to the virus, the pandemic had actually “improved the combat readiness of the Chinese military.”
One person not buying that logic is foreign affairs expert Gordon Chang.
“It is virtually impossible, as claimed, that none of the 2.0 million soldiers, sailors and pilots of the People’s Liberation Army has been infected with coronavirus, especially since some of them went into Wuhan, the epicenter, at the heart of the outbreak,” he told Fox News.
Zack Cooper, a former U.S. official working on China-related issues at the White House and the Department of Defense, told Voice of America that “militaries are being impacted just like the rest of societies so, I would expect that to be the case in China, as well.”
People’s Liberation Army soldiers march to their barracks opposite the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.Getty Images
Chen Chi-wen, editor-in-chief of Asia-Pacific Defense, a leading defense magazine published in Taiwan, pointed out that there are PLA units based in and around Wuhan, including airborne troops, a reserve anti-aircraft artillery battery and the central depot of the Joint Logistic Support Force, and that in towns with such a heavy military presence, “tens of thousands of the soldiers and their family members were interacting with local residents all the time.”
Timothy Heath, a senior international researcher at the RAND Corporation, told VOA that China’s claims of being virus-free is one that “no one would expect” or believe.
Countries including the United States, France, Great Britain, Japan, South Korea have all seen a rise in infection in their armed forces. In some places like the Philippines and Poland, the virus has hit top generals.
Chang believes that China’s inflated claims are part of a bigger and more aggressive military strategy.
“China is now acting as if it is ready for battle,” he said.
Over the weekend, a Chinese aircraft carrier sailed past Taiwan in a show of strength as the U.S. Navy continued to struggle with outbreaks on its military ships in the Pacific. The USS Theodore Roosevelt, in particular, has been badly hit by an outbreak and is currently docked in Guam.
While the American carriers have been sidelined, China’s Liaoning is the only one that is operating in the Western Pacific.
“We have to be concerned that the Chinese military is looking for trouble,” Chang said. “In recent weeks, it has moved belligerently against Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam and Indonesia. Beijing is taking on everyone at the same time. Not good.”
Japan’s ministry of defense said Monday that the Liaoning and its strike group, including five warships, passed through the 155-mile wide Miyako Strait between the islands of Okinawa and Miyako on Saturday, before turning south and passing east of Taiwan on Sunday. The strait is an international waterway. Taiwan’s navy also sent ships to monitor the strike group as it passed on Sunday, according to Taiwan’s ministry of defense.
“We have conducted reconnaissance and monitoring over the sea and air space around Taiwan,” ministry spokesperson Shih Shun-wen said.
In response, the U.S. Air Force then posted a tweet showing multiple bombers lined up on the runway in Guam.
While China’s military is flexing its muscle at sea, the PLA has also been engaged in an online campaign and has posted stories on its large-scale exercises as well as the sinking of a Vietnamese fishing boat. It also boasted about ramping up military industries in Wuhan.
Fox News’ Chris Irvine contributed to this report.