New Reporting Sheds Light on Chinese-American Cooperation in Fighting Coronavirus

Leaving aside the legal question of the federal government’s position on prosecuting Americans for believing foreign propaganda, new reporting shows that information-sharing can be beneficial, particularly in a period of intense international crisis.

And the underlying message bolsters the rationale for the First Amendment: government information control can be more dangerous than free expression. Especially in a time of crisis when information is at a premium.

Getting information out of China can often be difficult, but two invaluable sources of information are the South China Morning Post and the Wall Street Journal. Today found two articles of particular First Amendment interest:

The SCMP story, “China’s Centres for Disease Control should have power to warn public, says country’s leading expert,” by correspondent Wendy Wu, was particularly telling, putting the contentious question about information control by the Chinese central government in a different light. In February, China’s “leading epidemiologist Zhong Nanshan … [told the media]  that CDC’s functioning had been weakened in recent years, and it was unable to report directly to the central government or issue public warnings.”

On Sunday, Dr. Zhong told People’s Daily that “The CDC [China’s Centres for Disease Control and Prevention] should be granted certain powers, rather than merely being a technical unit to collect and report data.” He emphasized that experts should be permitted to address the public directly, rather than being subject to government limitations:

“China’s CDC is so far basically a technical department. In finding problems, discovering origins of viruses, assessing the severity of contagion, it should have the authority to interpret,” he said. “On one hand it needs professionals, on the other hand it needs to be empowered, like those in some other countries, that can speak to the public when necessary or in emergencies.”

And Jonathan Cheng reported [paywall] for the WSJ in “As U.S., China Clash Over Coronavirus, Their Doctors Quietly Join Forces,”  about the extensive cooperation between front-line Chinese and American doctors and scientists trying to combat the virus.

The U.S. and China are at each other’s throats, bickering over the origins of the coronavirus and bashing each other’s handling of the crisis.”

Behind the scenes, hundreds of doctors and scientists in the U.S. and China have been using online platforms to hold virtual meetings, trading notes on how best to treat patients and procure needed supplies. …

One of the key figures in the trans-Pacific collaboration has been Zhong Nanshan, China’s best-known epidemiologist and the director of the Guangzhou Institute of Respiratory Diseases.

When the coronavirus outbreak began to grow dire in Wuhan in late January, Dr. Zhong—head of a coronavirus expert committee for China’s cabinet-level National Health Commission—reached out to Harvard through Hui Ka Yan, a billionaire real estate mogul whose Evergrande Group has endowed several initiatives at Harvard, including an immunological disease center. …

[Zhong] had visited Wuhan in mid January and his declaration on Jan. 20 that the virus could be transmitted between humans marked a turning point in the world’s understanding of the pathogen. …

“We took advantage of the people that we know in China who were very open and from the beginning they told us, ‘You got to get ready and you got to be aggressive,’” Dr. Criner said. “We listen to them and that’s what we’ve done.”

Some of the strongest connections are through Chinese-American practitioners working in the U.S. “We knew sooner or later this [epidemic] was going to happen here, because we have such strong ties,” said Xu Ruliang, president of the Association of Chinese American Physicians, whose more than 700 members are largely clustered in the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut that has been hit hardest by the coronavirus.

The twin messages? Sometimes lower-level citizens can do more good exchanging information than governments can by inflaming and suppressing it.

And isn’t that the whole purpose behind the First Amendment?