Chinese embassy in Nepal, The Kathmandu Post spar over 'malicious' image accompanying coronavirus op-ed: The story so far

FP Staff

An article on China's alleged mishandling of the novel coronavirus epidemic published in The Kathmandu Post's edition on 18 February has sparked off a diplomatic row. The Chinese embassy in Nepal expressed the country's "strong dissatisfaction and firm protest" over the article.

On Tuesday, The Kathmandu Post carried an op-ed, originally published by The Korea Herald, with the title "China's secrecy has made coronavirus crisis much worse". The article stated that Chinese authorities waited for a month after the first case to notify the World Health Organisation (WHO), and that the government decided to act only when cases were reported outside the Hubei province on 20 January.

The article noted, "We may never know if the spread of the new virus could have been prevented by earlier, concerted action. But the fact that China chose secrecy and inaction turned the possibility of an epidemic into a reality." An illustration accompanying the article showed a bank note with the image of the founding father of the People's Republic of China Mao Zedong, with a mask on his face.

Soon after the Nepalese newspaper carried the article, a statement by the Chinese embassy in Nepal said that it "deliberately smeared the efforts of the Chinese government and people fighting against the new coronavirus pneumonia and even viciously attacked the political system of China." The statement further alleged that the illustration was published with "malicious intention."

The embassy says that China has acted in an "open and transparent manner" regarding the disease. The statement also asserted, "We are ready to accept any meaningful suggestions on how to control the spread of the epidemic as soon as possible. But we firmly oppose any ulterior motives and even malicious attacks on the political systems of other countries."

Further, the statement specifically named the chief editor of the newspaper and said, " It is regrettable that Mr. Anup Kaphle, Chief Editor of The Kathmandu Post has always been biased on China-related issues. This time he went as far as disregarding the facts and becoming a parrot of some anti-China forces and, therefore, his ulterior purpose is destined to failure."

Meanwhile, seventeen editors of Nepalese newspapers and online portals on Wednesday condemned the Chinese embassy's statement, saying, '"We respect the right of an individual or organisation to express their disagreement over materials published in the media. But we disagree with the disparagement and threats issued by naming any particular editor. We condemn such an act."

The editors further noted , "We would also like to remind the embassy that it breached diplomatic decorum in doing so."

On Wednesday, The Kathmandu Post said that it has noted the Chinese embassy's statement but stands by the article it carried.

This is not the first instance in which China's alleged opacity in handling the public health crisis has been brought into question. A White House senior administration official told CNBC earlier this week that the US does "not have high confidence in the information coming out of China" regarding the count of coronavirus cases.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang, hit back at his comments, saying Beijing has had an "open and transparent attitude" with the global community since the start of the epidemic, and maintained close communication and exchanged epidemic information with the US side in a "timely manner".

China has been reeling under the novel coronavirus outbreak, triggering global health concerns as well as apprehensions about a negative impact of the epidemic on the country's economy, which has the potential to impact global trade.

China's National Health Commission has said that the toll due to the outbreak climbed to 1,868 on Monday while the total number of confirmed cases jumped to 72,436.

With inputs from PTI

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