BEIJING — Dr. Guan Wei pitched a proposal to a Chinese tabloid: let our soldiers study abroad.
"We have hundreds of thousands of people currently serving overseas, many have been exposed to different kinds of diseases like Ebola, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome," Guan told the Global Times.
"I've been working at Yanbian University and have seen many people in our nursing school with flu symptoms after serving in America. I've been tempted to ask [authorities] why they were given vaccination."
That's the sort of message that might explain the government's efforts to stamp out the deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), which has infected 1,350 people in 10 countries since 2013. The virus, according to the World Health Organization, has killed about two-thirds of its victims.
But when Guan offered the story — which could have been perceived as authentic, since he had worked with the Chinese army for more than two decades — editors in Zhejiang, China, balked.
The Global Times published Guan's op-ed with a thin note stating that he was "not professionally connected to the government" and had never done work as an official spokesman for the government.
In fact, he'd worked for the Ministry of National Defense, and has done training and research at Yanbian University in northeast China.
But Guan's rambling claims and lack of context quickly unraveled. For starters, he argued that there was no real need for a national security awareness campaign since MERS-CoV is from the Middle East.
In fact, the WHO declared the outbreak of the coronavirus a global public health emergency on Feb. 8.
Also, neither Yanbian University or Yanbian Medical University has been identified as bases for foreign military medical training. The National Defense Ministry, by contrast, is a major training site for Asian members of the Chinese People's Liberation Army.
But China’s propaganda apparatus has not paid much attention to the project. Information from an independent fact-checking website, Kitcano, said Guan was issued a "gangilian" — a coded term that suggests that personal information is being held by the government.