China Censors Debate, Drops Signal During Pence Coronavirus Remarks

Chinese censors appeared to interrupt Wednesday's vice presidential debate to prevent viewers from hearing criticism regarding Beijing's handling of the coronavirus pandemic, with the signal dropping just as Vice President Mike Pence began speaking about the topic.

The debate was being broadcast on CNN in China, a channel that is regularly interrupted by the censors. Generally, the channel is not widely available in China, largely only accessible in hotels, diplomatic compounds and apartment blocks frequented by foreigners.

The signal dropped for around 30 seconds during Wednesday's debate. The interruption happened just as Pence said "China is to blame" when discussing the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic that has to date killed more than 211,000 Americans and infected more than 7.5 million—including President Donald Trump and a host of White House staffers.

Nathan VanderKlippe, a Beijing correspondent for Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper, noted on Twitter that the CNN signal was cut during the debate. He posted a picture of the interruption, showing a screen reading: "No signal, please stand by." VanderKlippe wrote: "China censored Pence's comments on China. Signal returned when Harris began talking again."

The Australian Associated Press also reported that Chinese censors had stepped in to block Pence's comments.

In the blocked portion of the debate, Pence repeated the Trump administration's main line of attacks on Beijing regarding the pandemic. The White House has tried to dodge blame for its handling of the crisis by accusing China of covering up the extent and severity of the COVID-19 outbreak, and blaming the World Health Organization for facilitating the supposed Chinese deception.

"China is to blame for the coronavirus and President Trump is not happy about it," Pence said Wednesday. "China and the World Health Organization did not play straight with the American people, they did not let our personnel into China to get information on the coronavirus until the middle of February."

Pence also repeated a misleading claim—one repeatedly pushed by Trump and his allies—that the president suspended "all travel from China" in January. Trump has claimed this step saved "hundreds of thousands of lives," though has offered nothing to support the number.

Trump's restrictions on China did not ban all travel from the country to the U.S. It only stopped the entry of foreign nationals who had been in China in the past 14 days. Americans and permanent U.S. residents were still allowed to enter, even if returning from Hubei province where the first outbreak occurred, subject to a 14-day quarantine.

Hundreds of thousands of travelers still entered the U.S. on flights from China after the ban, and until February 27 travelers to the U.S. faced no other restrictions or quarantine measures.

Regardless, coronavirus was already present in the U.S. when the restrictions were introduced. And genetic analysis has suggested that American outbreaks were not caused by travelers coming from China. The New York outbreak, for example, appears to have been caused by people arriving from Europe.

Harris responded to Pence's remarks by attacking the administration's coronavirus record. "The Trump administration's perspective and approach to China has resulted in a loss of American lives, American jobs, and America's standing," she said.

Mike Pence, debate, China, censor, coronavirus
Vice President Mike Pence participates in the vice presidential debate in Kingsbury Hall at the University of Utah on October 7, 2020, in Salt Lake City, Utah. His comments on the coronavirus were dropped from Chinese television transmission. ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images/Getty