Iran, China Predict More U.S. Coronavirus Pain and Push Conspiracy Theories

The coronavirus pandemic is pushing two of America's most prominent authoritarian adversaries closer together, as disinformation and conspiracy theories about the virus' spread infect global discourse.

China—where the virus originated—and Iran are two of the worst affected nations to date, and both have been accused of covering up the scale and severity of their national outbreaks to limit the political damage to the regime.

China has claimed to have passed the peak of its outbreak, and there have now been more reported cases and deaths outside the country than inside. The number of new daily cases in Iran is still increasing.

In the meantime, both nations have engaged in a war of words with Washington, maligning President Donald Trump's response to the crisis and peddling conspiracy theories suggesting that the U.S. was actually behind the outbreak.

Over the weekend, editorials in state-backed media and remarks from top officials underscored how the pandemic has deepened regime enmity towards the U.S.

In China, state-backed newspaper Global Times published yet another editorial criticizing Trump's handling of the pandemic. The president initially played down the severity of the disease and displayed an apparent lack of understanding of its basic characteristics.

Global Times described Trump's approach as a "failure too big to conceal." There have now been more than 35,200 confirmed cases in the U.S. according to Johns Hopkins University. The below Statista infographic shows the number of COVID-19 cases by each U.S. state.

Statista, coronavirus, US, states, March, 23
This infographic shows the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases by state as of March 23. Statista

Trump has been criticized for repeatedly referring to the sickness as the "Chinese virus," despite concerns that such rhetoric might prompt racism against Chinese and Asian people.

Global Times suggested, "In view of the spreading panic, the White House has no way of turning around the situation and is dependent on passing the buck to China" and Trump's response represents a "serious dereliction of duty."

The article added that the administration "will fall into a vicious circle of increasing political difficulties" as the case and death numbers rise.

China has also been muddying the waters. Beijing silenced whistleblowers who first warned about the outbreak, while Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian suggested that the U.S. military was behind the outbreak, which is believed to have occurred at a so-called "wet market" in the central city of Wuhan.

China's ambassador to the United States—Cui Tiankai—distanced himself from the theory when speaking with Axios in an interview broadcast this weekend, standing by a February statement in which he said the suggestion was "crazy."

Iranian officials have adopted conspiracy theories casting doubt on the origin of the virus.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Sunday, "The United States is accused of producing the virus. I do not know how true this claim is if it is true why we should trust them and get help from them."

Addressing U.S. leaders, he suggested, "You may send us medicine that will make the virus last, and it is not unlikely." Khamenei also said that while most countries are battling the virus, "some countries hide it."

Khamenei also predicted that the U.S. will struggle to handle the crisis, arguing that the country is "terribly deficient" in both "prevention and treatment."

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and others have accused Iran of trying to cover up the spread of the virus. On Monday, the State Department released remarks from Pompeo in which he warned that Khamanei's "fabrications" are "dangerous and they put Iranians and people around the world at greater risk."

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This file photo shows a screen displaying COVID-19 information on March 22, 2020 in New York City, U.S. Noam Galai/Getty Images/Getty