“Among the most successful Chinese achievements we count porcelain, paper – and cheating”. So begins an article that appeared today in Germany’s top circulation newspaper “Bild”. “Already 500 years before Jesus Christ the legendary Chinese general Sun Tzu praised cheating as a success strategy”, goes on the author of the article, Christian Stenzel.

“Since then, the world has not become noticeably smarter in dealing with China. On the contrary. The explosion of the corona epidemic shows us in the most painful way: The land of smiles lies smiling in our faces. Over and over again”.

The author accuses the Chinese government of having covered up the outbreak of the new form of coronavirus, which according to some sources happened in November already. It is a claim that has often been repeated over the last few weeks and echoes the events of 2003, when China was accused of being less than transparent about the SARS outbreak, an acute respiratory disease that affected around 8 thousand people and killed 774.

Facing a rapid increase in the number of anomalous pneumonia cases in December last year, China informed the World Health Organization about the new virus epidemic on December 31. This is consistent with reports that Chinese doctors realized they were dealing with a new kind of disease only in late December. And despite the WHO praising China’s efforts in dealing with the coronavirus emergency this time, many in the West have raised concerns about China’s handling of the crisis.

The tragic story of Li Wenliang, the Chinese doctor who first tried to spread the news about the new disease is often recalled. However, to do the Chinese government justice, China told the WHO about the new coronavirus the day after Li Wenliang gave his warning over WeChat, a Chinese messaging app similar to WhatsApp.

Moreover, China has been accused of having played down the extent of the epidemic, massaging the statistics to hide the true number of people infected. But the number of cases registered has always been dependent on the number of specific tests conducted and at the beginning of the crisis the number of tests, given the new nature of the threat, was very limited.

In 80% of the people, coronavirus infections will provoke symptoms that do not significantly differ from those of a common cold or a flu. Not only in China, but even in Germany, in Europe or in America today, not everyone displaying symptoms such as cough, throat sourness, fever or aching limbs is tested for the coronavirus.

Such tests are expensive and take time, and due to the acute nature of the emergency and the difficult decision health care services are facing, it’s impossible to ascertain the exact number of people infected, not only in authoritarian China, but even in the model “open societies” of Europe and America. Communist China may not be an ideal example in terms of human rights, but this does not mean it is fine to use every opportunity, even this latest catastrophe, to discredit her government.

Worse still, China’s coronavirus misfortune should not used as an opportunity to indulge in crude racial stereotypes. The “laughing lying Chinese” is one of the crassest forms of this sort of stereotypes. Today Germany likes to fashion itself as a tolerant and cosmopolitan country open to different people and cultures. However, as this latest example shows, there is still a huge gap between superficial pleasantries and one’s real thoughts and feelings. Maybe someday someone will write about the smiling Germans and their empty mantras about tolerance and shared European values.