Having brought us the global breakout of a killer coronavirus, China’s Communist Party dictatorship is now fostering the insinuation that this virus originated not in China, but in America. Mind you, China’s President Xi Jinping and his CCP flunkies have not so far adopted this Orwellian lie as the official line. But there’s a growing blame-America stench now wafting of out China’s state propaganda mills. American authorities need to pay close attention, and do everything in their power to push back, as China’s commissars begin bioengineering a narrative to blame this contagion on others.

On Feb. 27, China’s state-run China Global Television Network (CGTN) broadcast a segment in which one of China’s most prominent epidemiologists, Dr. Zhong Nanshan, speaking about COVID-19, opined that “the infection was first spotted in China, but the virus may not have originated in China.” This was not some casual, private remark. Zhong was speaking at an officially hosted press conference in southern China, whence state-run media obligingly broadcast his statement. What we have here is an officially showcased insinuation, seeding the ground already prepared by prior state propaganda.

Zhong’s suggestion that “the virus may not have originated in China” followed an article published on Feb. 22 by China’s state-run, English-language Global Times, under the headline: “Japanese TV report sparks speculations in China that COVID-19 may have originated in the U.S.

This article was a masterpiece of groundless innuendo — propagating and expanding on rumor, while pretending merely to report it. The Global Times began by stating that suspicions aired by a Japanese TV station were “stoking fears and speculations in China that the novel coronavirus may have originated in the U.S.” The Global Times went on to report that this story had “sparked various conspiracy theories in Chinese cyberspace.” And, ever so helpfully, the Global Times offered in detail a sample conspiracy theory, blaming not only the U.S. in general, but the U.S. military in particular:

“The Military World Games were held in Wuhan in in October. ‘Perhaps the US delegates brought the coronavirus to Wuhan, and some mutation occurred to the virus, making it more deadly and contagious, and causing a widespread outbreak this year,’ a user posted on China’s Twitter-like Sina Weibo.”

When the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) refuted the gist of the Japanese story, the Global Times effectively doubled down. Instead of just printing the refutation, the Global Times updated the entire story, adding the refutation at the top, but reprinting in full the conspiracy theory blaming the U.S. military.

Thus does China’s propaganda machine showcase and promote a blame-America story, while not quite taking responsibility — since, after all, it is simply filling us in on speculation and rumor. In China’s hothouse of state censorship and surveillance, this is a time-tested way to fuel the rumors the Party desires to spread, not to stop them. Such insinuations are not private flights of fancy by people self-quarantining near the office water cooler. Dr. Zhong Nanshan was speaking at a press conference in southern China, before a big blue backdrop labeled “Information Office of the Guangdong Municipal People’s Government.” The network that carried his remarks, CGTN, launched four years ago by China’s state-run CCTV, boasts on its web site of being available in five languages in more than 170 countries and regions worldwide. CGTN is one of the five Chinese media organizations designated last month by the U.S. State Department as indisputably controlled by the Chinese government. Similarly, the Global Times operates under the auspices of China’s Communist Party’s People’s Daily. All of this comes to us courtesy of China’s ruling Communist Party, and to understand the agenda, it behooves us to connect the dots.

But don’t take my word for it. A prominent Chinese dissident, Yang Jianli, now living in exile in the U.S., and well versed in interpreting the schemes of China’s authorities, has been putting two and two together. On Feb. 28, Yang wrote a letter to Vice President Mike Pence — who is now heading the U.S. task force on this virus — warning about Zhong’s officially showcased innuendo, and the blame-America rumors circulating in China. In that letter, available on the web site of Yang’s Washington-based foundation, Citizen Power Initiatives for China, Yang warned: “Given Zhong’s official status as the leading expert of China’s National Health Commission and hence, one of the faces of the country’s effort to contain the virus, his statement, largely overlooked by the international media, has important implications.”

Citing the rumors in China that are now blaming the U.S. for the virus, Yang warns that it is vitally important to cut through China’s obfuscations and track down the precise origin of this virus. To date, China has put forth a shape-shifting fog about many aspects of this virus, especially its origins. China’s authorities initially arrested and silenced doctors in Wuhan who tried in December to warn about the contagion; shut down a suspect Wuhan wet market for “renovation,” while assuring people the virus was no great danger (thus giving a green light to Wuhan’s potluck communal dinner for 40,000 families, as the virus spread); then, after the epidemic had already begun spilling out of Wuhan, abruptly reversed engines to quarantine scores of millions.

By then, it was too late to contain the virus in either Wuhan, or China. The Wuhan virus — which the WHO, in its politically correct zeal to spare China’s dictatorship any hint of blame, has dubbed COVID-19 — has now infected more than 90,000 people in more than 60 countries, with more than 3,000 deaths. While China accounts for most of those numbers, this disease appears to be highly contagious, and the tally outside China has begun to skyrocket.

Given China’s pervasive surveillance of its own citizens, which tracks people via a multitude of channels — cameras, phones, spending apps and legions of security personnel — one might suppose there’s plenty of useful information to sift through. Yet China’s authorities have refused access to American investigators who might be able to get to the bottom of this, and divulged nothing that has brought clarity. A joint mission by the World Health Organization and China’s government, having raced through about half a dozen Chinese cities in nine days, produced a report last week that provides lots of praise of China, but lists the origin of the virus as one of the “key unknowns.”

Quite rightly, Yang in his letter to Pence urges:

“The United States, relevant international organizations like WHO and the United Nations, and indeed  the entire international community, should have from the onset of this crisis, pressed the Chinese authorities to provide information about the origin of the virus, or at least allow an international investigation on this question. We cannot understand the virus, and know how to contain it, if we do not know its origins, and China’s obfuscations are thus an international public health threat.”

Yang concludes:

“Now that Zhong is second guessing the widely believed origin of the virus, it is time for the U.S. and the international community to forcefully pursue this question… Press China to be transparent in all respects, and to welcome and facilitate international investigations on the question of whether, and how, the coronavirus was originated from China. “

These are hugely important recommendations. It is of course highly unlikely that Xi’s repressive rule, grandiose ambitions and pervasive censorship will allow any such transparency or investigation. But that fog of repression and lies is where the spotlight belongs: China’s refusal to come clean on the origin of this virus. Or — if China’s authorities truly don’t know — China’s refusal to allow access to expert investigators whose agenda is scientific truth, not Communist Party propaganda.