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Questioning China's Coronavirus Numbers Causes Diplomatic, Political Uproar In Iran

Workers in Iran carry the body of a coronavirus victim to morgue to prepare it for burial. April 6, 2020.
Workers in Iran carry the body of a coronavirus victim to morgue to prepare it for burial. April 6, 2020.

A remark by Iran's Health Ministry Spokesman on Sunday calling China's coronavirus figures and reports "a bitter joke" has led to a diplomatic and political uproar.

Kianush Jahanpur on April 5 said statistics from China made many in the world think the new virus caused an illness "just like influenza", even with fewer deaths", and added, “If in China they say an epidemic was controlled in two months, one should really think about it”.

Chang Hua, the Chinese ambassador in Iran on Sunday took to Twitter to respond to Dr. Jahanpur's remarks, telling him to follow the Chinese Health Ministry's daily press conferences "carefully in order to draw conclusions". Chang Hua also told the Iranian official to "show respect to the truths and great efforts of the people of China".

Not budging, Dr. Jahanpur also pointed out that the Iranian Health Ministry held daily press conferences which "will be useful for honorable ambassadors and the media in all countries particularly in friendly countries". "Friendly countries" was a clear reference to China that along with Russia have become Iran's closest allies among world powers.

Iran Foreign Ministry Spokesman's tweet.

The remarks appear to have drawn complaints from the Chinese government. The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman later in the day in a tweet said the government and people of China "lead the way in suppressing the coronavirus" and are "generously aiding countries across the world". "Iran has always been thankful to China in these trying times," he added.

Probably in response to the spokesman's tweet, Dr. Jahanpur took to Twitter again to say: "Scientific issues can't and should not be mixed with politics" and added: "On the basis of epidemiological information of Chinese researchers ll academic bodies in the world thought that at least Type A influenza was worse than coronavirus. Today's findings show the opposite." He insisted that the Iranian health system puts more trust in its own findings.

Hundreds of Twitter users commented on Jahanpur's tweet with some of them criticizing him for disparaging relations with China and others praising him for his "honest" statements.

As could be expected, the rogue Health Ministry spokesman was eventually forced to tweet again to repair the damage done to diplomatic relations with China but not after drawing great public attention to Iranian health experts' concerns about the unreliability of Chinese reports.

"The support offered by China to the Iranian people in these trying times is unforgettable," he said in his latest tweet on Monday. This time hardliner trolls commented that he should not make such "uncalculated statements" again. Some have called Dr. Jahanpur "a spokesman for Trump and Israel" and called on authorities to sack him.

Other Twitter users, however, have acknowledged the pressure on Dr. Jahanpur and encouraged him not to give up or "give in to the rude ambassador of China".

Since the coronavirus outbreak in Iran hardliners and their trolls have repeatedly called the virus a biological weapon created by the United States. Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei himself joined forces with the Revolutionary Guard Commander Major General Hossein Salami in describing coronavirus epidemic as an American "biological attack" on China and Iran.

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    Maryam Sinaiee

    Maryam Sinaiee is a British-Iranian journalist, political analyst and former correspondent of The National, who contributes to Radio Farda.