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The escalating row between Washington and Beijing over blame for the coronavirus pandemic is fast becoming a battle over the Chinese Communist party’s legitimacy, raising the stakes in an already fraught relationship. In castigating Beijing for its failure to contain the outbreak, senior Trump administration officials have gone out of their way to portray the crisis as a deadly illustration of the threat that Communist party rule poses the Chinese people – and the world beyond.
It broadcasts forced confessions to American audiences. It avoids subjects that displease Beijing. It cuts away when wind musses the hair of Xi Jinping,...