China, On Virus PR Offensive, Sends Masks And Experts Abroad

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A police officer holds a weapon as firefighters unload an airplane after its arrival at the Vaclav Havel Airport in Prague, Friday, March 20, 2020. The airplane brought medical aid and protective materials against coronavirus from China. (Michal Kamaryt/CTK via AP)

BEIJING (AP) — As the fight against a new virus shifts to Europe and beyond, China is supplying millions of masks and other desperately needed items to struggling governments, hoping to build political ties and defuse criticism that it allowed the disease to spread early on.

Serbia’s president plans to be at the airport this weekend to welcome a shipment of medical supplies from his “brother and friend,” Chinese leader Xi Jinping. Xi’s government has flown gloves and protective clothing to Liberia. It is sending 100,000 test kits to the Philippines. More than 10 flights carrying millions of masks and other supplies are bound for the Czech Republic this week.

China, said Czech Interior Minister Jan Hamacek, is “the only country capable of supplying Europe with such amounts.”

It’s part of an effort by the Communist Party to reshape the narrative, from one of early missteps to a nation that acted decisively to bring the outbreak under control. China is touting its deliveries of ventilators and masks overseas and dispatching its medical experts to share the lessons of its success.

China hopes to benefit from a realization in the West of how difficult it is to bring the virus under control, said Julian Ku, a law professor at Hofstra University in New York.

“The Chinese government’s failures … will be less harshly viewed in light of the failures of other governments to respond effectively as well,” he said.

Doctors and members of the Chinese Red Cross pose for a photo prior to a press conference in Rome, Friday, March 13, 2020. A charter plane carrying members of a medical team and several tons of medical supplies from China arrived in Rome late Thursday to assist Italy in fighting the coronavirus outbreak. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms. For some it can cause more severe illness. (Alfredo Falcone/LaPresse via AP)

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic blasted the European Union and praised China for offering help when he announced a state of emergency to combat the outbreak. His country wants to join the EU, but his government has moved closer to Russia and China in a seesaw battle for influence.

“I believe in my brother and friend Xi Jinping and I believe in China’s help,” Vucic said. “European solidarity,” he said, was just a fairy tale.

EU officials denied they were stopping aid to Serbia, but said their first priority was EU members.

China has given $20 million to the World Health Organization for COVID-19 efforts. While the EU and the U.S. have made larger pledges to combat the disease, they are now preoccupied by the crisis at home.

The Chinese “are winning points,” said Theresa Fallon, the founder of the Center for Russia Europe Asia Studies in Brussels. “Serbia thinks that China is their savior.”

Six weeks ago, Chinese authorities were trying to quell outrage at home and condemnation abroad. The critics said due to politically motivated foot-dragging, China had mishandled the viral outbreak racing through a major province and its capital, Wuhan.

Now the criticism is raining down on governments from Tehran to Washington, D.C. A visiting Chinese Red Cross official chastised Italy on Thursday for letting so many people stroll the streets of Milan.

“Right now we need to stop all economic activity, and we need to stop the mobility of people,” said Executive Chairman Sun Shuopeng.

In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, a worker handles medical supplies mobilized by Chinese charities that are heading to France to help combat the coronavirus, at Liege airport, Wednesday, March 18, 2020, in Liege, Belgium. Desperate travelers choked European border crossings Wednesday after countries implemented strict controls to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus, which has now infected more than 200,000 people worldwide and killed more than 8,000. The virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, for most people, but severe illness is more likely in the elderly and people with existing health problems. (Zheng Huansong/Xinhua via AP)

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus.

At one level, China is reciprocating assistance it received. Nearly 80 countries sent supplies to China, some on charter flights they sent to evacuate their citizens from Wuhan.

“It is China’s traditional virtue to repay goodwill with greater kindness,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said, citing an ancient Confucian saying: “You throw a peach to me, and I give you a white jade for friendship.”

But at the same time, China is deepening ties with countries that have been receptive to its outreach as it assumes a larger international role. It is shipping supplies to Cambodia, whose Prime Minister Hun Sen has been an outspoken supporter of Xi and even visited him in Beijing last month as the outbreak raged.

China moved quickly to send experts and equipment to Italy, which last year became the first western European country to join China’s Belt and Road Initiative. The massive program seeks to expand trade by building ports, roads and other transportation projects in a 21st century version of the fabled Silk Road.

China is ready to work with Italy to contribute to international cooperation on epidemic control and to the building of a “Health Silk Road,” Xi was quoted as telling Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte in a phone call Monday.

“It’s not an accident that the heat map of where Xi Jinping is sending condolences and China is sending N95 masks overlaps pretty closely with those countries that have demonstrated a willingness to accommodate China,” said Daniel Russel, a former senior U.S. diplomat now with the Asia Society Policy Institute in New York.

Opinions vary on the effectiveness of China’s efforts.

“It’s an open question how far that’s going to get … but they’re clearly giving it the old-school try,” Russel said. The Communist Party’s propaganda, he said, has been more successful at home than abroad.

Clive Hamilton, author of “Silent Invasion: China’s Influence in Australia,” said that China has poured enormous resources into shaping the global discourse in recent years.

“It would be a mistake to underestimate how effective” this “major international campaign to rewrite the history of the coronavirus” might be, he said.

Firefighters unload an airplane after its arrival at the Vaclav Havel Airport in Prague, Friday, March 20, 2020. The airplane brought medical aid and protective materials against coronavirus from China. (Michal Kamaryt/CTK via AP)

But Chu Yin, a professor of public administration at the University of International Relations in Beijing, said China lags the U.S. and Europe in its understanding of public diplomacy and has always struggled to convert humanitarian aid into diplomatic returns.

“If people really expect a big boost of China’s influence through the aid, it will be difficult,” he said. “In my opinion, let’s just take the aid as doing a good deed, and it would help China’s economy if the epidemic situation in these countries is contained.”

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10 COMMENTS

    • Xenophobic and intolerant

      First of all, there is no evidence supporting the allegations of various national leaders, here, in China and elsewhere, labeling any country the malicious originator on the pandemic;

      Second, China appears to have successfully controlled the spread of the coronavirus, using methods we first scoffed at, but which other countries are now trying to emulate; and

      Third and last, this country has fallen behind just about the entire developed world in producing and distributing masks, ventilators, protective hazmat suits, gloves and other essential medical equipment…

      …so we should appreciate and accept whatever aid China offers.

  1. How ironic, Italy is the EU country that joins China in their scheme to rule the world and they have it the worst.
    It is the same with all despots they think they will rule the world and then יושב בשמים ישחק and everything collapses.

  2. Cixelsyd_Wnosanoy it is common knowledge how china suppressed the warnings and allowed millions to roam freely and wreaked havoc on the world. Furthermore they are offering to help only where they can increase their sphere of influence. We dont eat the chasida bird because it does “chesed” with its “friends”.

  3. China is a lying Communist murderous regime who sends its people into concentration and re-education camps. Repeat after me:
    It’s a Chinese virus !!!
    Nobody in his/her right mind gives a rodent’s behind what names you call us. Nobody.

  4. Reminder ******
    This is an AP American hating band of liars. China has stolen our intellectual property, paid off media and pols and is as of today, the no.1 enemy of the world.
    Be suspicious of articles or blog posts defending China. They have financial interest and spreading pro Chinese fake propaganda.

  5. The government of China has officially apologized for silencing the doctor who warned about the virus and died. I love the Chinese people and believe that they deserve better. We all have customs that appears strange to others. The Chinese people deserved that when there were in the past such viruses that their government shutdown wet markets and stop access to bats. Yes we all enjoy cheap goods but as we are in isolation we should think at what cost this comes to us. Only when people are given free speech can we enjoy products from a country who may export more deadly viruses in the future.

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