After being slammed by the coronavirus pandemic early this year, Europe is slowly emerging from its cordon sanitaire. Many countries have begun to unwind restrictions, and some have already allowed businesses to reopen.
As the region looks to move past the onslaught, it’s also become the focus of China’s measures to boost its global presence. The move, which experts call “mask diplomacy,” is part of Beijing’s mission to restore its tarnished image mainly because of its mishandling of the outbreak.
For its part, the Communist Party of China (CCP) is pushing this agenda hard, as it seeks to establish itself as a country that managed to combat the deadly contagion and present itself as a competent aid-giver for those who are still battling the pandemic.
It’s worth noting that while Beijing says it’s “aid,” most of the supplies delivered were actually commercial purchases. In fact – as Natural News has reported – some of the masks were poorly made, and some countries have reported medical tests from China were contaminated with bacteria and even faulty, like in the case of test kits that detected coronavirus from goats.
Despite these issues, Beijing has been inching its way into Europe, one mask at a time.
No such thing as a free lunch
In recent days, Beijing has made its presence felt in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) – a group of countries comprising the Baltic states, former Yugoslavia states and post-World War II countries like Poland and Czechia, to name a few. Chinese state media outlets have sharply criticized the European Union’s poor crisis management, even saying at the beginning of the outbreak that Italy was the source of the coronavirus.
At the same time, Beijing has been quick to send medical staff and aid to CEE countries – a move that strengthened its influence in the region. In Hungary, officials have praised Beijing’s quick response, while the president of Czechia has said that only China was there during the spread of the virus. The latter’s move, however, has been blasted by Zdenek Hrib, the mayor of the capital city Prague, saying that the medical supplies were neither humanitarian gift nor aid.
“From China’s perspective, it’s business,” he told Bloomberg News.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, known for his pro-China rhetoric, has even called Chinese President Xi Jinping his “brother.”
The EU, for its part, pledged 15 million euros in immediate support and footed Serbia’s shipping of the 280 tons of emergency medical supplies that it bought. In response, Vucic blasted the bloc, saying that it wasn’t willing to provide breathing machines. He did, however, kiss the Chinese flag when coronavirus medical aid landed in Belgrade.
A friendship kiss! Serbian President #AleksandarVucic greeted Chinese doctors who arrived in Serbia on Sat with “touching elbows” at Belgrade’s Nikola Tesla Airport, kissing the Chinese flag in a show of gratitude for the country’s timely support in assisting against #COVID19. pic.twitter.com/KQm5LYescF
— Global Times (@globaltimesnews) March 22, 2020
Chinese diplomats in the European Union have doubled down their criticism of the bloc’s shortcomings. In France, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian summoned China’s ambassador to France, Lu Shaye, over a post that claimed nursing personnel in the country left patients to die.
The article was posted at the time when German officials disclosed that Beijing tried to force their hand to speak positively about the country’s response to the coronavirus. In an interview with local newspaper Die Welt, intelligence officials warned that Beijing was using “intensified information and propaganda policy with regard to the coronavirus.”
An unlikely opponent
China can’t afford to lose its hold on Europe – in particular, because of Taiwan. The small country, which Beijing has dismissed as a renegade state, has been using its success with the coronavirus to push its agenda to the global stage. In fact, the country has already launched its own charm offensive, gifting seven million masks to the EU. In the U.K., cybersecurity officials from Taiwan have expressed the desire to help the country develop coronavirus tracking apps, while Poland has sent its inaugural flight to Taoyuan Airport to pick up medical supplies. The flight, however, was late by two hours after Chinese officials refused to grant it access to airspace.
Taiwan has even demanded the World Health Organization – headquartered in Europe – to give the country access to the agency’s first-hand reports about the coronavirus. (Related: World Health Organization (WHO) forced to release statement after awkward Taiwan interview.)
“For Taiwan, what we want is first-hand information. Any second-hand information slows down any actions we take, and distorts our judgment about the epidemic, like we’re unable to see the woods for the trees,” explained Health Minister Chen Shih-chung.
Learn more about the ongoing coronavirus pandemic at Pandemic.news.