Beijing has been working to reframe the global narrative surrounding the coronavirus outbreak by playing up the generous medical aid it has extended to some of its allies (including Italy, Russia, Iran and many BRI partner-nations) while Chinese tabloids and gossip sites spread disinformation like this gem: reports that last summer’s “vaping illness” panic was a coverup orchestrated by President Trump to hide the fact that the coronavirus truly originated in the US.
Amid the first stirrings of a second wave of the outbreak in northeastern China, President Xi on Monday delivered a keynote address to kick off the annual meeting of WHO members at The World Health Assembly (WHA) – which is occurring virtually this year – where he promised to share a China-developed coronavirus vaccine with the entire world (once they’ve developed it, that is).
As Beijing battles for the hearts and minds of residents across the vast geopolitical middle-ground in an increasingly bi-polar world, Xi also pledged $2 billion in financial support for next two years to help developing nations in Africa and elsewhere deal with the fallout of COVID-19. Moreover, Beijing will work with the UN to set up a global humanitarian response depot and hub in China and help establish so-called “green corridors” to ship ‘essential goods’ like medicine produced in China to the rest of the world more quickly, Xi said.
“China will work with members of the Group of 20 nations to implement the debt relief initiative for the poorest countries,” he said.
That’s quite the basket of incentives to dangle in front of the world as more than 100 countries prepare to back a vote to hold an independent investigation into the outbreak.
In the face of mounting criticism, Xi defended China’s actions after the COVID-19 outbreak emerged in Wuhan, and insisted the country acted “transparently” to share information with the rest of the world, despite mounting evidence that China withheld information about the virus’s ability to spread from person to person.
And in a defense that we felt was vaguely reminiscent of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s “support” for more privacy oversight of Silicon Valley tech giants, Xi claimed he would support a “comprehensive evaluation” of the early days of the outbreak once the virus had been brought to heel.
“China supports a comprehensive evaluation of the global response to the epidemic after the global epidemic is under control, to sum up experiences and remedy deficiencies,” Xi told the assembly. “This work needs a scientific and professional attitude, and needs to be led by the WHO; and the principles of objectivity and fairness need to be upheld.”
Xi was careful to strike a conciliatory tone – in stark contrast to the belligerent comments toward the US and Australia. The strategy is obvious: Use the growing support for an investigation to milk sympathy for China by portraying the US and Australia as anti-Beijing crusaders hoping to pin all their political problems on Beijing.