After inflicting the coronavirus pandemic on the world, China is now engaged in a destructive pandemic of lies and intimidation to project itself as a leader, while the United States is largely absent as a counterforce.
China senses an opening and it’s trying to exploit it the best it can. The good news is that its brazen campaign is largely faltering. The bad news is the US is unable to take the helm and guide the world’s response because it is grasping to deal with the virus at home. The US lacks both medical supplies and a coherent strategy.
Trump’s Struggle With Coronavirus
The tables are turning and the world is watching. President Donald Trump is struggling against a virus he initially didn’t take seriously or prepare for.
It’s not clear if he does now even though the US has become the epicentre of the pandemic, overtaking China and Italy. At the last count, there were 1,01,242 corona virus cases and 1,588 deaths.
Trump yo-yos between promising help to hotspot states such as New York and showing desperation to “open” the country for business. It’s hard to find coherence in the word salad dished out on a daily basis where scientists hold their noses while Trump advocates panaceas.
His deviousness is deployed in unseemly pursuits – to lure foreign doctors to rural America by relaxing visa norms on the one hand and asking South Korea for medical equipment on the other. At the beginning of the pandemic, Trump even tried to buy a German company to produce a vaccine exclusively for the US market.
One day Trump says the private sector will lead the effort, the next day he haggles over the price General Motors wants to manufacture ventilators. After crucial delays in using the Defence Production Act to compel private companies to respond, he finally did so on Friday.
New York city, the worst affected, is fast deteriorating into a third world nightmare. Reports of nurses wearing garbage bags for protection and doctors re-using masks because of a shortage of protective gear are shocking.
While the US response is clearly inadequate, China is up and running and taking advantage. “Chinese medical aid” is landing in various European countries and Jack Ma, the richest Chinese businessman, is donating test kits and protective suits.
But nothing is what it seems. Reports are emerging that influential members of the Chinese diaspora in Europe were buying up medical supplies in January – they knew a calamity had hit the homeland because of connections to Beijing’s power grid – to distribute to the Chinese community in Italy.
China’s Misuse of Aid Sent?
Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro’s son Eduardo dared to say on Twitter that the global pandemic had “a name and surname: the Chinese Communist Party.” He was immediately schooled by Chinese ambassador Yang Wanming who demanded an apology for the “evil insult”. The Chinese Embassy then accused Eduardo Bolsonaro of suffering from a “mental virus”.
The story is similar from Spain to the Czech Republic to Italy – faulty test kits, sale of medical supplies from China being dubbed as “humanitarian aid” and the Chinese Red Cross being misused. Chinese authorities seem to be acting in concert with state-supported Chinese companies in Europe in what has been called a massive “act of geo-political arson”.
A Chinese real-estate company in Australia bought and flew more than 80 tonnes of medical supplies to Wuhan in late February at the height of the health crisis in China. This included 100,000 protective suits and a million pairs of gloves, Risland Australia, the company boasted.
Another Chinese state-backed company Greenland Australia put real estate dealings aside to vacuum supplies of surgical masks, thermometers, antibacterial wipes and hand sanitisers from Australian outlets. By the time the Australian government woke up, shortages were rampant.
The Implications Of China’s Political Hegemony
Now the Australians are vulnerable and desperate as infections increase and stocks of basic medical equipment run low. Every day brings new revelations of subterfuge and mal intent. President Xi Jinping’s Communist regime stands exposed to whoever is willing to look beyond the mask, as it were. The Europeans who embraced China’s Belt Road Initiative with relative enthusiasm because it was the only game in town are finding out the true meaning of the China overhang and implications of its potential hegemony.
The question is whether America’s abdication of leadership in the current fight against the coronavirus and its broader disengagement from the world under Trump will permanently affect its standing as China grabs the available space by whatever means necessary.
It’s notable that the State Department issued a statement on 27 March, weeks after the coronavirus had spread across continents to list the humanitarian aid Washington had committed – $274 million – to various countries and the World Health Organisation. It seemed like an afterthought merely to register its presence.
Factors working in Washington’s favour are many and will likely endure even though American analysts have already declared the end of days. Chinese soft power – or whatever has been on display since China inflicted the virus on the world – is the antithesis of responsible leadership.
It’s like gravel in the eye. But what if there is only gravel on the field?
(The writer is a senior Washington-based journalist. She can be reached at @seemasirohi. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.
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