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20 Mar, 2020 18:19

From villain to hero? After its badly botched response to the Covid-19 outbreak, China now seeks to be the world’s savior

From villain to hero? After its badly botched response to the Covid-19 outbreak, China now seeks to be the world’s savior

As the US focuses on itself and the EU demonstrates its feebleness, Beijing has gone on a soft-power offensive, hoping to refurbish its image by exporting sorely needed medical supplies and doctors to badly-affected countries.

As health officials in the Chinese city of Wuhan this week reported no new cases of Covid-19 and no further suspected infections of the virus for the first time since January, it has also emerged that Beijing is trying to turn the global pandemic into a huge diplomatic win.

While China still faces criticism for its mishandling of the coronavirus outbreak at the start, first by refusing to admit it existed and then by arresting those doctors who tried to raise the alarm, when the government finally came to terms with reality it performed a massive U-turn in front of the entire watching world.

Now, while it seems to be mopping up the worst of its problems at home, Beijing has turned its attention abroad, sending experts and medical supplies to Italy – now surpassing the Chinese death toll from coronavirus with more than 3,400 victims – and Iran, where 1,284 people have died in the pandemic so far.

Also on rt.com China sending one MILLION masks & gloves to France following shipment to crisis-hit Italy

Spain, currently in fourth place on the world’s grimmest league table, is also in line to receive Chinese experts and kit as the virus reaches critical mass on the Iberian peninsula.

In stark contrast, the EU has been left looking poorly-prepared and slow to act, simply pulling up a ‘Europe is Closed’ sign without seeming to do anything further than simply talk. Member nations of the bloc have been forced to develop their own strategies to deal with the problem while those European nations outside the bloc, such as Serbia, have been left to fend for themselves.

The Serbian PM Aleksandar Vucic was scathing of the EU at a press conference he gave this week. That would have come as a rude shock to Brussels, as Serbia has long been an aspirant to join the EU club. No longer.

Vucic said: “By now you all understand that great international solidarity does not exist. European solidarity does not exist. It was a fairytale on paper.


The Serbian leader then twisted the knife further, saying: “Today I sent a special letter, to the only ones who can help, and that is China.” In it, he asked Chinese President Xi Jinping “not only as a dear friend, but as a brother” to provide Serbia with the medical supplies denied by the EU.

Also on rt.com Goodbye, globalism? Coronavirus sobers up Serbia to EU hypocrisy

The inaction from Brussels leaves an open goal for China, who, aside from pouring money, specialists and medical gear into Europe and elsewhere, can track the spread of the virus outside their own country and use any data they gather towards developing a vaccine to cure Covid-19.

A cynic might suggest that there is something intrinsically wrong with China arguably being entirely responsible for spreading a disease then selling its cure back to those nations who have not managed to avoid its killer path.

Even so, Italy, Spain and others will take the help on offer for now, and deal with the consequences some way down the road.

And it’s not just Europe that the Chinese are looking to help in this new spirit of generosity. The billionaire founder of e-commerce giant Alibaba, Jack Ma, has seemingly ignored the Trump administration’s taunts about the “Chinese Virus,” “Wuhan Virus” and “Kong Flu” and sent those highly sought-after coronavirus test kits and masks not only to African nations in need but also to the USA.

Oh, the irony! With the US shutting down state by state and Trump in America-First mode then they are in no position to help anyone as they struggle to get ahead of their own coronavirus curve.

The Chinese government is trying to “establish itself as a global hero that saved many people both in and outside China,” Lee Seong-hyon, the director of the Center for Chinese Studies at the Sejong Institute in Seoul, told the US Foreign Policy magazine this week. “On the other hand, America is not investing enough resources to help its traditional allies and friends, and not investing enough in this narrative war.”

Also on rt.com US to China: drop dead, we get our jobs back. China’s richest man to US: here, have 1 million masks & Covid-19 test kits

So now everyone in China is on message about what to do. Spread the love. Forge lasting relationships. Make plenty of friends.

And then maybe when this all passes, if it all passes, then the rest of the world won’t remember exactly where this misery all began, or how badly it was handled at the start. Instead, they will recall one country’s great generosity and how it went out of its way to help others. At least that’s Beijing’s fervent hope. 

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.