The worldwide spread of the coronavirus, which originated from communist China, has brought serious detriment to Beijing’s credibility and image as a global leader. Through a series of public relations campaigns, Beijing had hoped not only to repair its credibility, but also to come out of this pandemic even stronger by casting itself as the only reliable global leader. However, Beijing’s absurd blame game and a number of faulty exported products may destroy this hope.
As more than 1 billion people worldwide are under some form of quarantine and the official global death toll is surpassing 35,000, Beijing refuses to admit or acknowledge that the virus originated in China. Instead, it has been busy blaming everyone but itself for the cover-ups and delays in the early weeks of the Wuhan virus outbreak, a crucial period when the spread could have been effectively contained.
Zhao Lijian, communist China’s most aggressive Foreign Ministry spokesman, touted a conspiracy theory on Twitter which claimed the U.S. military created the coronavirus as a bioweapon and planted it within China. As a high-level government official, it is impossible for Zhao to make such outrageous comments without the approval from China’s highest authorities.
In late March, Dr. Giuseppe Remuzzi, director of the Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research in Milan, said in an interview that a “strange pneumonia” was circulating in Lombardy in November of last year, prior to Italian doctors’ awareness of the coronavirus outbreak in China. The news, however, should not have come as a surprise. The South China Morning Post reported official data in China, showing that Wuhan’s first known coronavirus case also occurred in November last year. There were seven daily direct flights between Wuhan and Milan at the time.
Rather than rationally tackling the worsening situation, Beijing’s first instinct was to twist Remuzzi’s comments and suggest the virus originated in Italy. Remuzzi quickly refuted that, pointing out Beijing’s attempt to blame Italy for the coronavirus is “a textbook example, to be taught in universities, on how scientific information can be manipulated for propaganda reasons.” Outside China, Italy is now suffering the worst from the virus, with close to 98,000 confirmed cases and 10,779 deaths. The entire country is still under a complete lockdown.
Beijing’s desperate blame game seems pathetic and unbecoming for its superpower status. The more it tries to deflect its responsibility, the more suspicion and resentment it induces, both domestically and internationally.
Beijing Casts Itself as the Hero
In addition to playing the blame game, Beijing is also eagerly trying to turn the current crisis into an opportunity of geopolitical expansion by casting itself as a better world leader and global partner than the United States, through a carefully crafted methodology of “coronavirus diplomacy.” As Beijing shunned any blame and responsibility, it openly embraced its role as a hero.
It made a big fanfare of sending ventilators, masks, and medical personnel to Europe to help the continent fight the outbreak. However, The Wall Street Journal warns that Beijing’s acts “are not as altruistic as they might appear,” because “China has a surplus of medical equipment now that the outbreak appears to have reached its peak there. Demand is rising elsewhere as the virus spreads, so Chinese companies are ramping up production to gain global market share.”
Beijing’s soft power play would have worked if not for a number of recent reports of the faulty products China has exported. Spain now has the second-highest death toll outside China, right behind Italy. The country ordered 340,000 coronavirus test kits from Shenzhen Bioeasy Biotechnology in China in early March. Last week, Spain’s leading research institute said the test kits from China have an accuracy rate of less than 30 percent, making testing, tracking, and treating the virus insurmountably difficult.
Spain’s Health Ministry had to order from its national supplier to replace the Chinese test kits. The Chinese company that made the test kits dismissed accuracy concerns, saying a “more detailed explanation would be given via official Chinese government channels.”
Health officials from Turkey said they took a sample of the test kits made by the same Chinese company and found the accuracy rate to be less than 30 percent, confirming the Spanish authorities’ report. Ates Kara, an official from the Turkish Health Ministry’s special science board on coronavirus, said while the Turkish government did not authorize the release of the test kits for public use, Spain “has made a huge mistake by using them.” Meanwhile, Czech media reported that up to 80 percent of similar test kits it had obtained from China were faulty too. Czech health officials have since resorted to relying on traditional labs to test for coronavirus, labs which can conduct only 900 tests per day.
Substandard Products Could Be Lethal
Besides faulty test kits, last weekend the Dutch government recalled 600,000 N95 masks that were made in China, due to their low quality. Doctors and nurses who received these masks said they did not fit properly, and their filters did not function normally. These N95 masks are supposed to be top-of-the-line in helping to block more than 90 percent of particles in the air that may carry the virus. They are critical for the health and safety of medical professionals who treat coronavirus-infected patients.
These recalled masks were the first shipment of 1.3 million total N95 masks the Dutch government had ordered from China, and they had already been distributed to front-line medical professionals. One Dutch doctor commented to the South China Morning Post, “[I]f the masks do not fit properly, the virus particles can simply pass through. We did not use them. They are unsafe for our people.”
Of course, these incidents do not mean all made-in-China products are substandard. Turkey’s health officials said a different batch of coronavirus test kits they ordered from a different company in China passed Turkey’s quality test. Still, these incidents do not in any way, shape, or form present China’s international image, credibility, and the made-in-China trademark in a positive light, because the quality of these products means far more than profit. In this situation, it can mean the difference between life and death.
China’s Faulty Product Problems Aren’t New
Domestically, China has been shaken by a number of product safety scandals in recent years, from tainted baby formula with toxic chemicals to substandard vaccines. While the Chinese government always chooses to blame a few greedy individuals, the root of the problem lies much deeper. China’s corrupt bureaucracy, the government’s overarching desire to suppress “bad news” in the name of stability, the loopholes in production and distribution oversight, and the lack of free press to hold the government accountable all contribute to product quality issues.
These factors are the same that resulted in Beijing’s mishandling of the coronavirus outbreak. The product quality issues Chinese consumers have long complained about spilled over onto the international stage at a time Beijing’s credibility is already at a historical low, and when China desperately needs international demand to reboot its economy, which has been badly damaged by the Wuhan virus outbreak. Unless Beijing addresses these internal issues immediately and decisively, its continuous blame game and faulty products will destroy any hope of restoring its credibility and its economy.