Updated: Jun 8, 2020
President John F. Kennedy once noted, "The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word 'crisis.' One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger--but recognize the opportunity." Today, in the midst of an ever-growing health crisis, the government in Beijing has certainly recognized the geopolitical opportunity a pandemic presents. It has sought to develop relationships and further its influence through aid, information, and propaganda in nations combating the virus that originated in China. Josep Borrell noted in a post on the European Union's website, "China is aggressively pushing the message that, unlike the US, it is a responsible and reliable partner. Armed with facts, we need to defend Europe against its detractors."
Despite the Chinese governments best efforts, however, its charm campaign appears to be faltering as more and more countries note donations from the authoritarian nation come with a catch. In late March, reports from Europe began to emerge that Chinese equipment donated to or purchased by nations hard-hit with COVID-19 was, in fact, defective. The Netherlands, for example, has recalled hundreds of thousands of masks made in China, while Spain announced that 640,00 rapid testing kits it had purchased from a Chinese company only had a 30% detection rate.
China has also sought to draw attention to the aid it has delivered to Italy, the hardest hit country in Europe. On two widely publicized flights, China delivered over 31 tons of equipment, including 70 ventilators. But for Italy, a nation were 130,000 people have been infected and 16,000 have been killed, that's a small donation. Even more insulting, Chinese news outlets began insinuating that COVID-19 originated in Italy, a compete fabrication.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been the largest, deadliest, and most impactful event to occur as of yet in the 21st century. Thus far, the virus has resulted in the deaths of 73,000 people, with over 1,300,000 infected. Trillions of dollars have been lost as a result of economic stagnation, and millions of workers across the globe has lost their jobs. By the time a vaccine is found, the misery and pain of this pandemic will have entered the homes of hundred of millions of innocent people.
When the pandemic is finally over, the average person will be ready to pick up, move on, and get back to work. However, the governments of the world will not forget the reason a global pandemic began in the first place, and must be prepared to punish those responsible. The cause of the COVID-19 pandemic lay in the Chinese government’s thirst for power, and its reliance on the suppression of medical professionals, deception of the international community, and denial of basic truths during the early stages of the international response. The actions of Chinese officials severely may have cost thousands of lives, and perhaps even worsened COVID-19s spread at times it could’ve been halted.
This behavior, however, is not new for the Chinese government. The government in Beijing has repeatedly muzzled free speech advocates, ignored international norms in its quest to control the South China Sea, peddled its influence across the world through soft power, and committed cyber attacks government entities and private industry. If the United States fails to acknowledge China as a foe and effectively confront it, the superpower will see its national interests harmed and strategic goals stifled.
Less than a week ago, the Intelligence Ledger published a report detailing the lies of the Chinese government since the start of the pandemic. Their deception will impact the world for years to come, for when the pandemic is done, the cries for retribution will be deafening.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the United States Army, Department of Defense, or the United States Government.