The Chinese Communist Party likely used promises of aid for countries struggling to cope with the coronavirus pandemic to elicit praise from those countries’ leaders.
A growing number of foreign reports, along with other stories detailing the United States’ relationship with Beijing, suggest that China’s autocratic rulers have been using aid as leverage to force heads of state into praising them and limiting criticism of China’s response, Axios reports.
In the aftermath of the coronavirus outbreak, Chinese authorities launched a global propaganda campaign to downplay their culpability in causing the pandemic, at one point suggesting that the U.S. military set the virus loose in Wuhan. Part of that propaganda machine involved pressuring foreign officials to make public displays of appreciation in return for needed medical supplies.
U.S. ambassador to Warsaw Georgette Mosbacher said Chinese officials directed Polish President Andrzej Duda to call and praise his counterpart in China, President Xi Jinping, in order to receive aid.
“Poland wasn’t going to get this stuff unless the phone call was made, so they could use that phone call [for propaganda],” Mosbacher told The New York Times on May 3.
Though the pressure campaign appears to have gotten results across Europe, the aggressive tactics of the Chinese Communist Party’s Propaganda Department may be backfiring. Notably, much of the “aid” China claimed to have shipped out to other countries battling the coronavirus has turned out to be purchased. Beijing has reportedly sold millions of units of personal protective equipment, ventilators, and other medical supplies to countries in Europe and elsewhere for millions of dollars.
Slovakia trashed 1.2 million antibody tests that the government bought from China for about $16 million after finding them woefully inaccurate. Prime Minister Igor Matovic said the tests should “just be thrown straight into the Danube.”
Spain was embroiled in backlash after the government canceled an order for 640,000 Chinese coronavirus test kits. The first shipment of about 60,000 were determined to be accurate only around 30% of the time. Spain is attempting to get a refund for the defective tests that China has admitted were made by a company not licensed to make coronavirus test kits.
India tested 462,621 people with tests from two Chinese firms before researchers began to question the tests’ accuracy. The government later canceled an order for 1 million more tests because of the tests’ inaccurate readings. China lashed out at the Indian government, saying that the scientists’ findings of defective tests were “unfair and irresponsible.”
Experts say that Beijing’s aggressive push for global acclamation will likely end up harming China’s reputation more than helping.
“The fairly aggressive party-state effort to ‘tell a good China story’ actually increases public awareness that these propaganda efforts on the Chinese side are going on,” Global Public Policy Institute director Thorsten Benner told Axios. “They are shooting themselves in the foot by being so pushy on this.”
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