The New Global Health Powers

Berlin and Brussels accuse China of waging a "struggle for influence" with its Covid-19 "politics of generosity" aid.

BERLIN | | china

BERLIN (Own report) - The German government and the EU Commission are taking up positions against Chinese aid, in the combat against the Covid-19 pandemic. In view of the fact that Italy, for example, is receiving systematic support from Beijing, after the EU's refusal of aid, "controversial debates on how to deal with China" are pending, according to the German Defense Ministry. EU Foreign Affairs Commissioner Josep Borrell detects a "global battle of narratives." Beijing is waging a "struggle for influence" with "politics of generosity," which the EU must counteract. Since China succeeded in containing Covid-19, it has come to the aid of a growing number of countries around the world. Western powers, which have traditionally been using their assistance for consolidating their global influence, are unable to control the virus and some are requiring assistance themselves. For the aftermath of the pandemic, experts are predicting "a changed world order" with the East Asian countries as the "new global health powers."

China's Assistance

China is expanding its international assistance in the combat against the Covid-19 pandemic. Following a series of deliveries of medical protective equipment to such countries as Italy, Spain, France, Greece and other European nations, the third Chinese team of medical experts is already underway to assist Italy. Beijing is additionally not only aiding Iran and Iraq, but African countries as well. Chinese doctors are systematically sharing their knowledge and experience with their colleagues in African countries via video conferences. First aid deliveries have arrived on the African continent. On Sunday, for example, more than 100 tons of relief supplies for the African Union (AU) have arrived in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, including 1.5 million laboratory diagnostic test kits. Each of the 55 AU member countries will receive 20,000 test kits, 100,000 medical masks, and 1,000 protective suits as well as other equipment. Ethiopian Airlines will help distribute the equipment throughout the continent. On the Chinese side, the action is being carried out by the Jack Ma and the Alibaba Foundations.[1]

For the First Time no US Leadership

In the meantime, a fierce debate over Chinese assistance has flared up in the West. Due particularly to their lack of preventive measures, West European and North American powers have sunk deeper than China into the crisis and - contrary to what they have been used to - some are even requiring assistance themselves. Only a few years ago, the United States led the fight against Ebola, noted Rush Doshi, expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “This could be the first major global crisis in decades without meaningful U.S. leadership and with significant Chinese leadership."[2] It is particularly annoying in Europe that the EU, which has always prided itself for its alleged "solidarity," has currently not even assisted its hardest hit countries - particularly Italy and Spain. "We will remember this," the deputy chief editor of the traditionally pro-EU Italian daily La Repubblica wrote.[3] Meanwhile, Italy is receiving assistance from China, but also from Russia and Cuba.

"Only Partially Reliable"

Berlin is following this development with apprehension. That "Italy is also turning toward China and Russia, because, from Italy's perspective, the EU and its member countries have proven themselves only partially reliable," according to the German defense ministry's situation report. A "growing influence in health care and policy" can be seen.[4] The German government seeking to counteract this trend, has sent a delivery of assistance to Italy and reserved a rather small number of intensive care unit beds in German hospitals for Covid-19 patients from the most affected regions of France and Italy. With an eye on Beijing's activities in aiding Africa, Germany's Minister of Development Gerd Müller is calling for new measures to "contain and overcome the Covid-19 pandemic in developing countries,"[5] while, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas reports that the G7 foreign ministers agree that "the world's worst equipped countries for confronting the virus should be supported."[6] Concrete measures, coming anywhere near the aid China is providing, is nowhere on the horizon.

"A Changed World Order"

In the context of this pandemic, experts are beginning to predict a serious shift in the balance of power. "China and other Asian countries," such as South Korea and Singapore have "found a way to contain the virus and have every new outbreak under control," noted the political scientist Maximilian Mayer at the jointly British-Chinese administered University of Nottingham branch in Ningbo China.[7] In Europe, Covid-19 had been "spread quasi as a force of nature that we could merely mitigate." In Asia, on the other hand, Mayer reports, "it was said from the outset: 'we are actively going to stop it!'" When the pandemic is over, there will be "a changed world order" - "and within this order, the East Asian countries will be seen as the global health powers," predicts Mayer. "China is already offering its own expertise to European countries. That just goes to show how the international order is changing."

"Battle of Narratives"

Berlin and the EU Commission are now reverting to applying political pressure and using ideological campaigns to make up for their lack of ability to match China's assistance in the battle against the Covid-19 pandemic. Because of the Chinese and Russian assistance received by Italy and other European countries, "controversial debates about the approach toward Russia and China" can be expected in the EU and NATO, in the near future, according to the German Defense Ministry's situation report.[8] Another declaration of war was issued in Brussels over the weekend. In his statement, EU Foreign Affairs Commissioner Josep Borrell declared: "COVID-19 will reshape our world."[9] The EU must prove "that solidarity is not an empty phrase" and, in the fight against the pandemic, that it will cooperate "with partners around the world." However, he also says "a global battle of narratives" is going on: "China is aggressively pushing the message that, unlike the US, it is a responsible and reliable partner." The "struggle for influence" through "politics of generosity" must be counteracted.

"Fake News"

One of the EU's measures is to position its East StratCom Task Force against China. The East StratCom Task Force was set up in 2015 to detect and expose disinformation campaigns. Over the past few years there was usually talk of "pro-Kremlin propaganda" (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[10]). Now the East StratCom Task Force is also targeting the People's Republic of China. In a recent "Special Report" the task force listed alleged "false narratives" in the Covid-19 context. The following statements are among listed as "Fake News": "The EU is not ready to provide urgent support to its Member States - instead, they have to rely on external support," for example from China, and "China is coming to rescue the EU as Brussels abandons EU member states."[11] Mainstream media has begun to allege that these two statements are examples of "Fake News."[12]

 

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[1] Edith Mutethya: Africa's fight against COVID-19 receives major boost with Alibaba's donation. chinadaily.com.cn 24.03.2020.

[2] Steven Lee Myers, Alissa J. Rubin: Its Coronavirus Cases Dwindling, China Turns Focus Outward. nytimes.com 18.03.2020.

[3] Lässt Europa Italien im Stich? Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 24.03.2020. See also Die Solidarität der EU and EU Solidarity (II).

[4] Alexander Sarovic: Europa verliert den Kampf der Bilder. spiegel.de 25.03.2020.

[5] Tobias Heimbach: Wehe, wenn Corona die ärmsten Länder erreicht - Entwicklungsminister Müller sieht die Welt in der größten Krise seit Jahrzehnten. businessinsider.de 25.03.2020.

[6] Außenminister Maas nach dem virtuellen Treffen der G7-Außenminister. Pressemitteilung des Auswärtigen Amts. Berlin, 25.03.2020.

[7] Judith Görs: "Wir befinden uns im Propagandakrieg". n-tv.de 19.03.2020.

[8] Alexander Sarovic: Europa verliert den Kampf der Bilder. spiegel.de 25.03.2020.

[9] The Coronavirus pandemic and the new world it is creating. eeas.europa.eu 23.03.2020.

[10] See also Media Cold War.

[11] EEAS Special Report: Disinformation on the coronavirus - short assessment of the information environment. euvsdisinfo.eu 19.03.2020.

[12] Thomas Gutschker, Friederike Böge: Globale Schlacht der Narrative. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 26.03.2020.