A growing number of reports indicate Chinese officials pushed their counterparts in Europe to make positive statements about China in order to receive shipments of medical supplies to fight the novel coronavirus.
Why it matters: The revelations further taint Beijing’s attempts to portray itself as a responsible and trustworthy leader in global public health.
Context: Over the past two months, numerous high-ranking government officials from countries fighting coronavirus outbreaks have offered seemingly effusive praise to China for its assistance.
- The Italian foreign minister credited China with saving lives in Italy, the Serbian president kissed the Chinese flag as he welcomed a shipment of medical supplies on the tarmac, and the Mexican foreign minister tweeted a photo of a plane delivering Chinese aid, writing “Gracias China!!!”
What’s happening: Officials in some countries are now saying there was pressure to praise Beijing.
Poland: In exchange for medical supplies, Chinese officials pressured Polish President Andrzej Duda to call Chinese President Xi Jinping to express gratitude
- “Poland wasn’t going to get this stuff unless the phone call was made, so they could use that phone call” for propaganda purposes, the U.S. ambassador to Poland, Georgette Mosbacher, told the New York Times.
Germany: German officials have been approached by Chinese counterparts trying to get them to make positive public statements about China’s coronavirus response and international assistance, according to German newspaper Die Welt Am Sonntag.
What they’re saying: “What is most striking to me is the extent to which the Chinese government appears to be demanding public displays of gratitude from other countries; this is certainly not in the tradition of the best humanitarian relief efforts,” Elizabeth Economy of the Council on Foreign Relations told the Times.
- “It seems strange to expect signed declarations of thanks from other countries in the midst of the crisis.”
The big picture: A quid pro quo for vital medical aid alienates global audiences who had at first been inclined to welcome Chinese Communist Party leadership in the fight against the coronavirus.
- “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,” Thorsten Benner, director of the Global Public Policy Institute in Berlin, told Axios.
- “They are shooting themselves in the foot by being so pushy on this.”