China takes on a new role as Europe and the US struggle with COVID-19

By: Zachary Frye

Updated on

Reading Time: 2 minutes



Although the first outbreak of the new coronavirus started in China, aggressive quarantine efforts have stifled the virus within its borders, at least for now.

Over recent weeks, however, cases in the US and Europe have skyrocketed, prompting widespread closures and restrictions on social activities.

In response, Beijing is lending its insight to the rest of the world as a major source of aid and expertise, a role that has traditionally been filled by western powers in recent decades. 

Since taking control of the virus, China has agreed to supply the world with millions of masks, test kits, protective gear and other emergency medical provisions. To illustrate Beijing’s capabilities, this upcoming week at least 10 flights carrying these items will arrive in the Czech Republic. 

Jan Hamacek, the Czech Republic’s Interior Minister, said that China is “the only country capable of supplying Europe with such amounts.”

Criticism over China’s methods 

With China ramping up its international efforts, some observers are noting that China’s containment efforts, while effective, have not been free of missteps, suggesting that keeping a critical eye on the Chinese response remains important. 

“The most important issue this outbreak exposed is the local government’s lack of action and fear of action,” said Xu Kaizhen, a Chinese author who writes novels based on Beijing’s internal politics.

“Under the high-pressure environment […], most people, including senior government officials, only care about self-preservation,” he added.

According to Julian Ku, a law professor at Hofstra University in New York, at least part of Beijing’s strategic reasoning for increased aid is maintaining a narrative of competence. 

“The Chinese government’s failures […] will be less harshly viewed in light of the failures of other governments to respond effectively as well,” he said.

Growing international clout

Regardless, the rise of China’s international clout goes beyond government diplomacy. The rapid rise of China’s economy is giving some citizens an ability to raise their profiles as philanthropists, à la westerners Bill Gates or Richard Branson.

Chinese national Jack Ma, dubbed Asia’s richest man after his business success as founder of Alibaba Group, an e-commerce company, is one of them. Ma promised 1.8 million face masks and 210,000 coronavirus test kits to Asia’s poorest nations, as well as other supplies like ventilators and thermometers. 

Ma’s help isn’t just confined to poor countries in Asia. His pledge comes just days after he tweeted that his first supply of masks was on route to the US.

“All the best to our friends in America,” he wrote


Have a tip or story? Get in touch with our reporters here