Beijing extended a helping hand to Italy at a time when the country was snubbed by its European allies in its fight against the coronavirus outbreak.
When the Italian ambassador to the EU, Maurizio Massari, asked for more assistance and solidarity from the bloc to fight the coronavirus epidemic, not a single member state answered his call.
China, however, did.
It was quick to send Italy 1,000 lung ventilators, 2 million face masks, 20,000 protective suits and 50,000 swabs for coronavirus tests, while the country itself battled with the virus, which first emerged in its Wuhan province in December.
Massari in an open letter to the other EU member states pleaded for “solidarity” and that “Rome should not be left to handle this crisis alone.”
The EU bloc should move “beyond engagement and consultations,” added Massari as Italy struggles to contain the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 1,000 people and infected more than 15,000.
Germany and France were recently condemned by other EU member states for blocking the export of vital medical supplies, calling into question the bloc's solidarity in times of crises.
Disappointed over lack of support from fellow Europeans, Massari said, “Only China responded bilaterally. Certainly, this is not a good sign of European solidarity.”
The Chinese Embassy in Italy has used the opportunity to display its diplomatic prowess to shore up its image in a country that became the first G7 country to sign up to Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, a 21st century Silk Road.
As Trump announced that the US was closing its borders with the EU, a plane from China carrying 30 tons of aid landed in Rome. The significance of these two actions will not be lost to US allies.
Germany, which has seen more than 3,000 cases and seven deaths and in the midst of a transition of power, has struggled to provide a unified EU response to the outbreak.
In Cyprus, a country that has seen 14 cases of the virus the Chinese Ambassador Huang Xingyuan said on his Twitter account, “As a longstanding friend and partner, #China is ready to assist #Cyprus in its fight against COVID-19.”
While Cyprus has had no deaths, the ambassador went on to say, “The Chinese Embassy has mobilized all possible resources including the Chinese companies and communities in Cyprus to collect materials across China for most relevant purposes.”
As many European countries seize up, China which has slowly managed to get the virus under control, is now seeking to craft a global role for itself in tackling the crisis.
China is also sending medical teams to Iraq to help contain the spread of the virus. In contrast, Iraq has condemned the US for conducting air strikes in the country against militias without prior authorisation.
For Iran, another country that is struggling to contain the virus and has seen more than 500 deaths, China is the only country to have come to its aid.
China has sent medical teams and supplies to the country in a bid to strengthen its friendship and relationship.
Attempts by China to help other countries have also been expanded to international organisations in a bid to show international leadership.
Early last month the Trump administration proposed cutting the US’ contribution to the World Health Organization (WHO) by half in the belief that such organisations are ineffective.
China, on the other hand, is seeking to showcase itself as a responsible player in the international order. As the coronavirus continues to spread in Europe, Beijing is offering $20 million to WHO to prevent and control the spread of the virus.
How did the coronavirus spread?
The coronavirus or Covid-19 was initially discovered in Wuhan, China. Since then the virus which was transmitted from a live animal market to a human has spread around China and to more than 100 countries.
At least 138,000 people have been infected by the virus which has resulted in more than 5,000 deaths. China, Italy and Iran were particularly badly hit by the virus. While China has succeeded in slowing down the spread of the virus, Italy and Iran are struggling to contain it and could be weeks — if not months — away from getting a grip on the situation.