In the midst of a rising chorus demanding China be named for the Coronavirus pandemic running through the length and breadth of the globe, the Beijing leadership has begun an earnest attempt to rebrand its image.
The recent Chinese outreach programme involves donating medical supplies and doctors to different countries who are in the thick of battling the Covid 19 outbreak.
The move to blame China for the current mess the world finds itself in began in the United States with President Donald Trump’s critical public utterances. But subsequently, it has found many takers also in India.
The first sign of the Chinese counter-move to the ongoing campaign became visible in India on March 28 when a consignment of medical supplies arrived in Delhi. It was to help India deal with the Coronavirus pandemic.
The Chinese gesture can also be seen as returning the favour done to it by India. Last month India had sent 15 tonnes of medical supplies to Wuhan, the capital of China’s Hubei province from where the Covid-19 virus is widely believed to have originated.
The more moderate sections in India look at it optimistically as a gesture of cooperation between the two Asian giants to deal with the worst crisis a globalised world has known.
But many more would like to see it as a Chinese Public Relations exercise in the wake of the campaign to name Covid-19 as the China or Wuhan virus.
China’s current outreach is not limited to India but global.
It has been sending doctors and medical supplies also to other parts of the world. Many critics, however, see it as an attempt on Beijing’s part to re-brand itself as not as the problem but the solution of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Chinese Embassy in New Delhi said in a statement, “On March 28th, the first batch of medical supplies donated to the Indian Red Cross Society by Chinese charity organizations Jack Ma Foundation and Alibaba Foundation arrived in New Delhi.”
“Ms. Ma Jia, DCM and Minister of the Embassy of China witnessed the hand-over between the representatives of the two foundations and Indian Red Cross Society at Indira Gandhi International Airport,” the statement said.
It pointed out that "the remainder of the donation is expected to reach India in the coming days.”
Chinese billionaire Jack Ma and his mega outlet Alibaba are well known around the world and also in India. Ma also has stakes in some Indian start-ups and therefore, the move can be seen as part of his corporate social responsibility programme.
On February 26 India had sent an Indian Air Force transport aircraft C-17 to Wuhan carrying 15 tons of medical supplies. It had included face masks, gloves and other emergency medical equipment.
Indian Foreign Minister S Jaishankar was quoted as saying that the supplies sent by India just reflected that India gets united as one with China "at the time of hardship".
After unloading the supplies, the military aircraft flew back to New Delhi carrying 112 Indians and foreign citizens stranded in Wuhan.
Earlier on February 16 Vikram Misri, Indian Ambassador to China, had in a video message underlined his support for the Chinese people and the Chinese government to fight against the outbreak caused by Covid 19 and announced that India’s willingness to help the Chinese people at the time of hardship. “This is a concrete measure which will fully demonstrate the goodwill, solidarity and friendship of the people and Government of India with the Chinese people,” Misri had said.
Both the Indian decision to send medical supplies and the remarks by the foreign minister and the ambassador in Beijing was seen as an attempt to assuage China’s disappointment with India to evacuate its nationals from Wuhan.
According to reports some of India’s actions in epidemic prevention had been of concern to China. When the first confirmed patient appeared in India at the outset of the year, Delhi had sent a special aircraft on January 31 to evacuate Indians from Wuhan. This miffed the Chinese as they saw it as a panic reaction on India’s part even though the WHO had suggested otherwise.
Additionally, India’s decision to ban the export of personal protective equipment such as masks and protective clothing to China had also concerned the neighbour.
This had led Counsellor Ji Rong, Spokesperson of the Chinese Embassy in India on January 24 to express disappointment at the Indian action.
She had pointed out the WHO has repeatedly suggested adoption of any travel or trade restriction was not to be supported and all parties should follow the rule.
She had stressed that China hoped India will treat the epidemic “objectively, rationally and calmly, deal with the medical supplies in urgent need by China in a cooperative and constructive attitude, and resume normal personnel and trade exchanges between the two countries as soon as possible.”
The subsequent Indian action of sending the IAF aircraft with the medical supplies had cleared much of the misunderstanding.
Despite the past hiccups, subsequent action by both sides showed that the leadership was keen for a cooperative and collective fight against the massive crisis at hand.
But in the present context, the Chinese move is largely seen as an attempt to show its human face to the world.
“China is fighting not just for itself, but also for the world,” Chinese ambassador to the United Nations Zhang Jun was quoted by the Foreign Policy magazine as having told other diplomats in New York.
Since the outbreak of the Covid-19, China has been accused by various sections for being slow in sharing information that could have perhaps, stopped its spread to other countries.
But with signs of the virus slowing down in China while it picks up momentum elsewhere, the Beijing leadership is now trying to offer itself as the solution and not the problem for the pandemic.
Early this month, a group of 300 intensive-care doctors from China arrived in Italy and other European countries to help them deal with the ongoing crisis.
Like many other countries, India too can gain from the Chinese medical staff’s experience in dealing with the Covid-19 virus as it plays out in the country.
Despite the various interpretations that are being made to Beijing’s outreach attempt, the arrival of the first batch of Chinese medical supplies to India is a welcome sign in the days of uncertainty.