The Platform


While it did not make the disease, China definitely made COVID its benefactor.

Official Chinese government data shows that the country imported around 2.46 billion pieces of “epidemic prevention and control materials” between January 24 and February 29 valued at nearly $1.2 billion. This included over 2 billion face-masks – some flown-in by repurposed Chinese companies via corporate flights. Here’s the interesting part – It was only on January 29 that all provinces of the country had upgraded the status of their action to a ‘Class 1 Response to a Public Health Emergency.’

In fact, Hubei, the province of origin of the outbreak itself only launched a Class-1 response on January 24. By this time, European countries were innocent bystanders – Britain was watching more aloof and casual than the Britons remarking on the daily weather. A couple of days prior, Trump had nonchalantly asserted that it was all “totally under control.” Italy donated loads of protective equipment to China, a portion of which would later be ‘sold’ back to it at hefty rates while maintaining the ostensible pretext of the supply as “Chinese aid to Italy.”

China, the world’s largest Protective Equipment manufacturer followed up its frenzy of import by a restriction of exports of all such commodities. Thus whether inadvertently or deliberately, China ended up starving countries such as the United States of vital protective gear as masks, suits, gloves, and equipment as ventilators. This was followed by a propagandist, pompous proclamation of its commitment to generously ‘help’ other nations deal with the ‘global crisis.’

Of course, this could have very well been dismissed as a coincidence, had it not been for the third concerted step – sale of ventilators and masks at high prices in March through literal bidding, while proclaiming victory over the pandemic and noble charity. Significant portions of such exports were faulty or defective, which not only constituted a breach of trust and caused a temporary loss by proving ineffective in curbing the diseases, they dealt a lasting blow by hampering the prospects of limiting the diseases in the interim which could have been achieved by using an alternative. China’s supplies created a false sense of security while perniciously letting the contagion spread, in an untraceable manner because governments were assured of those using the deployed equipment, making it insurmountable difficult to ascertain their dissipation.

China supplied grossly malfunctioning COVID-testing kits to Spain and Turkey while more than half the masks provided to the Netherlands could not qualify its quality checks and were subsequently returned. A similar case was with Australia, the Czech Republic, and some other nations. In a comic absurdity, Pakistan is said to have been provided substandard, ineffectual masks allegedly fashioned out of undergarments. China, of course, complacently denied the unanimous criticism, even by its conventional allies. Weeks after grievances of abject faults and defects in medical equipment first surfaced, China again sold allegedly dysfunctional PPE, this time to neighbouring India. Companies manufacturing ventilators and PPE have mushroomed overnight or existing ones have dramatically repurposed their production facilities towards these, churning out tens of thousands of pieces daily. In the last month alone, China sold 4 billion masks to other countries, many of which were deemed sub-par. Not only was China’s selfishness limited to withholding hoarded stocks acquired via donations or mass-purchases out of fear but also to strategically limiting their export even after claiming it had defeated the virus.

The strategy is clear – the Dragon wishes to keep its treasured mounds of equipment tucked under its paw, resist humanitarian pressure and release them as late as possible, so as to exact the highest bids of desperation from crisis-ridden countries. China would rather let the crises deepen and fester so that demand rockets even higher. The later that China sells its products, the more can it charge – and this rise will be drastic – in lack of equipment, more people will contract the ailment, leading to even more pressing requirements for masks.

China claims it’s being unfairly and baselessly blamed for COVID-19. While it did not make the disease, it definitely made it its benefactor. If China is the mysterious guy in the blazing neighbourhood accused of being the arsonist who set it alight, just because he was last seen playing with matches and hoarding oil in his cellar, he undeniably also happens to be the one who had unusual amounts of both water and burn-salve stocked up at his home which he now sells for their weight in silver.

Pitamber Kaushik is a columnist, journalist, writer, and researcher.