The Platform


China is trying to manage its image to deal with any negative fallout from COVID-19 spreading from its shores to around the world.

The world is witnessing one of the worst economic and humanitarian crises in modern history. The novel coronavirus which first emerged in the Wuhan city of China has now been spread all over the world. This has resulted in millions of positive cases throughout the world and the situation is still worsening in some countries. The epidemic is putting unprecedented strain on health systems and also devastating many economies around the globe.

China, the epicenter of the epidemic, is recovering from this outbreak as compared to other countries and opened up many sectors of its economy including public transport facilities in some cities. Considering China’s role in creating the crisis, it is ironic to see that China is scoring points in its propaganda war and it is also exploiting the crisis in different ways.

Selling medical gear

For more than two decades China has tried to project itself as a responsible global power, an effort which was threatened by the initial coronavirus response. China is rebuilding its image and looking for sympathy from those who blame its leadership for making the situation worse. It is also taking every opportunity to drive wedges between the European Union and its member countries.

Beijing has sold around four billion masks to foreign countries since March 2020. Despite the number of cases in China are again dwindling, the country has encouraged factories production for medical supplies. China has exported 37.5 billion of protective clothing, 16,000 ventilators, and 2.84 million COVID-19 testing kits (PPE) since March. The country’s medical supplies were estimated at $1.4 billion. Although some countries have complained about the faulty testing kits and other equipment as they were not up to the international standard required. Although China’s soft power is producing hard results for some countries during these testing times.

Stockpiling crude oil after the oil price crash

Global oil prices continued to plunge because of the coronavirus outbreak and Russia- Saudi 2020 price war. Saudi, the de facto leader of Oil and Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) wanted Russia to agree to deep production cuts amid low demand and buoy prices. The deal didn’t work and Saudi lowered the price and pumped oil with abundant. This resulted in turning oil prices from negative for the first time in history to negative $38 per barrel.

China has doubled the filling rate of its oil wells and other inventories amid the low price of crude oil. It is also expanding its strategic reserves which might insulate the country against possible supply disruptions. China never reports inventories, so the rate at which it stockpiles is a game of guestimates. Beijing is emerging from the coronavirus lockdown and also buying ultra-cheap spot cargoes from Canada, Brazil, and Alaska, taking advantage of the non-existent demand elsewhere.

Taking over distressed companies after damaging global economy

The economies around the world are witnessing economic downfall due to the severe coronavirus epidemic. Many countries are reconsidering their relations with China in the face of foreign investment from Chinese state-owned companies. China is now buying spree across countries facing difficulties.

The European Commission has issued guidelines to member countries to review investments within its scope on the ground of security and take measures to address specific risks. Germany also changed its rules to protect domestic companies from hostile takeovers from non-European companies. Italy also expanded its “golden powers law” to restrict foreign investment in some key sectors of the country. Committee on Foreign Investments in the US (CFIUS) is also screening potential take-overs on the ground of national security.

India also reviewed its FDI policy on April 17th, 2020 for curbing hostile or opportunistic takeovers of Indian companies because of the COVID-19 outbreak. India made changes and brought an amendment without naming China in its FDI policy review. The amendment says “A non-resident entity can invest in India, subject to the FDI policy except in those sectors/activities which are prohibited. However, an entity of a country, which shares a land border with India or where the beneficial owner of investment into India is situated in or is a citizen of any such country, can invest only under the Government route.”

Because of this decision by the government of India, China raised concerns and said: “the barriers from the Indian side violate WTO principle of non-discrimination and against the trend of liberalization.”

Pumping money into WHO, to control global platforms

The World Health Organisation is the only global platform to solve and manage health-related issues and issue guidelines. The US, WHO’s largest contributor recently accused the organization of “mismanaging” the crisis and drawing ire from Beijing as both countries spar over the deadly virus.

China announced on April 23rd, 2020 that it will give $30 billion to the WHO (in addition to the previous fund of $20 billion) to help the countries to control and fight coronavirus pandemic.

All these instances show that China is scrambling to boost its image worldwide. China is slowly and gradually working towards a post-pandemic power grab. Beijing is now in a position to take over the global leadership and waiting for Washington to lose the support of its allies and the past many years was beneficial for China with this perspective. But a lot of the things also depend on how countries react in the post-pandemic period more than China itself acts.

Arpan Rathi is an International Relations graduate student.