As the number of coronavirus cases outside China passes the number of cases inside that country, Beijing is trying to recast itself from the source of the global pandemic to the world’s savior.
Its latest gambit: sending testing kits and masks to the U.S.
Jack Ma, the billionaire founder of the online giant Alibaba, posted two pictures of supplies being loaded onto a China Cargo Airlines flight on Monday morning.
“The first shipment of masks and coronavirus test kits to the U.S. is taking off from Shanghai. All the best to our friends in America,” Ma tweeted.
The tweet was Ma’s first since joining Twitter this week.
The Jack Ma Foundation tweeted that the shipment contains 500,000 testing kits and 1 million masks. The supplies will be handed over to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week.
The supplies will arrive in the U.S. as shutdowns and closures ramp up across the country.
The Trump administration continues to face criticism for its handling of the outbreak: the president’s repeatedly downplayed the severity of the virus, and the administration has failed to provide adequate tests to those who need them.
The U.S. currently has 3,400 confirmed coronavirus infections and 65 deaths have been reported.
“Drawing from my own country's experience, speed and accurate testing and adequate personal protective equipment for medical professionals are most effective in preventing the spread of the virus. We hope that our donation can help Americans fight against the pandemic,” the foundation said in a statement.
Ma’s foundations have already shipped 1.8 million masks and 100,000 test kits to other places impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, including Italy and Spain.
But Beijing’s efforts to change the perception of coronavirus as a Chinese virus go beyond charitable actions. They also include conspiracy theories.
Last week a top-ranking Chinese official claimed the virus could have been spread by the U.S. military when they visited Wuhan in October.
Several other Chinese officials have since repeated the claim.
And while Ma will claim the donation of supplies is a purely philanthropic act, the shipment represents something entirely different for Xi Jinping and his government.
“For Ma and many Chinese, this is an opportunity to show solidarity with the American people,” Adam Ni, a researcher at China Policy Centre in Canberra, told VICE News. “For the Chinese government, however, it has propaganda value as it tries to shift the narrative to one that shows its actions in a positive light.”
In the last few weeks, as the coronavirus crisis has waned in China, Beijing has sought to deflect blame for its early missteps in its response to the outbreak and portray a positive image for China as a responsible and mature global citizen that is willing to provide aid and public goods.
“Aid from Chinese companies and citizens should be seen from the perspective of solidarity, but the Chinese government will definitely use these instances for propaganda,” Ni said. “That is regretful at a testing time for the international community.”
Cover: Jack Ma/Twitter.