Xi’s Health Silk Road: A New Chinese Riddle Wrapped in a Mystery

Chinese doctors and healthcare workers enroute Italy amidst COVID19

‘It doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice’

–  Deng Xiaoping

The quote cited above by Deng is describing the current scenario of the People’s Republic of China under the authoritarian leadership of Xi. Be its irresponsible role amid the outbreak of COVID 19, allowed it to cross the border of China, wreaking the havoc worldwide or Beijing’s continued bullying tactics to manipulate agencies like World Health Organization, the General Secretary of the Communist Party is now on its own way to promote the charm offensive of both the party and himself, ignoring the criticism of the regime across the planet. Despite the Chinese propaganda of shifting the goalpost as far as the origin of the pandemic is concerned by blaming the United States and its troops who were landed in Wuhan October last year for a brief period of time, though the Patient Zero (Index Case) was discovered inside the wet market of the city, the Communist leadership had already prepared the terrain for positioning itself as the new messiah of 21st century. In March this year, President Xi offered a new Health Silk Road to Europe for perfecting the global public health governance. The offer was made to Italian PM Conte via telephone amid the Corona crisis according to the state media agency Xinhua. Though the Chinese government rejected the news, a message has been sent.

A man fixes the Chinese flag in front of boxes with Protective suits and masks in Vienna, Austria, Friday, March 20, 2020/ Image: AP Photo/Ronald Zak

China’s Soft Power Offensive

Last three months were a difficult time indeed for China as it suffered a massive setback due to the sudden outbreak of the pandemic, jeopardizing both its social fabric and economy. Chinese investments and stock markets saw the grave depression in the market and was in a tremendous jolt. But mysteriously or surprisingly the Chinese came out of the devastation very quickly and started offering help to other countries, which seemed to be the new victims of the alien virus. Both the Chinese authority and its big business houses calibrated the effort to push its soft power initiative over infected countries. Italy, among the worst-hit nations, is now getting the Chinese assistance on myriad fronts. Doctors are being sent to Milan, Chinese medical kits are being provided and young Chinese professionals are being involved to counter the pandemic. Not only from the political front, the Chinese business regime which was once considered as the dark horse in Europe, making itself a front runner when it came to giving health relief to the country. But there is a flip side of the story. Being the first G7 country, Italy was the first nation to join the Belt and Road initiative less than a year ago despite the severe opposition from the United States followed by other western nations. Large investments were made in two important Italian cities named Genoa and Trieste under the Silk Road Initiative. The irony is China with its massive investments helping Italy to boost up it’s ‘Made in Italy’ initiative. A direct flight from Hubei to Lombardy is very often in this regard. Giuseppe Conte’s decision to join BRI had already created displeasure among the nations of the European Union and North America. Brussels, headquarter of the European Union slammed Italy for promoting Chinese avarice in Europe.

Chinese Staff members move medical supplies to be sent to Italy for the prevention of the novel coronavirus/ Image: REUTERS

The story is not over in Italy alone, China is showing its ostentation in different southern European nations. It is constructing the ambitious Harbour of Piraeus port in Greece as well, spending billions of dollars. The most important part of Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative is its train diplomacy. Even to counter COVID 19 in Spain, the ‘Silk Road train’ has been carrying all the essential medical commodities (N95 masks, protective suits) from Yiwu city to Madrid. China has already an established 13000-kilometre railway track to south-west Europe, launched in 2014 and under operation to boost BRI. Though China is proposing a Health Silk Road, experts say it is already working along with Belt and Road. The only thing Beijing needs to do is add to the existing equipment. It seems the Chinese have been waiting to convert BRI into a vector for lethal pathogens.

Chinese President Xi Jinping in Wuhan

China’s Challenges and Her Long Term Goals

The proposed Health Silk Road of the Chinese president is a calibrated approach to revive the Belt and Road Initiative which has been going through challenges and remained as the white elephant in different countries. Multiple projects under BRI are cancelled and seeing the downfall due to its debt trap tactic. Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port and Cambodia’s Sihanoukville Special Economic Zone are the classic examples of it. So China wants to do something new to revive its ambitious projects of OBOR. On the other hand, China is being criticized heavily worldwide for its role to contain the virus but president Xi wants to continue the diplomatic clout of Beijing to flourish against all odds. China also wants to boost the usage of Yuan, struggling since the trade war began with the United States. To fulfil all these goals, China desperately needs the Belt and Road Initiative to revamp and run at full speed doesn’t matter if it is a black cat or a white cat.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Kootneeti Team

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Uddipta Singha Lahkar

Uddipta Singha Lahkar holds a Master degree in Social work. He's an enthusiast of World Politics & Diplomacy. Uddipta can be reached at uddiptalahkar41@gmail.com || Twitter @LahkarSingha

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