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COVID-19: An Excuse For Countries to Embrace China?

COVID-19: An Excuse For Countries to Embrace China?

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The coronavirus (COVID-19) has served the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) well in strengthening itself diplomatically as the Biden administration in the U.S. continues to evaluate the path to take in foreign policy.

The CCP’s soft power has paid off in recent years. In addition to increasing its influence in international organizations such as the United Nations (UN) and its subsidiaries such as the World Health Organization (WHO), Beijing has also targeted governments and companies seeking to build ties with Taiwan or Hong Kong.

China blocks vaccines destined for Taiwan

The Taiwanese government made “final preparations to sign an agreement with Germany-based BioNTech,” but things changed, as reported by the island’s Minister of Health, Chen Shih-chung, in an interview with the local press.

Taiwan - Chinese Communist Party - El American
Minister Chen Shih-chung when he announced that Taiwan obtained 20 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, but eventually cancelled five million doses from BioNTech, due to interference from China.. (Efe)

Germany is one of China’s most important allies and one of the leading nations in the European Union. German companies have benefited enormously during the pandemic in the Chinese market.

In addition, the trade agreement between the European Union and China, led by Germany and France, gave the Chinese Communist Party ample diplomatic leverage.

At the end of January this year, Germany approached Taiwan in search of trade agreements for the purchase of state-of-the-art chips. In this approach, the Taiwanese government negotiated the purchase of vaccines by BioNTech.

However, “Taiwan’s attempts to purchase 5 million doses of BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine failed at the last minute” because of political pressure exerted by Beijing on Germany.

Latin American left helps the Chinese Communist Party

In mid-2020 leftist parties in Paraguay’s Senate, sympathetic to the dictatorship of Nicolás Maduro, the CCP’s main ally in the region, introduced a bill to open relations with Beijing.

Los senadores paraguayos Fernando Lugo (d) y Sixto Pereira (i) del partido socialista Frente Guasú. Pereira defensor de Maduro además promueve la influencia del PCCh en Paraguay y es el autor de la ley que pretendió que Paraguay reconozca diplomáticamente a China. (Efe)
Paraguayan senators Fernando Lugo (r) and Sixto Pereira (l) of the socialist party Frente Guasú. Pereira, a supporter of Maduro, also promotes the influence of the CCP in Paraguay, is the author of the law that sought Paraguay’s diplomatic recognition of China. (Efe)

The Paraguayan left argues that the COVID-19 pandemic “would make Chinese support, in the form of masks and fans, but also investment, trade and possibly a vaccine, crucial in the coming years.”

Although the proposal was rejected, far-left lawmakers have made progress in deepening ties with China, successfully securing humanitarian aid from Beijing in exchange for a promise to recognize the country if the balance of power in Paraguay’s Congress changes.

Latin America increased its dependence on China due to the pandemic. Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Colombia, and Brazil developed strong economic ties with the Communist regime.

Xi Jinping - Iván Duque - El American
Colombian President Iván Duque and Chinese leader Xi Jinping. Duque has been the closest Colombian President to the Chinese Communist Party since Ernesto Samper in 1993 and Alfonso López Michelsen in 1974.(Efe)

For his part, President Alberto Fernandez “thanked China for supporting Argentina’s fight against COVID-19 and endorsed the building of a community with a shared future for humanity, a notion put forward by Xi Jinping”.

For China the investment brings political benefits analysts argue. “In the last four years, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador and Panama have switched their recognition from Taiwan to China,” says the above-mentioned TIME article.

Such alliances offer Beijing solidity at the UN, allowing it to evade sanctions for human rights violations or increasing the Chinese Communist Party’s influence in international institutions.

Fears for the reaction of the Chinese Communist Party

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is under pressure from the Conservative Party to condemn the genocide committed by the CCP in Xinjiang.

However, Trudeau refused to denounce China considering that “the international community takes the term very, very seriously.” He justified that Canada should “make sure that it is only used when it is clearly and properly justified.”

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, Wang Wenbin. (Efe)

On the other hand, in early January 2021, Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that it signed an agreement with Guyana “to open an office in Taiwan, effectively a de facto embassy for the island.”

To this, Wang Wenbin, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, responded by saying that “Beijing hoped that Guyana would not enter into official relations with Taiwan,” further calling on it to “seriously take necessary measures to correct its mistake.”

The Chinese Communist Party’s reaction prompted Guyana’s Foreign Ministry to revoke the agreement and made it clear that Guyana adheres to the “One China” policy. Now the South American country plans to receive vaccines from China to combat the coronavirus.

Camilo Bello is a consultant focused on Asia Pacific studies and has experience in strategic management. He has studied law in Colombia and is currently pursuing studies in language and history at National Taiwan Normal University. He has collaborated with Students for Freedom in Hong Kong and Taiwan // Camilo es consultor enfocado en estudios de Asia Pacífico y experiencia en gestión estratégica. Cuenta con estudios en Derecho en Colombia y actualmente se encuentra realizando estudios en lenguaje e historia en National Taiwan Normal University. Colaborador de Estudiantes por la Libertad en Hong Kong y Taiwán

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