China is “donating,” but more often selling, millions of masks and medical supplies to the world. Many of them do not work.
by Yang Jianli and Aaron Rhodes
Products below standard
All over Europe, governments are rejecting China’s assistance, including the supply of medical equipment, masks and other supplies, in the face of the Covid-19 epidemic facing them all. They are turning against China more generally.
Given China’s behavior toward other countries in the wake of the epidemic, this is not surprising. Thousands of testing kits and medical masks from China have been below standard or defective, according to verified reports from Spain, Turkey and the Netherlands. There have also been allegations that China secretly purchased massive quantities of medical equipment from European countries and was now re-selling the same to some countries as assistance. Recently, governments in Spain and the Czech Republic also complained that China had secretly purchased massive quantities of medical equipment from them, and had then been sending and selling faulty medical equipment as “humanitarian aid.” The countries to which China has sent supplies include Italy, France, Greece, Serbia, Spain, Pakistan, Laos, Thailand, Iran, South Korea, Japan, Cambodia, the Philippines, Egypt, South Africa, Iraq, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Cuba and Chile.
Czech Republic: The Mayor of Prague reacts
The Czech Republic was among numerous European countries to receive virus test kits and other medical supplies from China in early 2020. But, as the Mayor of Prague Zdenek Hrib recently observed, “This isn’t a humanitarian gift or aid. From China’s perspective, it’s business.” Indeed, we see a pattern of behavior suggesting that China is exploiting the Coronavirus epidemic and its fallout the world over.
China has made substantial investments in Europe and gained many friends, including President of the Czech Republic, Milos Zeman. However, Hrib represents a strain of Czech and European politics that has remained skeptical of China’s promises, its strategic aims, and its heavy-handed tactics. Since becoming Mayor of Prague more than two years ago, Hrib has repeatedly annoyed China by meeting with Tibetan dissidents. He has criticized China’s treatment of ethnic minorities, and promoted ties with Taiwan. China has used its diplomatic and financial clout to protest Hrib’s moves, and the Shanghai Municipal Government even severed economic ties with Prague after he entered into a partnership with Taiwan.
The political fallout from China’s coronavirus business ventures in Europe is also the result of its efforts to palm off faulty medical equipment on other countries. A few weeks ago, Czech authorities confiscated a shipment of medical supplies from a warehouse, because a Czech reseller had tried to sell it to the government for an excessive price in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. The boxes at the warehouse were labeled as Chinese Red Cross humanitarian aid to Italy. The contents included 680,000 face masks, 28,000 respirators and around 100,000 masks. On investigation, the police found that the storage unit belonged to an influential Chinese in Prague, Zhou Lingjian. Interestingly, Zhou co-owns the company CTE CARGO Sped linked to CTE International, which sold 580,000 masks to the Czech “shell” company, and oversees the Czech Qingtian Hometown Association. The company also runs the most prominent Chinese diaspora media in Prague, Chinese Times.
More fishy business: UK and Turkey
Subsequently, it was discovered that China’s humanitarian medical supplies to the Czech Republic in March 2020 were faulty. Eighty per cent of the coronavirus test kits provide false results, mostly false negatives. Turkey also found that Chinese-sourced test kits are sub-standard and have a 65 to 70 percent failure rate, and Spain has also complained that 80 percent of medical supplies from China were faulty.
British media have also accused the Chinese Communist state of making profit out of the crisis. They found that China contributed to the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), as China commandeered vast amounts of PPE, made in factories across China and destined for export. For instance, UK safety equipment company JSP Ltd. had its two factories in China “requisitioned” by the government to make disposable RPE [Respiratory Protection Equipment] for Chinese government agencies.
Australia: medical supplies end up in China
The overseas offices of Greenland Group, an Australian property firm backed by the Chinese government, bought three million masks, 700,000 hazmat suits and 500,000 pairs of gloves, as it wanted “to assist in efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus, which had caused a shortage of crucial medical supplies in China,” according to a company newsletter seen by the Sydney Morning Herald.
According to a report in the Herald, the Greenland Group, which manages high-end real estate in Sydney and Melbourne, drained Australian supplies of anti-coronavirus equipment. Three million surgical masks, 500,000 pairs of gloves and bulk supplies of sanitizer and wipes were bought up in Australia and other countries, where Greenland operates.
While these bulk purchases were perfectly legitimate, the goods shipped in bulk to China include the very items that have been in short supply for Australian citizens, as well as for their health professionals. Similarly, the Czech Republic’s counter-intelligence agency reported in January 2020 that the Chinese Embassy in Prague had organized Chinese interests in the country to purchase massive quantities of Czech medical materials, which were immediately sent to China.
Spain: faulty equipment
There have been occasions when Chinese representatives have been forced to state that some faulty equipment had been supplied, but they put the blame on the firm that provided the equipment. For instance, the Chinese Embassy in Madrid, in a statement on March 26, 2020, said the Spanish government had bought a batch of faulty COVID-19 testing kits from an unlicensed company known as Shenzhen Bioeasy Biotechnology. In a tweet, the Chinese Embassy wrote that, “The Chinese Ministry of Commerce offered Spain a list of certified providers, which did not include Shenzhen Bioeasy Biotechnology. Shenzhen Bioeasy Biotechnology has not yet been licensed by the Chinese National Medical Products Administration to sell its products.” The statement added that the order had not been part of the €432 million (US$ 466 million) contract with China that the Spanish government had announced (March 25, 2020), which was to include the delivery of 5.5 million testing kits.
Further, it became clear that Spain’s efforts to roll out 640,000 rapid testing kits bought from companies in China and South Korea hit a setback when the first order of around 9,000 failed to meet specifications and had to be returned. The head of Spain’s public Health Emergency department Fernando Simon confirmed that the first batch of kits delivered to Spain had been sent back to the provider.
Nepal: “Do not use products from China”
Even in South Asia, a country like Nepal has advised its hospitals and medical centers not to use testing kits purchased from China, including medical equipment, unless they are told to do so by the government. Reports indicate that Nepal imported testing kits worth millions of Nepali Rupees from China in February 2020. Dr. Khem Karki, advisor to Nepal’s health minister has been quoted by the Nepalese media as saying that all hospitals have been asked not to check for infections with the Chinese testing kits until and unless they are advised to do so by the government, because of numerous reports of the equipment being unreliable.
The testing kits were imported by Omni Group, which had signed a contract with Nepal’s Ministry of Health and Population to purchase 75,000 rapid diagnostic kits from China worth 60 million Nepali Rupees. A chartered flight of Nepal Airlines flew to China to bring the consignment, which also included medical aid from the Jack Ma Foundation and Alibaba. Nepal has been using the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) method to check for the COVID-19 or the Corona Virus infection, which takes 24 hours to give the result.
Posturing as a world leader, the Chinese government has clearly tried to turn a global health crisis caused by its own negligence and public relations-driven suppression of information into evidence of its superior public management and political system. China has been desperately trying to sell this image with the PPE goods. But China’s cynical efforts to make a profit from the Coronavirus are not helping to rescue its reputation.