China will “actively expand” public health projects in its Belt and Road (BRI) partner countries amid the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Sunday, according to the South China Morning Post.
Speaking at a press conference on Sunday, Wang said:
China will actively expand international cooperation on public health and establish pandemic control mechanisms with more nations. There will be more such cooperation along the Belt and Road [BRI]. China will work with the countries along the route to vigorously promote the construction of the ‘Healthy Silk Road.’
The “Health Silk Road” is China’s term for the system of public health projects it promotes within BRI-partner countries.
So far, China has used the BRI to focus largely on trade and infrastructure partnerships with developing nations across Asia, Europe, Africa, and Latin America. Beijing advertises BRI projects as lucrative endeavors, but they ultimately force host nations to become massively indebted to China.
Now, amid increased healthcare needs caused by the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, Beijing aims to expand its BRI to include public health projects.
“The potential of the Belt and Road comes from constantly opening up new areas of cooperation. After the [Wuhan coronavirus] epidemic, the desire of countries to develop the economy and protect people’s livelihoods will be stronger, and the demand for cooperation in the field of public health will also increase significantly,” Wang said.
Beijing first announced the launch of its Health Silk Road initiative this year as “a new approach for perfecting global public health governance.” In April, China’s ambassador to Iran promoted the Health Silk Road in an op-ed published by an Iranian-state newspaper. At the time, Iran’s support of the initiative was criticized by many Iranians as evidence that their country was “capitulating” to China.
Beijing’s public health initiative is widely considered a way for China to capitalize on the vulnerabilities caused by the devastating Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people worldwide and exhausted nations’ healthcare systems. By offering to support a public healthcare system in a struggling foreign nation, China paints itself as a global humanitarian.
Just as with the predatory BRI projects, the Health Silk Road provides China potential access to host nations’ sensitive government health data, opening up access to foreign governments’ health-related technology and intellectual property. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) may then, in turn, use this valuable information to further expand its influence: over the host nation, throughout the region, and across the globe.