Chinese state media bubbled with articles over the weekend praising Chinese companies for quickly recovering from the coronavirus lockdown, churning out medical equipment for customers around the world and raking in huge profits.
Meanwhile, the rest of the world was noticing that a great deal of those Chinese masks and test kits are dangerously defective.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) used its Global Times newspaper on Sunday to praise itself for keeping its industrial “engine roaring” so it could “ensure global medical supplies amid the pandemic.”
The Global Times also chastised countries that have been reluctant to buy Chinese products, especially after what it called “concerns over the quality of some of the equipment”:
While the Chinese government and other organizations continue to donate PPE to dozens of countries around the world, the number of export orders has also been rising significantly. More than 17 countries such as the UK and Italy have signed purchase contracts with Chinese firms, Geng Shuang, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said last week. Over the weekend, France ordered one billion masks with the vast majority from China and will dispatch 56 cargo flights to transport them.
“The overseas demand for masks is far more than supply,” Cao Jun, General Manager at the Zhejiang-based Lanhine Corp, told the Global Times on Sunday, noting that half of the company’s 1.2 million daily mask output will go to overseas markets, including Germany and the US.
Shenzhen-based BGI Genomics said that it has exported 7 million test kits to 70 countries and regions and has increased its daily output to 600,000, the company said in a statement to the Global Times.
Overall, China has significantly increased the output of PPE and other medical devices and the numbers could further grow, according to industry insiders. Between February 1 and March 15, 28,000 companies have expanded their operations to production of masks, gowns and other medical equipment, according to business data provider Tianyancha. For example, daily output of masks has increased by 16 folds to around 116 million a day and the number could further jump, according to media reports.
“Just like the response to the epidemic itself, China is really making a nationwide effort to ensure medical supplies to support in the global battle against the coronavirus pandemic,” Wang Jun, an analyst at the China Center for International Economic Exchanges, told the Global Times on Sunday.
“The biggest problem is that overseas clients are in a hurry for our products but transportation takes too long,” an employee of one Wuhan medical company told the Global Times in a passage that implied lengthy quality-control checks were part of the problem. Other Chinese workers and executives quoted in the article stressed their commitment to quality control.
On Monday, the Global Times wrote of foreign customers “rushing” to order “life-saving ventilators” from China.
“Many countries now report severe shortage of ventilators. For example, there are about 160,000 ventilators available in the US but 740,000 could be needed in the worst-case scenario, according to the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security,” the article noted.
The Global Times quoted Beijing Siriusmed Medical Device clinical director Cui Gang warning that “certain foreign enterprises’ restrictions on Chinese purchases” could prevent them from getting the Chinese products they are so desperate to obtain.
On Sunday, the Global Times reported that a hashtag praising China for “paying back the kindness times ten” became “a trending topic on Sina Weibo.” The idea behind the hashtag is that China is doing ten times as much to repay the kindness of countries like Japan that sent assistance to Chinese cities hit hard by the virus in February.
The South China Morning Post on Monday noted that “Chinese-made testing kits are becoming a more common presence throughout Europe and the rest of the world, adding a new dimension to the roaring debate over dependence on medical supplies from China.”
The debate is roaring particularly loud at the moment because much of that Chinese equipment has astoundingly high failure rates:
China exported 550 million face masks, 5.5 million testing kits and 950 ventilators to Spain at a cost of €432 million (US$481 million) earlier in March, but concerns were soon raised over the quality of the testing products.
Last week, Spanish newspaper El País reported that antigen testing equipment from the Shenzhen-based firm Bioeasy Biotechnology only had a 30 per cent detection rate for Covid-19, when they were supposed to be 80 per cent accurate. Bioeasy, it emerged, was not included on an approved list of suppliers offered to Spain by China’s Ministry of Commerce.
Bioeasy subsequently denied that the equipment was faulty, suggesting instead that the Spanish researchers had not correctly followed instructions.
Filipino authorities also said on Saturday they had discarded testing kits imported from China, claiming they had only a 40 per cent rate of accuracy.
A source in the European Union told the SCMP that quality control in China might not be “thorough” at the moment because the intensity of the coronavirus crisis is prompting Chinese manufacturers to focus on “speed” instead of quality.
The EU source added that the Chinese equipment failures were doubly dismaying because they diverted “precious scarce resources” away from more effective means of protection. Orders to Chinese suppliers nevertheless keep flooding in, since as one vendor put it, the global demand for coronavirus testing and protection equipment is “infinite.”
In more practical terms, an estimate quoted by the SCMP said at least 4 million test kits will be needed quickly if the United States and Europe wish to implement testing on the scale used by South Korea in its successful control effort.
Another SCMP piece on Sunday by City University of Hong Kong associate law professor Surya Deva noted darkly that China is trying to flip the coronavirus debacle to its political advantage by exporting “the Chinese model of governance (and political ideas underpinning it) as an alternative to the Western liberal model.”
Deva noted this was already China’s agenda through projects like the Belt and Road infrastructure program, whose trillion-dollar growth correlates closely with Beijing’s efforts to spread its brand of Communist ideology around the globe.
This led to such grotesque spectacles as China, which has literal concentration camps for troublesome minorities and uses prisoners as forced labor, attempting to push its monstrous definition of “human rights” on the U.N. Human Rights Council. Unfortunately, there are plenty of brutal dictatorships who like China’s model of zero guilt for human rights abuses and admire China’s authoritarian “stability,” achieved through such measures as tightly controlling speech and avoiding messy democratic elections.
Deva observed that a renewed ideological push accompanied the CCP’s frantic propaganda campaign to obscure the origins of the coronavirus and recast the Chinese government as heroic rather than negligent. He warned it would be “naive” to dismiss the ideology China is selling as a non-starter. Instead, he advised asking “much more sophisticated critical questions” about both the Chinese and Western models.