A report by the Australian edition of 60 Minutes on Sunday quoted an anonymous employee of a Chinese-owned property management company called Greenland who said the company bought up “tonnes of gloves, masks, gowns, sanitizer, and other vital medical supplies” and sent them to China in January and February.
Other Chinese-owned companies in Australia, and around the world, reportedly encouraged staffers to stockpile as much medical equipment as they could so the firms could ship the materials to China in the last days before the pandemic spread across the world.
The anonymous whistleblower from the Greenland company reported seeing some unusual activity for a property management company:
He told 60 Minutes reporter Liz Hayes he saw boxes of vital medical equipment being prepared to be sent to China in January and February this year.
“Meeting rooms, lunch rooms and the boardroom, starting to be filled with different types of items getting unpackaged and repackaged and labelled,” he told 60 Minutes.
“It definitely rose my suspicion. The concern to me is if all these medical items leave the country, what’s left for us?”
The man says employees of the company were asked to procure different medical items from shops and pharmacies, and that full-time employees were utilised in the packing and repackaging of the items.
“It is very unsettling that essential equipment can just leave our borders in massive commercial quantities,” he said.
60 Minutes Australia obtained an email to employees of Poly Developments and Holdings, another Chinese-backed firm in Australia, instructing them to search pharmacies all over Sydney for medical masks and buy as many as they could. Yet another company in Sydney called Risland shipped 90 tons of medical gear to China in February.
As the report pointed out, Australia is now experiencing an acute shortage of the very supplies purchased and exported by China using its corporate holdings. Last week, the Australian government banned non-commercial exports of protective equipment, but the Greenland whistleblower said it was too late because “the horse has bolted” already.
“We could have had some sort of contingency plans in place for situations like this,” he argued. “I think in a time of crisis, we all have a responsibility to do something, and I felt that I had to do something. It just didn’t sit with me that this type of thing could happen. I couldn’t just watch it and just stay silent.”
The Greenland Group’s activities were noted by the Sydney Morning Herald two weeks ago, probably due to a tip from the same whistleblower. The company actually posted some photos of its medical supply shipments to China on social media, describing it as a humanitarian relief effort for the hardest-hit areas at the “epicenter of the outbreak.”
The Herald’s source said that for about two weeks, virtually everyone at the company was involved in sourcing, purchasing, and shipping the supplies:
The entire accounts department, contract managers, the human resources team and even receptionists were sent on a mission to find bulk supplies of surgical masks, thermometers, antibacterial wipes, hand sanitisers, gloves and Panadol.
“There were numerous requests from the HR manager and even our direct reporting line [which] prioritised the assisting of the company in gathering these supplies over other work activities,” said the source. The entire accounts department were absent for days as they were out purchasing supplies, he said.
The Greenland Group said it was able to procure 3 million masks, 700,000 hazmat suits, and 5,000 pairs of protective gloves from “Australia, Canada, Turkey, and other countries.” The company has long been listed by Fortune as one of the largest in the world.
Soon after the Sydney Morning Herald report was published, the Australian Medical Association advised the country to begin protecting its stockpile of protective equipment, warning that painful shortages could be imminent.
At the beginning of April, the Australian government tightened export restrictions and banned efforts to stockpile medical supplies. Violators could face over $150,000 U.S. in fines.
“These measures have become necessary because we have seen a small number of individuals engaging in the bulk purchasing of essential goods from retail outlets in Australia, with the intent of profiteering from exploitative exporting and price gouging,” said a statement from Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton. The statement did not explicitly mention exports to China, but was widely interpreted as a response to the reports about Chinese companies buying up Australia’s supplies.
“We’ve taken the steps to protect Australia’s interest, to stop unauthorized, inappropriate exporting of those things that we rely upon for our health care and so on at present,” trade minister Simon Birmingham said in an interview, putting more emphasis on exports than “price gouging.”
USA Today reported around the same time that U.S. exports of protective gear to China “skyrocketed in January and February.”
Florida emergency management director Jared Moskowitz told USA Today he has heard from medical supply distributors that “foreign governments are showing up with cash at these factories and bumping everybody else down the line who had orders pending.”
On Sunday, medical equipment manufacturers told the White House that Beijing is “trying to corner the world market” by buying up protective equipment while preventing American manufacturers operating on Chinese soil, such as 3M and Honeywell, from shipping their own products back home. The White House is considering legal action against China in international courts, or pressing a complaint at the United Nations.
“Data from China’s own customs agency points to an attempt to corner the world market in PPE like gloves, goggles, and masks through massive increased purchases – even as China, the world’s largest PPE manufacturer, was restricting exports,” a White House official said.
Michael Wessell of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review commission said the Chinese are beginning to loosen their own export restrictions, but “they’re using it for soft power, essentially saying it’s a humanitarian gesture to try to curry goodwill with American people, when some of the problems we’re facing are the direct result of Chinese policies.”
Jenna Ellis, a senior legal adviser to the Trump 2020 campaign, was even blunter in calling the Chinese policy a “cold-blooded, premeditated action” on par with “first-degree murder.”
The Epoch Times on Monday reported that China repeated this behavior around the world in January and February, citing an article posted on an official Chinese Communist Party (CCP) website urging loyal Chinese around the world to “keep on buying while sending back to China [medical supplies] and try your best to buy as much as possible.”
The article saluted Chinese living in the U.S., U.K, and Australia, among other countries, for buying huge quantities of protective equipment and shipping it back to China. The CCP went so far as to ask Chinese nationals to buy masks and gowns and stuff them into their personal luggage when traveling abroad. Chinese state media saluted the Greenland Group, Risland, and other companies mentioned by 60 Minutes Australia and the Sydney Morning Herald for doing their part.