ASD Director Laura Rosenberger and GMF Asia Program Director Julie Smith argue that as the U.S. has abdicated its leadership role during the coronavirus pandemic, China has moved to crown itself the de facto global leader. China has provided assistance to Europe, and these donations have been accompanied by a strong messaging push that seeks to portray China in a positive light and divide Europe from within and from the United States. Instead of disengaging with the world, the United States must invest in real diplomacy, prioritize truth and transparency, and find multilateral solutions built on democratic principles to global problems.
As the world has grappled with COVID-19, China has sought to leverage the crisis for geopolitical advantage. To do so, China isn’t relying on the traditional forms of statecraft, such as diplomacy. Instead, it is pairing highly publicized aid with public bullying, bombastic rhetoric and outright coercion.
We have spent the last month closely monitoring Chinese donations to European allies and the messages that have accompanied them. These cases—which involve at least 23 different countries in Europe—tell us a lot about China’s bid for political influence and the malign behavior that comes with China’s “leadership.”