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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A growing number of reports indicate Chinese officials pushed their counterparts in Europe to make positive statements about China in order to receive shipments of medical supplies to fight the novel coronavirus.

Why it matters: The revelations further taint Beijing's attempts to portray itself as a responsible and trustworthy leader in global public health.

Context: Over the past two months, numerous high-ranking government officials from countries fighting coronavirus outbreaks have offered seemingly effusive praise to China for its assistance.

  • The Italian foreign minister credited China with saving lives in Italy, the Serbian president kissed the Chinese flag as he welcomed a shipment of medical supplies on the tarmac, and the Mexican foreign minister tweeted a photo of a plane delivering Chinese aid, writing "Gracias China!!!"

What's happening: Officials in some countries are now saying there was pressure to praise Beijing.

Poland: In exchange for medical supplies, Chinese officials pressured Polish President Andrzej Duda to call Chinese President Xi Jinping to express gratitude

  • “Poland wasn’t going to get this stuff unless the phone call was made, so they could use that phone call” for propaganda purposes, the U.S. ambassador to Poland, Georgette Mosbacher, told the New York Times.

Germany: German officials have been approached by Chinese counterparts trying to get them to make positive public statements about China’s coronavirus response and international assistance, according to German newspaper Die Welt Am Sonntag.

What they're saying: “What is most striking to me is the extent to which the Chinese government appears to be demanding public displays of gratitude from other countries; this is certainly not in the tradition of the best humanitarian relief efforts," Elizabeth Economy of the Council on Foreign Relations told the Times.

  • “It seems strange to expect signed declarations of thanks from other countries in the midst of the crisis.”

The big picture: A quid pro quo for vital medical aid alienates global audiences who had at first been inclined to welcome Chinese Communist Party leadership in the fight against the coronavirus.

  • "The fairly aggressive party-state effort to 'tell a good China story' actually increases public awareness that these propaganda efforts on the Chinese side are going on," Thorsten Benner, director of the Global Public Policy Institute in Berlin, told Axios.
  • "They are shooting themselves in the foot by being so pushy on this."

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Aug 13, 2020 - World

U.S. designates China's state-funded Confucius Institute as foreign mission

Pompeo. Photo: Gabriel Kuchta/Getty Images

The Trump administration is designating the Chinese state-funded Confucius Institutes as "foreign missions," requiring them to provide administrative data on all personnel and property in the U.S. as if they were foreign embassies or consulates, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Thursday.

Why it matters: Critics of the Chinese culture and language program, which runs about 550 institutes around the world and 75 in the U.S., say it's a "soft power" tool used to spread Beijing's influence on college campuses.

Moderna says vaccine appears to protect against new COVID-19 variants

Photo: Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images

Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine is effective against new variants of the virus that first appeared in the U.K. and in South Africa, the company announced on Monday.

Yes, but: The vaccine was as effective against the strain from U.K., but saw a six-fold reduction in antibodies against the South Africa variant. Even still, the neutralizing antibodies generated by the vaccine "remain above levels that are expected to be protective," according to the company.

Dave Lawler, author of World
Updated 1 hour ago - World

Xi Jinping warns against "new cold war" in Davos speech

Chinese President Xi Jinping. Photo: Wang Zhao - Pool/Getty Images

Chinese President Xi Jinping warned that a "new cold war" could turn hot, and must be avoided, in a speech on Monday at World Economic Forum’s virtual “Davos Agenda” conference.

Why it matters: Xi didn't refer directly to U.S.-China tensions, but the subtext was clear. These were his first remarks to an international audience since the inauguration of President Biden, whose administration has already concurred with Donald Trump's determination that China is committing "genocide" against Uyghur Muslims, and issued a warning about China's aggression toward Taiwan.