The motivation behind the Chinese propaganda is obvious enough: With the U.S. flailing under Trump, Beijing sees an opening to finally rise to the status of a second superpower. The biggest geopolitical prize in this contest is the European Union, formerly anchored securely in the transatlantic camp but in recent years increasingly nervous about Trump and open to Chinese trade, investment and influence.
As the pandemic’s epicenter moved from Wuhan to European countries such as Italy and Spain, China initially had the right idea. Starting in mid-March, it sent Europe big shipments of face masks and other medical equipment, adorned with Chinese flags. Some of this gear turned out to be shoddy, but people saw it as a nice gesture. China could have stopped at “mask diplomacy” and come out ahead.