China rolls out the Health Silk Road
In the Belt and Road framework, China is supplying much of the world including virus-hit Europe with medicine and healthcare items
When President Xi Jinping was on a phone call in mid-March with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conti, before the arrival of a China Eastern flight from Shanghai to Milan full of medical help, the key takeaway was the Chinese pledge to develop a Health Silk Road (Jiankang Sichou Zhilu).
That was in fact already inbuilt in the Belt and Road Initiative playbook since at least 2017, under the framework of enhanced, pan-Eurasian health connectivity. The pandemic only accelerated the timeline. The Health Silk Road will run in parallel to the multiple overland Silk Road corridors and the Maritime Silk Road.
In a graphic demonstration of soft power, so far China has offered Covid-19-related equipment and medical help to no fewer than 89 nations – and counting.
That covers Africa (especially South Africa, Namibia and Kenya, with Alibaba in fact announcing it will send help to all African nations); Latin America (Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Peru); the arc from East Asia to Southwest Asia; and Europe.
Less than a year ago Italy became the first G-7 nation to sign a memorandum of understanding formally joining Belt and Road – much to the displeasure of Washington and the Atlanticist galaxy in Brussels and beyond.
Earlier this year in Sicily, I discussed these intricacies in detail with Enrico Fardella, Professor of History at Peking University and an expert on China-Mediterranean relations.
Italy is supported on myriad fronts – not only at the highest political level but also via the Chinese Red Cross, Sino-Italian associations, tech/logistics Chinese companies and donations from Alibaba, Huawei, ZTE and Lenovo. There are three Chinese medical teams in Italy at the moment.
This all ties up with the larger Belt and Road picture, featuring investments in Genoa and Trieste, two key ports and future Belt and Road nodes.
This Chinese soft power offensive is carefully calibrated to offset the current paralysis of global supply chains. China is now working overtime to supply many parts of the world with medicine and related healthcare items – always with the Belt and Road framework in mind, as if doubling down on Globalization 2.0.
That spells out the interconnectivity of nations that badly need development and infrastructure along with the need for good health systems and practices.
And that prepares the terrain for, when Covid-19 is more or less tamed and the Chinese economy fully recovered, the Belt and Road reboot: an inexorable historic trend based on a new economic model that Beijing deems more equitable, and in the interests of the Global South.