- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 29, 2020

The State Department is touting a nearly $300 million American aid package for dozens of countries battling coronavirus at a moment when China seeks to portray itself as the global leader in responding to the pandemic.

A department fact sheet circulated in recent days asserted outright that the “U.S. Government is leading the world’s humanitarian and health assistance response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Department officials issued the document Friday after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the freeing up of $274 million in new American humanitarian aid. Mr. Pompeo said the money “will provide resources to 64 of the world’s most at-risk countries to better combat the pandemic and enable the UN High Commissioner on Refugees to assist some of the world’s most vulnerable populations.”

The funds include some $50 million allocated to 19 different nations in Africa for a range of initiatives — from bolstering public information campaigns about coronavirus to beefing up funding for health officials tracking its spread.

Nigeria, which is by far the continent’s most populous nation with more than 200 million people, will receive some $7 million in health-focused aid, according to the State Department fact sheet.

The aid allocation reaches far beyond Africa as well, with roughly $15 million to be spread among 12 Eastern European and Eurasian nations. That includes Ukraine, which will receive more than $1.2 million to “help prepare laboratory systems” aimed at bolstering the country’s ability to identify and track coronavirus patients.

The fact sheet noted that U.S. government aid has provided long-term health investments in Ukraine over the past 20 years totaling nearly $362 million — on top of the some $5 billion in security and other U.S. assistance provided to Kiev over the same period.

It also outlined aid packages for several nations in Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Middle East — more than $15 million is going to Iraq — as well as nearly $90 million to be channeled through the United Nations and toward the World Health Organization.

The State Department also cited 22 nations across Asia that will receive millions in aid. The fact sheet did not, however, mention China at a moment when U.S. and Chinese officials are trading barbs over the coronavirus.

U.S. officials say Beijing has engaged in a global propaganda campaign to blame America for the pandemic, while attempting to project an image of China as the global leader in helping nations respond to it.

China critics at U.S. think tanks say Beijing is pushing false claims about its international aid efforts. “The most remarkable case,” according to Mike Watson, an analyst with the Hudson Institute in Washington, “is in Italy, where China’s ostentatious delivery of supplies and doctors has caused much consternation among Americans who worry that the United States is losing its global leadership role.”

“Media accounts often omitted that the supplies were bought and paid for by the Italians, when the most newsworthy element to the story is that China actually kept its commitment to deliver what it sold,” Mr. Watson wrote last week in the National Review.

“Overall, China has returned to Europe about as much medical equipment as it received, taking credit for in effect receiving supplies from northern and central Europe and delivering them later to southern Europe — but unlike the European donors, the Chinese aren’t doing it for free,” he wrote. “Chinese Communists are boasting about their magnanimity and are letting Germany and the European Union take the blame for shortages across Europe that are largely due to Chinese hoarding. This is not philanthropy; this is mercantilism.”

Beijing has pushed back against such characterizations.

An opinion article published Sunday by Global Times — a Beijing tabloid controlled by the Chinese government — claimed China “has offered over 80 countries and international organizations emergency assistance to fight the coronavirus pandemic, sent seven teams of medical experts to five badly-hit countries including Iran and Italy, and held dozens of video conferences with various countries to share experiences.”

The article went on to argue that “some in the West are once again politicizing the assistance China provided, making it another weapon to slander China.”

At a press conference last week, Mr. Pompeo told reporters that Beijing is engaged in a “disinformation campaign,” that has pushed false narratives about the coronavirus, including conspiracy theories that the virus originated in the U.S. and was spread to China. “This is crazy talk,” the secretary of state said.

Teams of international scientists, including several from inside China, have agreed for more than a month that the virus came from a “wet market” in the Chinese city of Wuhan — where fish, poultry and other animals are slaughtered on the premises.

Mr. Pompeo did not mention China in a statement on the new U.S. humanitarian aid allocation last week. He did, however, promote the United States as the “the single largest health and humanitarian donor” to nations worldwide.

“Since 2009, American taxpayers have generously funded more than $100 billion in health assistance and nearly $70 billion in humanitarian assistance globally,” he said.

He went on to describe the newly allocated $274 million as an “initial investment,” noting President Trump’s early-March signing of the “Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, which includes $1.3 billion in additional U.S. foreign assistance to help countries around the world respond to this pandemic.”

• Guy Taylor can be reached at gtaylor@washingtontimes.com.

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