Chinese Commerce Ministry Says over 220 Billion Masks Exported in 2020.
By JOHN HAYWARD
China’s vice-minister for commerce, Qian Keming, said Friday that his country exported over 220 billion protective face masks during 2020, which works out to roughly 40 masks for every person living outside of China. The total value of China’s mask exports was $52.6 billion.
Qian said China also exported 2.3 billion pieces of other protective and a billion test kits, making “an important contribution to the global fight against the epidemic.”
In addition to making a tremendous amount of money for China, mask exports were a major instrument of Chinese propaganda and diplomacy as the Wuhan coronavirus ravaged the world.
The Center for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) noted in September 2020 that even China’s prodigious exports were not enough to meet the worldwide demand for masks as terror of the coronavirus spread, leading to bitter international squabbles over mask shipments.
Beijing took advantage of that desperation to spread its political narratives during the pandemic, as CEPR explained:
As the virus raced around the globe, countries that were hit particularly hard by the pandemic were struggling to attract medical exports to protect their population. Commercial ties, however, were not the only way to obtain more critical medical goods from China. The Chinese government seized the opportunity to “tell China’s story well” and started donating medical equipment to other countries.
While China sought discretion from donors such as the EU (when foreign medical supplies were sent to Hubei province in January 2020), the Chinese state media were quick to portray China’s own donations as acts of benevolence. Many leaders of recipient countries duly praised China in return.
CEPR’s analysis attributed some of this to guanxi, the Chinese cultural attitude that business, personal relationships, and politics are inextricably linked. The most benevolent interpretation of guanxi would be saying something like, “Good business makes for good friendships.” More cynical observers note that guanxi leads to a great deal of corruption, and to the Chinese government’s willingness to ruthlessly employ economic leverage to achieve political ends, a practice that has been dubbed “sharp power.”
“Demand for masks, hospital suits and gowns, ventilators and other pandemic-related goods was a key driver of China’s record export performance in 2020, along with computers and other work-from-home equipment needed for locked-down populations around the world,” Bloomberg News reported last week, citing analysts who expect demand for masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) to remain strong well into 2021.