China Coronavirus News: China tests its soft power with neighbors over the coronavirus outbreak | World News
The hastily convened meeting in Laos suggested that China is seeking the support of its smaller neighbors, who have received billions of dollars in Chinese investment and infrastructure in recent years as a key part of its Belt and Road Initiative.
ASEAN Foreign Ministers joined their Chinese counterpart Wang Yi during the meeting and shouted “Stay strong, Wuhan! Stay strong, China! Stay strong, ASEAN!” Wuhan is the Chinese city at the epicenter of the outbreak.
“Fear is more threatening than the virus and trust is more precious than gold,” Wang said at a press conference after the meeting, which began with the reproduction of a video of Southeast Asian leaders who expressed their support for China.
In statements during a welcome dinner on Wednesday night, China’s Foreign Ministry quoted Wang as saying that the support of ASEAN countries and others “made us feel that this winter is not so cold and that the spring”.
Analysts said Beijing was looking for supportive expressions after it was put into practice by managing the outbreak of the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, which has killed more than 2,100 people.
“China is promoting a message of friendship at ASEAN to counter the attack by the West that the outbreak has been mishandling,” said Alfred M. Wu, associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore . .
ASEAN and China, its main trading partner, have an annual travel flow of more than 65 million visits, and many ASEAN economies depend on the income of Chinese tourists. The ASEAN nations collectively are also the second largest trading partner of China.
But travel restrictions to prevent the spread of the disease have inactivated much of the world’s number 2 economy and drowned out key elements of President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative of railways, ports and roads.
“The countries’ responses to the coronavirus have become a kind of litmus test for friendship,” said Tom Baxter, an independent researcher on China’s BRI.
“In ASEAN, the responses seem fairly divided between countries. The two that seem to have come to light more clearly are Cambodia and Laos,” he said, noting the open-door practices of China’s known allies.
In contrast, Singapore has imposed a total ban and the Philippines has banned all foreign citizens who come from China, Hong Kong and Macao. Malaysia has imposed a temporary travel ban on arrivals of all Chinese provinces that have been blocked by the Chinese government.
Even when the meeting began, Thailand issued a travel notice on Thursday urging citizens to avoid non-essential trips to China and advised those who were already there to leave, implying that flights to China could be further restricted.
The reduction of travel restrictions was one of the main problems that Wang discussed with his counterparts during private bilateral meetings until Wednesday, according to press statements from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China.
At a meeting Wednesday night with Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, Wang said Beijing was concerned about Singapore’s “restrictive measures” and hoped that “normal exchanges between the two countries can resume as soon as possible.”