Last month, Beijing’s ambassador to Estonia accused the Baltic nation’s intelligence service of having a “Cold War mindset” for labeling China a threat, warning that its “distorted” conclusions damaged bilateral relations.
Four weeks later, Estonian officials took part in a video conference hosted by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in which the Asian country’s health officials shared their experience in fighting the novel coronavirus.
The Estonians found the materials “very professional and targeted” and sought to distribute them widely, according to an account of the call posted by China’s embassy in Tallinn. “Estonia hopes to strengthen exchanges and cooperation with China to fight against Covid-19,” it said.
Estonia, a member of the European Union, is far from alone in its conflicted relations with China -- nor in becoming a sudden target of Chinese largess. As Europe becomes the epicenter of the virus that first emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, Beijing is stepping up its outreach to individual governments there.
That’s coming at the very moment that the U.S. -- and in some cases the EU -- is seen to be turning away. The result is a battle for hearts and minds that China seems to be winning, at least for the moment.
“It’s great that China has this availability and that it is currently in a position to offer this kind of help,” said Lucrezia Poggetti, an analyst at the Mercator Institute for China Studies in Berlin. Aid is much needed, she said, but in supplying it, China is consciously exercising its soft power. “There is a major propaganda push at play on the side of the Chinese with some willing enablers on the European side,” Poggetti said.