China's President Xi Jinping

Never let it be said that a crisis can’t be turned into an opportunity.

Having battled the coronavirus for months – and hit the milestone of no new infections domestically – China is now offering to help others, particularly Europe, which is in the grip of a major outbreak.

China’s state media is peppered with footage of masks being delivered and of Chinese medical teams arriving. It’s an effort to move past criticism of Beijing’s early cover-ups at home, conspiracy theories on the origins of the virus and claims that Chinese travelers helped spread Covid-19.

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As Alan Crawford and Peter Martin write, President Xi Jinping is calling it a kind of “Health Silk Road.” That has the added benefit of fostering a narrative at home that China has triumphed over the virus and can now help others as a responsible global power.

It’s also a counterpoint to growing tensions with America. President Donald Trump, under pressure domestically for his response to the pandemic, is needling Beijing for what he calls the “Chinese virus,” while Beijing has aired dubious claims the U.S. military may have started the outbreak in China.

China’s outreach may gain some traction in Europe simply because the U.S. has left a vacuum of global leadership under Trump.

But there is much skepticism about Beijing’s motives even as countries accept its largesse. Meanwhile at home, experts warn the virus could quickly return for a damaging second wave.

Global Headlines

Military mode | Trump declared himself a “wartime president” on the same day the stock market erased all its gains since he took office. It was his latest attempt to influence public perception of his handling of an outbreak that’s reshaping the election campaign. But his embrace of military language is a tougher sell, given he spent weeks downplaying the virus’s severity.

  • Trump signed an executive order yesterday giving the federal government broad powers to direct the production and distribution of health protective gear, ventilators and other supplies.

Merkel’s moment | German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s first crisis address to the nation of her more than 14 years in office was a sobering moment. How the public responds to her plea for solidarity in the face of Germany’s greatest post-war threat will likely determine history’s view of her chancellorship. The former physicist, who disdains soaring rhetoric in favor of deadpan delivery, offered a stark message. “This is serious,” she said. “Take it seriously.”

Shaking foundations | With much of the European Union in the biggest lockdown since World War II, responses to the spread of Covid-19 are testing the most binding principle of the region’s postwar integration: the freedom of movement. As Andrew Langley, Ott Ummelas and Christopher Jasper report, border closures are disrupting the $3.3 trillion of annual trade in the bloc and complicating journeys for its 450 million inhabitants.

  • Russia is engaging in a substantial campaign to spread disinformation about the virus, according to an EU analysis.
  • The economic impact is shifting from service-driven industries to the manufacturing sector on both sides of the Atlantic, leading to a synchronized shutdown of heavy industry unlike any seen since the 1940s.
  • U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced he’s closing schools and warned he may impose more controls in London and elsewhere to counter the virus that has killed 104 people in the country so far.

Democratic infighting | Progressive activists say they have no intention of easing pressure on Joe Biden to adopt their left-of-center causes as he shifts focus to the general election, despite fears among Democrats that their efforts could damage his ability to beat Trump. In all-but defeating Bernie Sanders for the party’s nomination, Biden has been cool to many of the ideas at the heart of Sanders’s campaign.

Under threat | Brazil’s Senate president is the latest top official to test positive for the coronavirus in a sign of the threat facing the political elite in Latin America’s largest economy. The diagnosis of Davi Alcolumbre as well as the nation’s top security official and the mining and energy minister shows the disease is moving fast across the capital, Brasilia.

What to Watch

  • U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell implored lawmakers to work at “warp speed” on a complex economic rescue plan that will likely include direct payments to taxpayers, loans to the airline industry and grants for small businesses and local governments.
  • Italy’s electricity consumption has dropped as factories and shops shut across the country.
  • South Africa’s parties met yesterday and agreed to unite in order to fight the epidemic.
  • Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta yesterday appointed a military officer to run Nairobi and tackle corruption

And finally … New evidence from Europe and the U.S. suggests younger adults aren’t as impervious to the coronavirus as first thought. Despite data from China that showed the elderly and those with other health conditions were most vulnerable, young people — from twenty-somethings to those in their early forties — are also falling seriously ill. Many require intensive care, and the risk is particularly high for those with un-diagnosed ailments.