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If China’s ‘coronavirus charm offensive’ is working on Italians, it’s thanks to the West’s failures

Italians increasingly regard China as a “friendly nation” thanks to its Covid-19 aid deliveries – and unsurprisingly, the news has prompted some concerned head-scratching from Western think tanks.

A poll conducted by the SWG research institute between March 20 and April 12 found 52 percent of Italians regarded China as friendly – up a considerable 42 percentage points from the year before. At the same time, the number of Italians viewing the US as a friendly nation plummeted to 17 percent (a 12 point drop).

Both China and the US are aiding Italy, so why the disparity?

Well, according to the US and arms-maker-funded Atlantic Council, it’s because China employed “old techniques of Russian disinformation” to win over Italians and the Italian media played a “decisive role” in helping them do it.

“The arrival of aid from China to Italy became a hit TV show,” the AC writes. A more sympathetic and humane depiction of events might be that the Chinese aid deliveries represented a moment of hope for Italians at a time of desperate national crisis.

The think tank posits that Italian media is essentially complicit in China’s propaganda drive because it gave less coverage to the announcement of US aid. A less agenda-driven analysis might conclude that since China began visibly sending aid at an earlier stage of the crisis, that might have something to do with why it received more coverage. Not to mention, that generally speaking, the US hasn’t exactly been playing a blinder when it comes to generating positive international coverage for itself during this pandemic (diverting Europe-bound planes of aid to the US for bigger wads of cash isn’t a great look).

When China delivered aid, Italians “immediately forgot where the virus came from,” one analyst quoted by the AC said.

Similar sentiments were expressed by some of those sharing the poll on Twitter. Recall how for weeks Western media pretended it had a problem with Trump constantly referring to Covid-19 as the “Chinese virus” – but as soon anyone expresses positive feelings toward China, feel free to scold them for forgetting where the virus originated. See how that works?

The Atlantic Council is not the only Western think tank or media outlet that’s been worrying about the impact of China’s virus diplomacy in recent weeks. The neoconservative DC-based Jamestown Foundation has also highlighted its concerns over China’s “charm offensive” on Italy, as have numerous media sources including Foreign Policy magazine, which labeled Italy a “chief enabler” of China.

Yet, the coronavirus crisis is only the latest opportunity to highlight Italy’s unruliness regarding China.

Western media was already demonizing Rome for signing up to China’s new Silk Road initiative well before Covid-19 came along. How dare Italians develop economic relations with the Chinese while Washington is engaged in a trade war with Beijing? Rude!

The poll also found that 36 percent of Italians believe Rome should look more to China (36 percent) to develop international alliances outside Europe than it should look to Washington (30 percent). In addition, 45 percent of Italian respondents said they now viewed fellow EU members Germany and France as enemies.

Perhaps that’s a reflection of anger at Paris and Berlin for blocking the export of critical supplies to Italy in early March in anticipation of their own shortages.

While that is actually understandable human behaviour to some degree, it’s also not in the spirit of European unity that the bloc’s top officials talk so much about. EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen admitted as much when she said the bloc’s members “thought only of their own” problems in the beginning stages of the crisis.

Rather than sending itself into a tailspin over these numbers from one poll, think tanks and media outlets might pause to consider that this survey was conducted at a highly emotional time and it is perfectly plausible to assume that they might level out again in the not-too-distant future.

There is no doubt that China has been doing its best to keep international narratives working in its favor and using high-profile deliveries of aid for good PR.

There is also no doubt that Chinese officials have added to confusion surrounding the origins of the virus and that there were serious failings in how it first reported the outbreak – but that is only one part of the story. Media outlets which attempt to make it the whole story are doing so only as a distraction from the West’s own failures.

If China has been able to use this pandemic to its advantage internationally, it is only because Brussels and Washington handed Beijing that opportunity on a platter.

Original: Danielle Ryan – RT