Jack Ma, founder of the world's largest e-commerce platform, said his philanthropy is shipping 1 million masks and 500,000 test kits to help bolster America’s capacity to fight the global coronavirus outbreak, as the pandemic ravages its way across Europe and North America from Asia.
The gift by the billionaire co-founder of Alibaba Group Holding, owner of South China Morning Post, is the first by Chinese entrepreneurs to the United States, amid broad criticisms for the way US President Donald Trump has bungled his handling of the disease. The Covid-19 outbreak, which was first reported in China’s Hubei province in January, has sickened 1,681 people in the US and killed 41 at last count.
“Based on our past experience in combating the virus, speedy and accurate testing and adequate protective equipment for medical staff are essential in preventing the epidemic from spreading,” Ma wrote in a post on China’s Weibo microblog site. “We hope the donation will help Americans.”
The gesture comes amid escalating rivalry between the US and China, which have spent almost two years entangled in a trade war that has weighed on the world. Tensions between the two largest economies on earth have spilled over into tit-for-tat restrictions, bans and verbal jousts over technology and currency – even down to the origin of the coronavirus that has afflicted more than 141,000 people in 100 regions and countries.
The first shipment of masks and coronavirus test kits is now leaving Shanghai airport and will arrive in the United States soon! All the best pic.twitter.com/XwRV1wNEdz
— Jack Ma Foundation (@foundation_ma) March 16, 2020
Huawei Technologies, the Chinese company that owns the world’s largest market share for 5G telecommunications equipment, remains in the US government’s cross hairs.
Even Alibaba itself was subject to scrutiny, when the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) blocked a plan by its Ant Financial Services affiliate to buy US money transfer firm MoneyGram International in 2018 over national security concerns.
The China-made protective gear and test kits took off from Shanghai’s airport in a chartered cargo plane this morning, and will be handed over to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) when they arrive. New York city and New York state said in late February that they are developing their own diagnostic kits, amid shortages in the country that have denied the vast majority of the ability to be tested for the pathogen.
Separately, two charitable foundations funded by Ma and Alibaba sourced and shipped 1.8 million masks and 100,000 test kits to Italy, Spain and other European nations, Ma said. Confirmed cases have soared to 17,660 with 1,266 deaths at the most recent count, making the southern European nation the new epicentre for the pandemic outside mainland China.
China, dubbed the World’s Factory for the nation’s ability to crank out everything from clothing to toys and electronic parts, is now churning out more than 100 million face masks every day, quintuple the 20-million daily output before Covid-19 broke out. The country is now in the position to export face masks.
The coronavirus outbreak has tapered off in mainland China, which still accounts more than half of the world’s confirmed cases and death toll, as daily reports of new cases have declined. As a result, many philanthropists and charitable donations are turning outwards to shift the much-needed resources overseas.
Besides Ma’s foundation, several other non-state companies have also been donating protective gear overseas.
Fosun International, the owner of Lanvin and Club Med resorts, donated 360,000 units of medical supplies to Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido, where it operates two ski resorts at Tomamu and Sahoro. The company also shipped 45,500 items including protective clothing and masks to Milan, the northern Italian city at the epicentre of Europe’s coronavirus outbreak. Italy’s confirmed cases soared to 24,747 at last count, with a death toll of 1,809.
Xiaomi, the world’s second-largest smartphone maker, donated more than 10,000 masks to Italy last week, while Zoomlion Heavy Industry the tractor maker shipped 50,000 masks to the country. Shanghai Wind, China’s largest domestic provider of real time financial data, shipped 60,000 masks to two hospitals and clients abroad.
Jack Ma’s foundation handed out 100 million yuan (US$14 million) to research institutions in China and overseas to support their work on developing a vaccine for the novel virus. Apart from Europe and the US, the foundation shipped medical supplies to Japan, South Korea and Iran. It has also sourced a batch of test kits ready to be sent to Africa, where medical resources are scarce, according to Ma’s Weibo.
Before the coronavirus took hold in the US, China was on the receiving end of America’s charity, with the US government pledging US$100 million on February 7 to help China and other affected countries overcome the viral outbreak.
Many US companies including General Motors and the hedge fund Citadel have donated funds and shipped supplies to China, especially to the Hubei provincial capital of Wuhan, where the first outbreak was reported.
Despite the charity on display, government officials of both countries are pointing fingers at each other for the root of the pandemic.
US State Secretary Mike Pompeo has taken to calling the coronavirus the “Wuhan Virus,” contrary to the World Health Organisation’s nomenclature that typically avoids the stigma of associated viral outbreaks with people, or nations. The Chinese foreign ministry’s spokesman Zhao Lijian hit back with a tweet that the virus was introduced into China by the US military’s servicemen.
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