The Alibaba billionaire announced a donation of 1 million face masks and 500,000 coronavirus test kits on Friday, releasing a statement calling for “all humankind” to work together to fight the recently-declared pandemic. Signing off with “united we stand, divided we fall,” Ma managed to make the US government, which all but congratulated itself on the increased business opportunities presented by thousands of Chinese drowning in their own phlegm, look like bumbling (and cruel) idiots.
The e-commerce mogul’s statement was all sweetness and light, wrapped around what could be perceived as a dig at Washington’s preparedness: “Hopefully, these supplies can help some people in the US.”
The contrast between Ma’s gift and the US’ response to China sinking into coronavirus-flavored hell months ago could not be more stark. US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross all but danced on Beijing’s grave, predicting that the virus would “help accelerate the return of jobs to North America,” and while President Donald Trump himself offered praise of President Xi Jinping’s containment efforts, it was accompanied by little more than closing US airports to flights from China and the equivalent of a “good luck.”
Now that the shoe is on the other foot, the kits and supplies couldn’t come at a better time. The White House signed $8.3 billion in emergency aid into law earlier this week to fight the coronavirus, and an emergency declaration on Friday freed up $50 billion more for disaster response, but Americans nationwide have reported difficulties accessing testing, on top of concern over the mixed messages coming from healthcare authorities and the Trump administration.
Health and Human Services secretary Alex Azar has admitted his agency has no way to track the number of Americans who have been tested for coronavirus - let alone who have tested positive - but bragged earlier this week about having a “surplus” of coronavirus testing kits awaiting order. CDC officials, however, have admitted the agency lacks the equipment needed to properly respond to the epidemic, and scrambled to get the testing right after an initial round of kits proved defective. The development of testing was further slowed by the CDC’s insistence on developing its own test rather than using that of the World Health Organization. State authorities report tests being shipped incomplete and therefore unusable. While Ma has made similar donations to Europe, Japan, South Korea, and other coronavirus-stricken parts of the world, the US healthcare system is rapidly proving to be the least able to deal with the crisis.
The Trump administration has kept up its China-bashing even as the number of new Covid-19 cases in that country has dropped off. National security adviser Robert O’Brien complained earlier this week that “we could have dramatically curtailed” the epidemic if it weren’t for China supposedly dragging its feet going public, though he could only cite “open-source reporting from Chinese nationals” to back up his assertion that China’s response had cost the world two months’ prep time. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and others have repeatedly referred to “the Wuhan virus,” while Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton went even further down the blame-China rabbit hole, insisting the disease escaped from a high-security bio-research laboratory in Wuhan.
Trump himself at least spread the blame for the “foreign virus” around a bit, criticizing the “fake news media” for hyping Covid-19 and his predecessor Barack Obama for hampering the US response by tying up the CDC in “red tape.” But he has fueled concern in his own way by repeatedly downplaying the seriousness of the virus while fretting over the cratering stock market, all but advising sick Americans to keep a stiff upper lip while trotting out a series of potential economic band-aids for the gaping wounds on Wall Street (including a bailout of the tanking shale oil industry even his own party has slammed as irresponsible).
Perhaps unsurprisingly amid such chaos, the Trump administration has not issued an official response to Ma’s gift - though in their defense, the State Department was probably too busy summoning the Chinese ambassador to chew him out over the foreign ministry spokesman’s tweeting to notice.
A truly rich man is one whose children run into his arms when his hands are empty.