Trumpeting of Beijing's gifts to Italy and the world
by Bernardo Cervellera

Papers and new broadcasts give ample space to the so-called Chinese “aid” to Italy to counter the coronavirus epidemic. Angela Merkel: It is reciprocity. A massive advertising campaign with China victorious over Covid-19, leaving aside the silence held for almost two months on the epidemic. A new silk road in “healthcare”, with aid to Italy, Spain, Serbia, Iran, the Philippines, Pakistan, South Korea, Japan, Iraq. "Dictatorship is better than democracy." Religious freedom in China and Europe at risk.

Rome (AsiaNews) - “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing"(Matthew 6, 2-3).

This verse, so pertinent during this Lenten period, comes to mind when I see how much space in terms of words and images that is given in our local newspapers and news programs to the so-called Chinese "aid" to Italy to counter the coronavirus epidemic.

In and of itself, this "aid" would actually seem to be the result of economic contracts even if some - including our own foreign ministry – has attempted to pass them off as a benevolent gesture. In addition, as Angela Merkel rightly said, "the European Union sent medical equipment to China when China asked for help ... Here we are in the presence of reciprocity".

It is a good thing when nations to come to each other’s aid in times of need. But I am struck by the "trumpets" sounded in the media and by the fact that the "left-hand" knows perfectly well what the "right-hand" is doing.

Of course China - as it is officially said, but it is not true - is "the most atheistic country in the world" and therefore its behaviour cannot be expected to follow the Gospel. Yet this is the very reason that leads us to question the huge advertising campaign. There was the greetings and presence of Li Junhua, the Chinese ambassador to the Quirinale; Xi Jinping's messages and phone calls, the slogans "Come on China and Italy!" on social media; Jack Ma's donations, ... Yesterday I even received a call from a young Chinese who studied in Italy. He told me that a group of former students had raised funds to send healthcare materials to various organizations, arousing my amazement not only at their generosity, but also at the wealth of Chinese students, who can send hundreds of thousands of masks together with respirators!

One thing is now clear: China - which rejects the labelling of the coronavirus that first broke out on its territory as the "Chinese virus" or "Wuhan virus" – now wants to show itself as the victor over Covid-19, by sharing "its experience”, "its healthcare instruments", its "doctors" to the world that is still drowning in the virus, while in China it has now been eradicated.

This claim to have brought the epidemic under control at home is highly dubious: There are reports of new cases of infections from some provinces in the north and east of China, these are not appearing in official statistics, which instead preach that beyond Wuhan there are no new infected.

What is most doubtful however, is the confidence in a leadership that despite knowing about the seriousness of this epidemic as early as November, remained silent until the end of January and suffocated and threatened anyone - doctors, nurses, journalists - who dared to warn against the imminent danger. This silence held for nearly two months, precisely during the lunar New Year period, when hundreds of millions of Chinese travel everywhere, caused the pandemic.

Pretending to be only "victim" of the virus, but not responsible for its spread, the Chinese leadership is now riding on the back of global need – which they generated - to affirm a New Silk Road in “Healthcare”, offering aid to Italy, Spain, Serbia, Iran, Philippines, Pakistan, South Korea, Japan, Iraq, ...

The point is that they not only propose themselves as a "model" for the fight against the coronavirus, but also as a "model of society". Until now there were economists and entrepreneurs who applauded Beijing because it was economically successful; now there are those who applaud it for defeating the virus. The conclusion is that "dictatorship is better than democracy."

I am concerned by this applause from Italian and European politicians, perhaps it is driven by their fragility and inconsistency, their need to find for the consensus and support of a new emperor, like the feudal lords of long ago.

Right now there is one real fear – almost as pervasive as the fear of the spread of the coronavirus: that this period of emergency, in which we are forced to remain isolated from each other, not to meet, not to cry or celebrate, not to talk face to face, will become a new style inspired by the "China model", where the state controls every aspect of citizens' lives.

The state has even arrived at decreeing the cancellation of masses with the people, precisely on the Chinese style, where the factories are reopened, but not the churches. And it is perhaps a shame that the Italian Church has been so prone to accept these too intrusive limits.

In the United States, for example, there are dioceses that have followed the "Chinese model", but many others that have multiplied the masses on Sunday, so as to allow the participation of the people in an adequate way, guaranteeing safety and sanitary distances.

But we know: in the United States the debate and the defence of religious freedom is vibrant and perennial; in China this principle exists only on paper. Our only hope is that Europe does not follow the "Chinese model" in this too.