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As the world battles the covid-19 pandemic, China is using its position as the world’s largest producer of face masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) to change its domestic covid-19 narrative and present CCP leadership as stewards of a caring, benevolent superpower. Chinese state media has fed domestic audiences a steady stream of stories highlighting China’s generosity in contrast to the hapless virus response of other nations–especially western democracies.

But this is not the whole story. In January and February, before the world knew the true threat of the crisis exploding in Wuhan, Chinese companies and patriotic members of the diaspora community went on on a worldwide PPE shopping spree. Through purchases, aid and other donations, over 2.46 billion pieces of PPE worth $1.2 billion were sent to China. Did this aid contribute to later shortages of PPE stocks in countries like Italy, Spain and the United States?