Face Mask Diplomacy

Things are often not what they seem. That’s the case with Thailand. That’s the case with China as well. On the surface, a gift of 1 million surgical masks seems like simply a very kind gesture. A Singaporean academic (screenshot above) even referred to Jack Ma as a “private citizen”, again showing how cloistered and simplistic our population is.

On 2 March 2020, former Alibaba CEO Jack Ma announced on US media that he would donate 1 million surgical masks to Covid-19 stricken Japan. He included the message 青山一道,同担风雨 (same path, weather the storm together)。It’s a reply to the Japanese government whose earlier gift of 1 million face masks to China was accompanied by the message 山川异域, 风月同天 (different land, same world under the sky)。I’m not sure if there’s anything to read between the lines.

On the next day, 3 March 2020, Jack Ma’s donation arrived in Japan. The aid was not handed over to incumbent Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, but to Japanese politician and former minister Toshihiro Nikai (二阶俊博). Why Nikai? He is known to have close ties with Chinese leaders. How close? Well, he had tried to build a statue of Jiang Zemin in his district.

It was not lost on astute Japanese netizens that CCP member Jack Ma was not acting in his capacity as a private individual. What is the real deal behind this to and fro? Japanese social media was abuzz with discussions. The vast majority of Japanese people had mixed feelings about all this. The most common stand is that Japanese people should be thankful towards China and put aside differences and work together with China to combat this pandemic, but to trust the CCP? No way. A few netizens were not so positive. They feel that there would have been no shortage of masks in Japan if the Chinese residents had not already been sending loads of masks back to China.

Fortunately, Japan realised early in this epidemic that they could not be dependent on China for masks. That’s why many electronics manufacturers in Japan had refitted their factories into surgical mask production lines. It has been estimated that by mid March, Japan should be able to produce 15 million masks a week. The ultimate target is 100 million a week.

Looks like China is still not ready to bury the hatchet. Anti-Japanese propaganda films are likely to resume soon.