The U.S. Needs China’s Masks, as Acrimony Grows

  • Connexions
  • Fri, 22 Jan 2021 10:11:14 GMT
  • 1015

the coronavirus outbreak. China, already the world’s largest producer of such gear by far, has ramped up factory output and is now signaling that it wants to help.

Reaching deals won’t be easy. Increasingly acrimonious relations between Washington and Beijing are complicating efforts to get Chinese-made masks to American clinics and hospitals. A breakdown over the last few days in the global business of moving goods by air around the world will make it costly and difficult as well.

At heart, the two countries, which only recently reached a truce in President Trump’s trade war, have some similar problems. Both face harsh questions over their missteps in responding to the outbreak. Washington and Beijing make handy foils for each other — and essential protective gear could get caught in the middle unless they reach an understanding.

The Trump administration is signaling it isn’t too proud to buy Chinese masks, gowns, goggles and other equipment. At the same time, said Peter Navarro, a senior Trump administration trade official, it will object to any Chinese effort to turn deliveries into fodder for propaganda that would bolster China’s image at home and abroad.

If China or any other country has some masks, gloves or other products we need for the American people, we welcome that with open arms,” he said. “What we don’t need is some kind of propaganda exercise during a crisis that the actions of the Chinese Communist Party have made far more serious than it otherwise would have been.”

American officials have estimated that the country would need 3.5 billion masks to cope with a yearlong pandemic. Local health officials in the United States say nurses, doctors and other responders face hazards to their own health as infections mount.

China has what they need. Beijing undertook an enormous national mobilization to respond to its outbreak and now produces 116 million masks a day, or about 12 times what it made before. Most are disposable surgical masks, not the N95 respirators that health care professionals need. But a second wave of production of N95 respirators is starting to come onto the market, respirator and mask traders said.

“Factories are producing around the clock,” said Ida Zhang, the marketing director at Dongguan Witop International Trade, a respirators and masks trading firm in Dongguan, China.

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