The Chinese Communist Party is making a great show of its humanitarian help to countries suffering from the new coronavirus. "China selflessly extends helping hand to countries around the world in global battle against COVID-19," said a March 25 headline in the English language version of the party's official mouthpiece, People's Daily.
So it's probably pretty important to note something else that the Chinese Communist Party is supplying to the rest of the world at this moment – wild animals. That's right, the same sort of wild animals that are the suspected source of COVID-19 in the first place. The same wild animals whose sale Beijing has banned at home.
The sale of wild animals such as bats, civets, snakes, monkeys, ostriches and pangolins, and rhino horns was prohibited in China itself on February 24 as a "potential risk to public health" in the words of China's state media.
But Beijing is allowing its wildlife traders to sell these and other wild creatures to the world. And not only allowing it but promoting it using tax incentives.
This is so mindbogglingly reckless that it seems like a prank. But no. The Wall Street Journal broke the news on Sunday that China's "officials are offering tax incentives to the multibillion-dollar animal-products industry to ship some of the creatures overseas, according to Chinese government documents".
The newspaper's original source is an April 6 report by the US Congressional Research Service, a nonpartisan information resource for US federal legislators. The document, "COVID-19: China Medical Supply Chains and Broader Trade Issues", reveals that China's Finance Ministry and its national tax authority had announced on March 17 an increase in the tax rebate on exports of some 1500 products. Including wild animals. Exporters are to receive a rebate of 9 per cent of the value-added tax paid, from March 20. The Congressional Research Service adds, in something of an understatement, that this "could spread the risk to global markets” of more zoonotic viruses, ones that spread from animals to humans.
The same report notes that China's exports of medical equipment do not receive any such export incentive. Why would Beijing encourage the export of such high-risk products, even as the world suffers the dreadful effects of exactly such deadly recklessness? One explanation is that it would give China's wildlife traders an incentive to send their products abroad rather than trying to sell illegally at home. Another is that it is an economic aid to suffering sector.
The Wall Street Journal also points out that Beijing's officialdom simply doesn't have the West's revulsion of wild animal products – China's national health commission last month recommended that people critically ill with COVID-19 take a traditional Chinese remedy containing bear bile and goat horn, among other things.
The biggest overseas customers for China's wildlife products are Vietnam, South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong and Indonesia. But the victims of the trade are, as we see in the hospitals and morgues of the world today, everywhere.
So this is a measure of the Chinese Communist Party's real concern for the health of the people of the world. It sends help to some of the victims of its current made-in-China pandemic while it subsidises the sale of the very creatures that, on all experience, are the most likely sources of the next global pandemic.
This is reckless, stupid or malign behaviour from Beijing. Or all three.
Countries in desperate need will accept the Chinese Communist Party's help to save citizens' lives in this pandemic, of course. But don't mistake it for actual concern.