U.S. Buys Masks From China While Criticizing It For COVID-19

Apr 1, 2020
Originally published on April 1, 2020 11:08 am
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The United States is now receiving fresh shipments of medical supplies, supplies brought from China, even as the United States criticizes China's performance. NPR's Jackie Northam reports.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: On Sunday, a commercial airliner from Shanghai touched down at New York's Kennedy Airport. It was the first of about two dozen such flights expected over the next month. President Trump sounded pleased about the 80 tons of medical supplies onboard.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: One-point-eight million face masks and gowns, 10.3 million gloves and many other things - millions and millions of different items.

NORTHAM: And all of them made in China. Trump didn't display even a hint of the rancor that has bubbled up between Beijing and Washington since the outbreak of the coronavirus. Beijing has accused the U.S. of bringing it to China, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has repeatedly denounced China for its handling of what he called the Wuhan virus. Now the U.S. urgently needs medical supplies.

CHAD BOWN: It's a bit ironic how desperate we are for this equipment right now.

NORTHAM: Chad Bown is an international trade specialist at the Peterson Institute in Washington. He says the coronavirus is now waning in China, and...

BOWN: They may have a lot of those supplies left over to export to the rest of the world, including to the United States, to countries that really, really need it.

NORTHAM: Even in a normal year, the U.S. is almost entirely dependent on China for its medical supplies, according to Gustav Ando. He tracks international health care systems for IHS Markit.

GUSTAV ANDO: What's very clear is that China is the largest exporter of medical supplies in the world. So there is an absolute need for their products when you're faced with a situation like this.

NORTHAM: Mike Green with the Center for Strategic and International Studies says the issues between China and the U.S. are complicated and long-standing. But...

MICHAEL GREEN: China shipping medical equipment to the United States is a reminder that we still live in a globalized world and that unilateralism is not going to be a solution to a crisis as large as the COVID-19 pandemic.

NORTHAM: And Trump has taken to making more pleasant remarks about President Xi Jinping, and instead of Wuhan virus, Pompeo now refers to it as COVID-19.

Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.