China is exploiting the pandemic situation to accelerate its efforts of expansionism by launching a series of projects. One of the most debated and ambitious projects in the line is China’s Health Silk Road, wherein, the Communist nation is making the use of technology to lay the basis of its global expansion.

Riding on the wagon of 5G technology, China now plans to create a ‘Health Silk Road’, on lines of the BRI, taking the Chinese technology worldwide to control the health sector in the host nations. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has provided a massive opportunity for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to exploit the emerging tech to further its reach and strengthen its control. 

The CCP now plans to control the healthcare sector in the BRI region through its comprehensive plan of using Chinese medical technologies, AI, medical equipment, health stacks, data centers, etc. 

A closer look at the proceedings of the ‘Two Sessions’ i.e., the third session of the 13th National People's Congress and third session of the 13th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference in May 2020 - a time when the onslaught began to reach the peak, gives an idea how the CCP planned to capitalise on technology and launch its plans of expansion through health technology. 

The proceedings of the session said, “major moves will focus on developing next-generation information networks, expanding 5G applications, building more charging facilities, and promoting wider use of new energy vehicles.” Further, during the said National People’s Congress, Premier Li Keqiang stressed the need to accelerate “developing next-generation information networks and expand 5G applications.” The CCP then came up with a USD 1.4 trillion expenditure plan with 5G as the foundation. 

Pushing the narrative worldwide to launch its ambitious plans in the healthcare sector, CCP propaganda machinery flooded the communication and media networks of the world with content highlighting China’s efficient dealing of the pandemic through its healthcare technology.

People’s Daily live-streamed construction of the Huoshenshan hospitals in Wuhan and tried to show the world the orchestrated attempts of setting-up 5G base stations, functioning of 5G enabled medical consultation platforms, sanitization through 5G controlled drones, and what not? The CCP government, since then, is magnifying its narrative across the globe ina targeted and comprehensive manner through its propaganda channels and foreign missions.

Companies with links to the CCP and the PLA came up with their PR campaigns including Alibaba and Huawei, displaying their ‘generous’ efforts to donate healthcare products to nations across the world. China, through its diplomats also resorted to ‘healthcare’ diplomacy by donating healthcare supplies during the initial days of the pandemic spread. 

Further, fishy Chinese surveillance companies like Dahua and Hikvision facing the allegations of surveillance and data thefts, used the opportunity to spread worldwide through their healthcare products.

In fact, China devised the strategy of the Health Silk Road in 2017 by entering into an MoU agreement with the World Health Organization (WHO) during the Belt and Road Forum for Health Cooperation in Beijing. China argued that the major objective of the initiative was to set up an infrastructure to check disease outbreaks, prevent epidemics, and achieve a universal health infra through research in healthcare. 

During the event, the controversial DG of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus applauded China for the initiative and talked like a cadre of the CCP. However, the project could not move further. China sensed an opportunity in the pandemic and once again threw itself to further its new project of expansion through healthcare.

Earlier, China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission came up with an ambitious plan to establish ‘health cooperation networks’ as a part of the Belt and Road Initiative to further Chinese ambitions to control healthcare management across the BRI countries. The MoU with WHO was the first step towards this.

Going all-out, China has targeted countries from the developing nations of Africa to developed ones like Italy. Recently, China was able to convince Italy - a country that faces the heat of Chinese influence operations, to a greater extent to induce Chinese technologies. Besides, it is using the WHO to the fullest to expand its Health Silk Road project.

When the Trump administration decided to freeze funds for the WHO in April 2020, China quickly donated USD 2 billion to help the organisation and further strengthen its control.

The democratic and liberal countries across the world should come together to check the Chinese expansion to control the health sector of the world by leveraging the pandemic. The primary need is to tackle the Chinese disinformation campaign to ensure deniability and dodge allegations of spreading the covid pandemic worldwide. 

These countries should keep pressurising China over the pandemic and keep seeking an international investigation into this, including the allegations of artificially developing the virus in a lab.

China has been the most notorious country indulged in stealing sensitive data of citizens of foreign countries, attacking their privacy - the intrinsic parts of their right to lie! The countries that imported Chinese health equipment, especially those produced by surveillance companies should make a joint inquiry over possible theft of the health data, including the
hypersensitive data. 

They should also make an inquiry over the health products donated by China or Chinese companies as ‘goodwill’ or ‘diplomatic’ gestures. 5G technologies of Huawei and ZTE are facing worldwide backlash and countries like the UK, Germany, US, Australia, and several others have either shown them the door or are planning to fully eliminate them. This global movement needs to be intensified and it needs to be ensured that these companies are limited to a handful of nations, if not entirely eliminated from across the world.

Most importantly, all these countries shall ban the entry of China or Chinese technologies in their countries henceforth, blocking all the entry points of Chinese expansionist ambitions through healthcare. Finally, democratic powers need to come together and collaborate to develop a strong chain of healthcare supplies and medical equipment.

They should also think about launching research projects on emerging technologies in healthcare. A health consortium of hospitals, institutions, universities, and research centers on utilising AI and health stack to fight pandemics could be thought of. This shall not only reduce dependence over China, but shall also help the world to complement each other to
strengthen the healthcare of respective countries.

China plans to use the pandemic to its leverage to dominate the post-pandemic world. Controlling the healthcare sector and sensitive data of individuals across the world can further help it to intensify its influence operations and surveil citizens worldwide from Beijing. 

The issue is not only to prevent the BRI and Health Silk Road, rather, but the world also needs to protect the privacy and human rights of their citizens by barring China’s entry into the healthcare sector. Collaboration between the liberal democracies is the key. It shall not only help to limit China but to prepare the world to fight more efficiently with possible global health crises.

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