Jack Ma

China’s richest man is donating one million face masks and 500,000 coronavirus test kits to the United States to help the world’s largest economy fight the outbreak, which has killed at least 5,000 people worldwide.

The tycoon’s aid comes as Beijing and Washington spar over the origin of the deadly disease, known as COVID-19.

Jack Ma, worth £31.6billion, announced the decision on Friday through his account on Twitter-like Weibo.

Ma, the founder of e-commerce conglomerate Alibaba, said he managed to gather the supplies today and would immediately send them out ‘as donations to the American people’.

He continued: ‘Based on the counter-epidemic experience we have gained in the past months, quick and accurate test solution and protective equipment for medical workers are the key goods to stop the epidemic from escalating.

‘Hopefully, these supplies can help some people in the United States.

‘This is a big epidemic challenge faced by mankind in an era of globalisation. To this day, it is no longer a challenge any country can overcome by itself, but one that all of us need to face together hand-in-hand.

‘Right now, only when we share resources without judgement and exchange counter-epidemic experience and lessons can we have the chance to defeat this disaster.’

The self-made billionaire, who used to be an English teacher, concluded his post by writing in English: ‘United we stand, divided we fall!’

The 55-year-old magnate has already donated millions of masks and test kits to Japan, South Korea, Iran and Europe to support their containment of the fast-spreading contagion.

Earlier this week, Ma announced he was donating 1.8million face masks and 100,000 coronavirus test kits to Europe.

The supplies were set to be shared between the European nations that have been hit by the disease the hardest, including Italy and Spain, he said.

Last week, Ma mailed 1million masks to Japan and South Korea respectively, according to Jack Ma Charity Foundation. The two neighbouring countries of China are also being ravaged by the contagion.

In January, he donated 100million yuan (£11million, $14.4million) to help scientists develop vaccines for the coronavirus.

In signs of a new diplomatic spat, China and the United States have been blaming each other as the alleged origin of the killer infection.

A Beijing spokesperson yesterday claimed that the coronavirus might have been brought to Wuhan by the US military while US politicians called it the ‘Wuhan virus’ or ‘Chinese coronavirus’.

The spat comes as China tries to deflect blame for the contagion and reframe itself as a country that took decisive steps to buy the world time by placing huge swathes of its population under quarantine.

With cases falling in China and soaring abroad, Beijing is now rejecting the widely held assessment that the city of Wuhan is the birthplace of the outbreak.

Foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian went a step further on Thursday, saying on Twitter that ‘it might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan’ – without providing any evidence.

He doubled down on his claim on Friday by posting a link to an article from a website known for publishing conspiracy theories about the 9/11 attacks.

Censors usually vigilant against rumours have also allowed Chinese social media users to spread similar claims about the US being behind the virus.

A video showing a US health official saying some flu victims were posthumously diagnosed as having had COVID-19 was among the top searched items on China’s Twitter-like Weibo this week, with some users saying it was evidence the virus originated in the US.

Zhao posted the clip on Twitter.

Dali Yang, a political science professor at the University of Chicago, said he believed Zhao was ‘tweeting in his official capacity’.

China’s intention in promoting the conspiracy theory is ‘to divert from domestic discontent’ over the handling of the outbreak, which has killed more than 3,170 people in the country.

Asked if Zhao was representing the government’s view, fellow foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters on Friday that ‘the international community, including (people) in the United States, have different views on the source of the virus’.

‘China from the beginning thinks this is a scientific issue, and that we need to listen to scientific and professional advice,’ Geng said.

The WHO warns against naming infectious diseases in a way that encourages discrimination against ethnic groups.

Robert O’Brien, the US national security adviser, on Wednesday insisted that the virus originated in Wuhan.

Blaming the pandemic on a lack of cooperation from Chinese officials and a cover-up when the outbreak first emerged, O’Brien said this had ‘cost the world community two months to respond’ to the threat.

Beijing called his remarks ‘extremely immoral and also irresponsible’.

Jiang said that ‘by sowing doubts into people’s mind about where the virus originated, they’re trying to deflect part of the blame for the outbreak’.

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