On Friday Germany lashed at the United States for what one top lawmaker in Berlin called "an act of modern piracy" after US authorities "confiscated" a Chinese-manufactured shipment of 200,000 protective masks after they arrived at a port in Thailand while en route to Germany.
In an amazing irony, the masks had actually been purchased by the German government from an American company — though manufactured in China — and yet the US still intercepted them at a moment Trump has warned US companies with factories in China they'll “have a big price to pay” if they don't increase supply to the US.
By the end of the week in total three US allies accused Washington of theft over intercepts and seizures of supplies being shipped out of China, namely Canada, France and Germany.
Berlin Interior Minister Andreas Geisel stated bluntly of Washington's brazen move: "Even in times of global crisis, we should not be ruled by Wild West methods," according to Deutsche Welle. The German newspaper explained further:
The state of Berlin had ordered FFP2-class respirators for Berlin police officers, who continue to operate during the crisis.
The chairman of the SPD parliamentary group, Rolf Mützenich, said the confiscation was "illegal" and called for the incident to be clarified.
Interestingly, this whole episode underscores just how desperately strained the US health system is becoming under the COVID-19 panemic, considering the unprecedented lengths the US administration is willing to go, essentially resorting to "piracy" - as Germany put it.
We hit 3M hard today after seeing what they were doing with their Masks. “P Act” all the way. Big surprise to many in government as to what they were doing - will have a big price to pay!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 3, 2020
Canada on Thursday also lashed out after US authorities apparently muscled their way into redirecting a protective gear shipment intended for America's northern neighbor. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was "concerned" over reports that a crucial major shipment was depleted after "a higher bidder" took advantage of the situation. "We understand that the needs in the US are very extensive, but it's the same in Canada, so we have to work together," Trudeau said.
The same allegation was made by French officials. "The leader of the Ile-de-France region, which includes Paris, accused unidentified Americans of swooping in with cash at the last minute to secure shipments already promised to French buyers," AFP reported.
Valerie Pecresse, government minister over France's most populous region, said that Washington is "just looking to do business on the back of the whole world's distress," in a television interview. Other French ministers reported similar experiences when trying to procure emergency protective gear.
International reports described one egregious last minute 'intervention' as follows:
As a planeload of masks was loaded up and prepared for departure from Shanghai to France this week, American buyers turned up on the tarmac at the last minute to purchase the shipment for three times its value. “A French order was bought out with cash by Americans on the tarmac, and the plane that was to fly to France took off for the US instead,” Rénaud Muselier, the head of the southeastern Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region told RT France on Wednesday.
The US side, meanwhile, has vehemently denied the allegations. "The United States government has not purchased any masks intended for delivery from China to France," a senior Trump administration official told AFP. "Reports to the contrary are completely false."
However, it's highly unusual if not unheard of that three close US allies at the same time would come forward to accuse the US of 'theft' and even "piracy" — and further of bullying tactics at a moment global crisis. It will be interesting to see if the reports continue and grow into next week as Trump ramps up his rhetoric both against China and domestic companies over-reliant on their foreign-based factories.
Regardless, the damage is done, and US officials should be wary that inevitably in international relations what goes around comes around — meaning the Europeans are no doubt already planning their revenge, and could 'return the favor' sometime in the near or distant future, at some crucial moment Washington will be desperate to swing things its way.