China’s mask diplomacy a hit in virus-plagued Eastern Europe

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — While China seeks to polish its image tarnished by its initial handling of the coronavirus outbreak, Beijing has no problem maintaining its hard-won influence in the countries of Eastern Europe, where it battles for clout with the European Union and Russia. China was criticized by many in the West for initially trying to conceal the pandemic. Now it is trying to change perceptions through a combination of soft power policy, political messaging and aid that is designed to portray its leadership as a generous and efficient ally. That message has been well-received in countries like Serbia and Hungary, whose populist leaders nurture close ties with Beijing and Moscow.