China has defended itself against claims that personal protective equipment and medical masks imported or donated into Kenya were below standard or defective. This is after Kenya’s health minister, Mutahi Kagwe, raised concerns over the quality of personal protective gear and masks after they were subjected to quality checks. The Chinese embassy in Nairobi said the products underwent strict quality checks before they were exported to African countries. “All supplies donated by the Chinese government to Kenya have gone through strict quality testing and get a valid certification,” embassy spokeswoman Huang Xueqing said a day after Kenya said it had banned the importation of coronavirus protective gear from China after failing the quality test. Health minister Kagwe on Sunday said during a tour to Kisumu, a city in Western Kenya, he had taken some Chinese PPE to the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) for testing but they failed the quality test. “I did take myself to Kebs, I took some Chinese PPEs and they failed the test,” he said. “So forthwith, we have not imported any Chinese products because Kenyan products are good enough, if not better than those from elsewhere.” 10,000 health workers in Africa infected with Covid-19 amid lack of PPE He said the ministry now required that medical PPE and masks be approved by doctors, even after approval from the standards agency. “We cannot experiment with our medical workers,” Kagwe said. Kenya has reported 26,928 coronavirus cases and 423 deaths as of Monday. This is not the first time Chinese PPE or masks have been criticised. Several European countries, including Spain , the Netherlands , Britain, Finland, the Czech Republic and Turkey raised concerns over the quality of masks, testing kits and PPE in the early months of the coronavirus crisis. The Chinese embassy in Nairobi said China’s Ministry of Commerce, together with the General Administration of Customs, the National Medical Products Administration and the State Administration of Market Regulation, “have taken strict measures to ensure orderly export of medical materials and strengthen quality control”. Beijing and Chinese companies have sent millions of donated test kits, personal protective equipment and medical supplies to African countries, including Kenya. China has also sent medical experts to dozens of African countries to help them battle the coronavirus pandemic. With traditional donors such as the United States and Europe struggling to contain the virus at home, China is filling the void in Africa, emerging as a key humanitarian aid provider on the continent. Analysts said the latest claims from Kenya’s Ministry of Health might be a major setback for China’s mask diplomacy in Africa. David Shinn, a professor at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, said he did not believe Kenya’s move to ban the importation of Chinese PPE and masks would have a significant impact on Kenya-China relations, “but it underscores a common theme heard throughout Africa”. He said although Chinese products were inexpensive, many of them might be of shoddy quality. “This is not the kind of reputation you want to develop. If other African countries conclude the masks are inferior, it could well end mask diplomacy in Africa,” Shinn said. First Covid-19 vaccines due early 2021, but can they deliver as promised? This could also provide room for critics to hit out at Beijing. Some critics, including US President Donald Trump’s administration and some European Union countries, have accused Beijing of trying to shift the global focus away from its missteps in handling the initial outbreak. The critics claimed Beijing was using the coronavirus mask diplomacy to further its influence around the world, especially in Africa. For instance, EU chief diplomat Josep Borrell warned in March there was “a geopolitical component, including a struggle for influence through spinning and the politics of generosity”. And on July 30, at the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing, US assistant secretary of state Tibor Nagy criticised Beijing’s donations in Africa, saying, “China wants to come in with some PPE equipment, much of which does not work and all of a sudden become the saviour”.