As Serbia's European Union neighbors closed their borders and halted many medical exports, President Aleksandar Vucic made an appeal. "Serbia now turns its eyes to China," he said. "All my personal hopes are focused and directed toward China and its president."

As the world heads into uncharted territory amid the coronavirus outbreak, it is undergoing stark and dramatic geopolitical shifts. Assumptions over globalization and free movement have been torn up overnight. In their haste to address the outbreak, the vast majority of nations have been focused heavily within their borders. Structures such as the European Union and United Nations that had been expected to be at the center of response to crises have been largely ignored.

Having managed to get much of its domestic outbreak under control, Beijing is now unambiguously positioning itself to build new friends and influence. That's included the shipment of medical supplies and small numbers of experts to affected European states, including Italy, France and Spain.