Experts say skepticism about Chinese vaccines in developing countries may thwart Beijing’s goal of increasing its influence by handing out doses.
China approved the first batch of COVID-19 vaccines produced in the country last December without releasing clinical trial data. As of February 2021, China had exported or was in the process of exporting Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines to 22 countries and will provide vaccine assistance to 53 developing countries, including Pakistan, according to Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin.
The coronavirus that causes the COVID-19 disease was first detected in humans in the Chinese city of Wuhan at the end of 2019. From there, it continues to ravage the globe. According to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, more than 123.2 million people worldwide are currently sick and more than 2.7 million people have died.
Although China largely contained the epidemic in its population with strict and widespread social controls and vaccinations, in January YouGov, a UK market research company, surveyed around 19,000 people in 17 countries and territories and reported found that vaccines made in China were viewed negatively, scoring above a single made in Iran.
China denies that it is using the coveted vaccine as a diplomatic tool, a vaccine that Chinese President Xi Jinping says will be used for the good of the planet. “China has promoted cooperation in combating the pandemic but has never pursued geopolitical goals, calculated economic benefits or attached political conditions,” the state-run Xinhua news agency wrote in a report. opinion signed.
Press reports indicate that none of the Chinese vaccines have been approved by the World Health Organization.
Vuk Vuksanovic, a researcher at the London School of Economics (LSE) and the Belgrade Center for Security Policy, said it was appropriate to use “vaccine diplomacy” to characterize China’s vaccine policy, which is a continuation of China’s “mask diplomacy” aimed at shaping China as a responsible actor capable of reducing global shortages of critical items during the pandemic.
Vuksanovic told VOA: The (vaccine) policy is to repair the reputation damage caused to China by the initial epidemic, increase Chinese political influence with individual countries, build global soft power capital from China and trying to gain a share of the global vaccine market in China. competition with Western and Russian vaccine manufacturers.
China has linked vaccine exports to global strategic goals. The “Silk Road of Health” has become an important part of the initiative, with Chinese health officials publicly calling for providing vaccines to Belt and Road countries in the first place, as a counterweight to the move. Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Road, the BRI is one of the most ambitious infrastructure projects the world has ever seen. Xi launched it in 2013 with a vision for Chinese investment and development projects that expand China’s global influence.
Daniel Aldrich, director of the Safety and Resilience Studies Program at Northeastern University in Boston, told VOA Mandarin that China has not offered vaccines to South Korea, Japan or others. neighboring countries; instead, he has focused on projecting his soft power abroad to developing countries where he hopes to create a favorable reputation and build a network of allies.
In the summer of 2020, China began offering immunization assistance to countries in the Middle East, Latin America and Africa, promoting local trade and investment opportunities.
Martha Delgado, Mexico’s deputy foreign minister, said on March 15 that Mexico will remember China’s aid.
China also sees international recognition of its vaccines as a way to raise the profile of its medical products. Before the coronavirus pandemic, Chinese pharmaceutical companies were rarely qualified to supply medical products to international agencies. In 2019, China accounted for only 1.9% of the total purchases of medical products by the United Nations, while competing India accounted for 21.9%.
Beijing also plans to ease entry restrictions for foreigners who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 with formulations made in China.
Nicholas Thomas, associate professor of health security at Hong Kong City University, told VOA: This incentive, which is clearly aimed at the business community, in particular, is one way China can help ensure that its vaccine remains the preferred choice – – and clearly shows how focused these efforts are on the diplomatic element as much as on the provision of a medical public good.
China’s advantage in the export of vaccines was initially due to a lack of competition from Western countries. But on March 12, Australia, India, Japan and the United States agreed at the Quadrilateral Safety Dialogue (QUAD) to provide 100 million doses of the vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson to the United States in most of Asia by the end of 2022 to counter China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific region.
Now, with the QUAD agreement, this domination is no longer guaranteed. It will be interesting to see regional populations choose between Chinese and J&J vaccines, Thomas said in an email. The choice will clearly indicate how much the people of the region, and not just their governments, trust the Chinese option.
Aldrich said QUAD members are all countries that see evidence of aggressive expansionism and revisionism from China. This QUAD effort, in an attempt to contain the influence of China’s soft power, will certainly produce more vaccines for the world.
Sinovac Biotech, Sinopharm, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines can be stored at 2-8 ° C (36 ° F to 46 ° F). This solves the problem of storage conditions in many developing countries, as other vaccines require ultra-low conditions -80 ° C to -15C (-112F to 5F) to remain effective.
Chinese vaccines require two injections, and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires only one vaccine, which means the latter can be used to immunize a target population faster.
A plan by the World Health Organization (WHO) further complicates China’s push. In cooperation with two other vaccine advocacy groups, WHO launched COVAX, which began delivering vaccines in Africa on March 1 with the goal of distributing at least 2 billion doses by the end of 2021 in poor and middle-income countries.
Adrianna Zhang contributed to this story.
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