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Is China winning the game of vaccine diplomacy? Quartz

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Paraguay is in deep trouble.

The country of 7 million, which livesits biggest wave of coronavirus to date, lack of vaccines. He could get them from China, except it would hurt Latin American countries’ relations with the United States and Taiwan.

Paraguay is one of the few countries that has official relations with Taiwan instead of China, which will not deal with any government that recognizes the island nation it has claims over. The United States urges Paraguay not to step up to the Chinese column, but Paraguayan Foreign Minister Euclides Roberto Acevedo wants more than words of support. We ask these strategic allies for proof of their love. Before holding hands, we must at least take us to the cinema, he said on tv. President Xi Jinping is very interested in a rapprochement with us.

If the United States is not rushing to help, what should Paraguay do? Retain your old loyalty and lose lives, or go to the movies, the immunization clinic with a new friend? These are the questions shaping international relations at the time of Covid-19, as countries grapple with the hottest new diplomatic tool: Covid-19 vaccines.

Vaccines are arguably the most valuable export commodity today, and the fact that producing countries send them often has more to do with geopolitics than with medical needs. This could result in a global vaccine distribution reflecting existing or emerging allegiances and delay the end of the pandemic.

What is vaccine diplomacy?

The idea of ​​vaccine diplomacy is quite simple: countries that produce vaccines can set up bilateral supply agreements with countries that need vaccines, which become a tool of soft power or pure diplomatic allegiance and simple. Although this has not happened with vaccines on this scale before, the strategy is similar to the energy supply agreements which were sought internationally, including by the United States, to deal with the energy crises in the early 2000s.

Many countries are also engaged in what is called health diplomacy. Cuba, for example, has been providing medical aid to countries in need since the Cuban intervention in Angola. in the mid 1970s. More recently, the country offered medical and health support to Venezuela and sent trained personnel to deal with Ebola outbreaks. In this pandemic, Cuban doctors were deployed to Italy to help overwhelmed local health workers.

In many ways, vaccine diplomacy mimics other diplomatic channels. There is a multilateral agreement, Covax, negotiated by the World Health Organization and other international organizations, to provide doses of the vaccine to low- and middle-income countries. Then there are bilateral agreements between different countries. Some are well established. For example, China has partnered with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to produce up to 200 million doses of its state-backed Sinopharm vaccine for distribution to its people and across the region. strategic positioning, and the UAE with a rapid deployment of vaccinationhalf of the UAE’s population has already been vaccinated, mainly with Chinese vaccines.

Other vaccine transactions are less straightforward. For example, Israel agreed to finance an undisclosed number of vaccines for Syria in exchange for a prisoner, according to reports.

Soft power china blow

Vaccine diplomacy is a delicate subject. While countries like pharmaceutical companies would no doubt like to reap the benefits of soft power by helping other nations end the pandemic, admitting it defeats the purpose.

This explains why, for example, India does not talk about vaccine diplomacy, but Maitri vaccine (Vaccine Friendship) to describe its program to donate 22 million doses of Covishield, the Indian version of the AstraZeneca vaccine, to developing countries. China has gone one step further rejecting the sinister notion that it would harness vaccine distribution to strengthen its global influence. In advancing anti-epidemic cooperation, China has never pursued geopolitical goals, has no economic calculations, and has never attached political conditions, the statement read. public press agencyreport from s.

China may not be openly participating in the vaccine diplomacy race, but it is winning it nonetheless. The country that has so far made about 170 million doses, the most in the world donates vaccines to 53 countries, and exported them to 27. Russia follows, with bilateral agreements to donate and export its Sputnik vaccine to 37 countries. India is also a major player in the diplomacy of the Covid-19 vaccine, although with one difference: of the 76 countries that the vaccine made in India has reached, the vast majority are part of the Covax program, so they receive the vaccine. thanks to international cooperation. Only a handful of countries in the region (Nepal, Afghanistan) receive vaccines directly donated by India.

The wealthy Western countries are clearly behind the times, as they remain focused primarily on ensuring immunity for their own populations. European countries are the main donors of Covax, but so far have not stood out in bilateral donations, quite the contrary. As EU countries struggle to purchase and deploy vaccines at home, they have resorted to canceling exports. Italy, for example, blocked shipments doses of AstraZeneca to Australia.

The other attempts to catch up are perhaps the main indication of China’s leadership in vaccine diplomacy. Last month, the United States, Japan, India and Australia agreed to fund vaccine production and delivery in Asia where the Chinese vaccine is already delivered in 10 countriesdespite the fact that other parts of the world may need it more.

Is vaccine diplomacy about politics or economics?

There has always been a political component in the race for the Covid-19 vaccine. Getting it right and getting it right has always been a point of national pride and power projection, think how the world might look at the EU now, which is lagging behind the UK, the US and many other countries less wealthy in terms of vaccine penetration.

Russia was the first to explicitly label the issue of purebred vaccine production, and it is no coincidence that it named its vaccine after the satellite that beat the United States in the race for space. When Sputnik was deployed to Moscow, officials focused on how the country beat others to develop the vaccine, says Domenico Valenza, a researcher in cultural diplomacy at the United Nations University and Ghent University. in Belgium.

The way other countries, especially in Europe, have responded to Sputnik underscores the political framework. While some countries and organizations, such as the European Medical Agency, were open to its use, others categorically rejected the possibility of establishing a relationship with Russia.

After all, the challenge is not just between different countries, but different political models, says Valenza. Russia, China and even Cuba (which is make your own house vaccine) all have a government model where the state is directly involved in the manufacture and distribution of vaccines, unlike Western countries where vaccines are produced by private companies.

But in some cases, the primary driver of the vaccine trade may be economic rather than political. China, for example, supplies vaccines to many countries involved in its Belt Road initiative, essentially protecting its investments. Meanwhile, the United States is launching gunfire in neighboring Mexico and Canada, a move that could speed up travel and facilitate trade between the three countries, but not in Brazil, where the the epidemic is out of control.

The potential downside of immunizing the world

Once the vaccine is deployed around the world, hundreds of millions of people will have to thank China for their shot, just as hundreds of millions of people have to thank China for the donation of personal protective equipment (PPE) that the nation has to offer. Asian sent to worldwide including $ 12 millionin the United States at the height of the pandemic. But will they?

There is this argument that masked diplomacy, and now vaccine diplomacy, is about China trying to rehabilitate its image on the world state given that it has been labeled as the source of Covid-19, says Tanisha Fazal , professor of political science at the University. of Minnesota.

It’s hard to say if the approach works or has any positive long-term effects, especially if we look at what happened with it. Chinese PPE. Some countries were very grateful to receive PPE from China, but other countries were protesting the quality of the PPE, Fazal says.

Since the Chinese vaccine has not been peer reviewed and there is no publicly available data on its effectiveness, it is possible that countries benefiting from government diplomacy efforts. vaccines in China feel aggrieved compared to those receiving vaccines developed elsewhere. In fact, the UAE recently introduced a third dose for certain categories because two provide sufficient coverage.

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