Denver, Colorado: Chinese COVID-19 vaccines have been shipped to more than 80 countries for market or emergency use.
Among them, 53 countries received vaccines for free (including developing countries in Africa and some strategically important Asian countries such as the Philippines and Pakistan) and 27 middle-income countries paid the dose.
By running out of vaccines in developing countries, Beijing has framed itself as an epidemic solution rather than a core of coronavirus.
READ: Commentary: How COVID-19 vaccines are being affected as countries joke for effect
China’s advanced vaccine diplomacy contradicts “my first policies” of the United States and the European Union. With supply shortages, US and EU leaders have faced high infection rates and mortality at home and feel the need to vaccinate their domestic populations first.
It has left the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people without vaccine supply and risk. China has not faced these problems and can bear the cost of sending vaccines abroad.
By showing and helping plug gaps in the global supply of vaccines, China has gained ground in vaccine diplomacy.
READ: Commentary: Why travel restrictions in Singapore will keep changing for some time
Chinese dominated beliefs
President Xi Jinping took a pledge that the Chinese vaccines would be provided as a benefit to the global public. But a large proportion of Chinese vaccines are not free – some countries have paid Chinese vaccine manufacturers.
The absence of the United States and the European Union from vaccine diplomacy is still not on countries that are struggling to put shots in people’s arms. Many countries would prefer Pfizer and Modern vaccines prepared by the US or EU over Chinese vaccines if preferred, yet they could still have access to them.
These countries are desperate and have jumped at the chance to get Chinese vaccines.
Chinese companies are more willing than their Western counterparts to strike licensing deals to produce vaccines in foreign countries. For example, Indonesia has become a regional hub for Coronavac of Synovac through its state pharmaceuticals company Bio Pharma.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) chose Sinopharm as it prepared to conduct phase three clinical trials in the United Arab Emirates and build native vaccine production capabilities. Sinopharm also arranged for the manufacture of its vaccines in the United Arab Emirates for regional distribution.
Beijing’s vaccine diplomacy involves promoting perceptions of China as a liberal and responsible power. Chinese media has covered every delivery of vaccine shipment.
The view is set by a standard script. When a cargo plane lands, it is welcomed by senior local leaders with Chinese ambassadors on the vaccine cargo.
READ: Commentary: The Chinese vaccine diplomacy is the seed of goodwill in Southeast Asia but has limited strategic benefits
Vaccine diplomacy has helped increase China’s influence and enable it to capitalize on new opportunities. China has vaccinated the participants of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and preferred jobs, along with investments in infrastructure and connectivity projects.
According to an April Think Global Health report, all 56 of the countries in which China pledged dosages were participants in the BRI.
Naming it the Health Silk Road, the vaccine diplomacy has provided a foothold for China’s pharmaceutical industry that has been plagued with scandals and low levels of trust at home and abroad. China may change these perceptions by making Synovac and Sinoparm household names abroad.
READ: Vaccine: Who will get COVID-19 vaccine Chinese companies are developing?
About SKEPTICISM CHINESE VACCINES
Although Chinese vaccine manufacturers were the earliest in the world to begin clinical trials and self-reported some key results, many have not published complete data in peer-reviewed journals.
This has led to doubts over their safety and effectiveness. Gao Fu, director of China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, noted in April that Chinese vaccines were not as effective as one of the strategies considered to combine them and increase their effectiveness.
Some countries have been reluctant to beat Chinese vaccines. Singapore received its first consignment of Synovac vaccines in February, but Singapore regulators have not approved its use, advancing the use of Pfizer and Modern vaccines.
Polish President Andrzej Duda spoke with President Xi about buying Chinese jabs in March. Yet Poland’s health authorities have recommended against the use of Chinese vaccines due to lack of data.
There have also been concerns about whether China’s production capacity is able to keep pace with the growing list of foreign customers and its domestic vaccination campaign.
READ: Commentary: China’s COVID-19 vaccines have gone from lab to public at breakthrough speed. Are they safe and effective?
The Turkish government ordered 20 million doses of China’s Synovac vaccine. But delayed shipments forced the government to revise its vaccination schedule repeatedly.
Egypt purchased a total of 40 million doses of the vaccine from Cyanopharma in January, but by mid-April had received only a small percentage of its vaccine orders from China. This tension will increase further as China’s domestic demand for vaccines increases.
China has continued vaccine diplomacy in the absence of the United States and other Western countries. These countries must compete and cooperate with China to address the bottlenecks in the global distribution of vaccines and ensure that all nations, especially developing countries, receive the vaccines they ultimately COVID-19 Need to be defeated.
Suisheng Zhao is the director and director of the Center for Sino-US Cooperation at the Joseph Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver. This commentary first appeared on the East Asia Forum.