Thursday, December 10, 2020

China prioritize vaccines for developing countries

As the vaccine race heats up, China has promised countries in Southeast Asia and Africa that they will be first in line when Beijing’s home-grown vaccines are ready to be distributed — a move that’s raised questions about China’s intent.

From Malaysia and the Philippines to a number of African countries, China has granted some developing nations priority access to the coronavirus vaccines it’s currently developing. Chinese companies have also signed agreements with some of these developing nations to test and manufacture the vaccines.

Experts say the moves could put pressure on some of these countries to support Beijing’s commercial and political interests.

“I don’t think it’s completely altruistic, I do think they are seeking some benefits from this,” said Imogen Page-Jarrett of The Economist Intelligence Unit. “China wants to expand its commercial and also strategic interests in these countries.”

The research analyst said vaccines may be “a means to expand China’s influence and soft power” as well as ease frictions with countries that may blame China for the pandemic.

Jacob Mardell of the Mercator Institute for China Studies pointed out that Chinese leaders have said vaccines are a “global public good” — but they’ve also spoken about it in relation to “Chinese friendship and global leadership.”

The two are connected, he said. “I think it’s inevitable that the vaccine will be leveraged in that way.”

For its part, China has said it “will not turn COVID-19 vaccines into any kind of geopolitical weapon or diplomatic tool, and it opposes any politicization of vaccine development,” according to an editorial by state news agency Xinhua.

Chong Ja Ian, an associate professor of political science at the National University of Singapore, said China could demand cooperation on a “whole range” of issues. They include practical discussions such as the code of conduct in the contested South China Sea, as well as gaining more acceptance of Chinese technology products, he said.

“These are all possibilities,” he added. “There’s so much overlap of Chinese interests with the concerns of other countries and so many areas where China might want to get ahead, especially with the U.S.”

But Chong said he “wouldn’t be too harsh about it” if China asks other countries for favors in return for vaccines, because altruism is “not something that we should expect.”

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