“There is some self-interest behind every friendship. There is no friendship without self-interests. This is a bitter truth.”

– Chanakya

The world is heading down the road to getting rid of the virus that hailed storms of misery over the world, albeit slowly paced. The road to riddance is rough, and some nations are slower than others. Vaccines are the only way to achieve the old normal again. Many countries have pledged allegiance to the World Health Organization, under its global vaccine dispersion initiative COVAX, to provide vaccines to the under-developed and developing nations.

CHINA EMERGING AS A KEY ACTIVE PLAYER

China is also an active participant in the COVAX program. The WHO, a month ago, approved China’s SINOPHARM vaccine for emergency use. The approval coming when China is under critical scrutiny by the western countries for allegedly creating the virus in a lab in Wuhan acted as a badge of trust and honour. It made a dent in the doubts regarding the efficacy and safety of the vaccines manufactured by China. However, China is spreading its vaccines’ footprint beyond the boundaries of COVAX.

China has been sending millions of doses to numerous developing nations. By playing the trump card of the ‘vaccine diplomacy” game, China is looking to fulfil their long-term goals that affect global relations. The supreme leader of China, Xi Jinping, is taking advantage of a “Vaccine Vacuum”. The term describes the glaring gap between the supply and demand regarding the vaccine.

VACCINE VACUUM

Western countries are unable to provide vaccines because they decided to vaccinate their entire population first due to internal political pressure. Consequently, these western countries kept the life-saving doses for themselves first. India, the largest producer of vaccines globally, has also been short of meeting the demands laid under the COVAX initiative.

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THE DIPLOMACY GAME

On the other hand, China is making the export of the vaccine an equal priority to vaccinating their population. China’s robust manufacturing capacity and their “successful” curb of the number of cases has abled them to play the vaccine diplomacy game quite efficiently. China exports not only vaccines but also the Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API) required to make doses. Due to this, many countries will produce the vaccine locally but will import the ingredients from China. Pakistan and Brazil are some examples of the same.

Chinese pharmaceutical companies have lined up 17 potential candidate COVID-19 vaccines, out of which seven vaccines are at the last stage of the clinical trials. China is planning to ship their vaccines to at least 90 countries – 60 million for Chile, 40 million for Egypt, 50 million for Turkey – to name a few. Some nations got the doses in exchange for clinical trials of the vaccines on their domestic population.

WHAT’S IN IT FOR CHINA?

While choosing the nations for their vaccines, China has given priority to the countries involved in its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Pakistan being one of them. China sought the support of Cambodia and Laos on territorial disputes in the South China Sea. They will also seek the support of these nations in the UN in the near future. Recently, Sri Lanka awarded a Chinese company Sinosar-Etechwin, with their US $12 million project. The company will execute this project just 45 kilometres away from Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu. This comes after China, a few weeks ago, completed their order of 1.1 million doses to Sri Lanka.