China steps up Covid vaccine diplomacy as competition with India heats up
China on Wednesday said it would provide 10 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine to the global COVAX initiative as it seeks to step-up its vaccine diplomacy amid projections from experts that India could become the "engine" for the distribution of the jabs to the world.
China offered to supply vaccines to COVAX even as it awaited emergency approval for its shots from the World Health Organisation (WHO).
COVAX, formally known as the Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility, is a global initiative, which aims at ensuring that middle and lower-income countries get timely access to coronavirus vaccines.
China has decided to provide 10 million Covid-19 vaccine doses to COVAX to meet the urgent needs of developing countries, at the request of the WHO, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a media briefing here.
China last year joined COVAX, which is co-led by Gavi, an international vaccine alliance, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the WHO.
Chinese officials said the country is currently conducting field trials for 16 vaccines, while it has so far granted conditional approval to one of its jabs -- Sinopharm, even as it began supplying the shot to a number of countries, including Pakistan.
Recently, over 80 people were arrested in China in a crackdown against smuggling of spurious vaccines filled with saline water. Some of the counterfeit vaccines reportedly were being sent to African countries.
China's announcement to provide vaccines to COVAX came as India has already begun providing the jabs to a number of countries.
Beijing had announced that it would supply three lakh vaccines to Sri Lanka after New Delhi dispatched five lakh doses to Colombo. China has also offered its vaccine supplies to Nepal, Maldives and Brazil, which has already received the first batch of supplies from India.
South Africa has received one million doses of Covishield vaccine produced by the Serum Institute of India in Pune as India moved to use its vaccine diplomacy to shore up its global image, putting it in direct competition with China, Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported on Wednesday.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that his country expects another 500,000 doses from India later this month.
Lawrence Gostin, director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University, told SCMP that "India, and especially the Serum Institute, was likely to be the engine for vaccine distribution to the world, especially for low- and middle-income countries".
Gostin said India and China had been locked in a geopolitical struggle for many years now, and the rivalry was only intensifying.
He said China had a long history of seeking political, commercial or diplomatic gains for its various projects. "For example, China has used the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) for its economic and military advantage. China is using its vaccines for similar geostrategic advantage,” Gostin said.
However, “India does not have a history of seeking special benefits from its health assistance,” he said.
"India has long been seen as a helpful partner in ensuring affordable drugs and vaccines to lower-income countries. I expect that to continue,” the Post quoted him as saying.
Known as the 'pharmacy of the world', India produces 60 per cent of vaccines globally