FOCUS: China, India, Russia seek influence through vaccine diplomacy

Mar 1 , 2021. 22 hours ago – 11:48 KYODO NEWS

A healthcare worker administrates a dose of the Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine to her colleague in Montenegro on Feb. 23, 2021. (Getty/Kyodo)

TOKYO – China, India and Russia are stepping up efforts to expand their influence by providing coronavirus vaccines to developing and middle-income countries, while advanced countries scramble to secure doses of U.S.- and European-made vaccines for their own citizens.

China is donating locally produced vaccines to 53 countries that have requested them, mainly in Southeast Asia and Africa.

“In the recent couple of days we read and heard a lot about Chinese vaccines going overseas and being embraced by many developing countries,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a press conference on Feb. 19. “Some media reports said the vaccines became Spring Festival presents that these countries wanted the most.”

The first country to get free vaccines from China was Pakistan. China has border issues with India, which is Pakistan’s foe. On Feb. 1, Pakistan received 500,000 doses of a vaccine developed by state-owned China National Pharmaceutical Group Corp., known as Sinopharm.

China promised in January to donate 300,000 doses to Myanmar after the Southeast Asian country showed an early interest in procuring vaccines from India.

Eastern European countries, which have developed close ties with China under the latter’s Belt and Road infrastructure initiative, have bought Chinese vaccines. The United Arab Emirates and Indonesia cooperated with China during vaccine trials.

The number of countries that have expressed interest in purchasing Chinese vaccines has reached 27, many of them also administering U.S. and European vaccines to their populations. As its vaccines are taken up around the world, China appears intent on marshalling all available resources to boost its production capacity.

India, which prides itself on being the world’s pharmacy as a result of having produced 60 percent of vaccines needed in developing countries during pre-pandemic times, is competing head on with China in the race to gain influence over the developing world.

The South Asian country has donated 1.7 million doses to Myanmar, while also providing free vaccines to at least 15 countries, including in Africa, the Middle East and the Caribbean.

It has so far provided over 36 million doses to other countries, both for free and on a commercial basis.

India has administered to its citizens two kinds of vaccines, a locally developed one, and the other that was developed by major British drugmaker AstraZeneca Plc and the University of Oxford and produced by a major vaccine maker under the Covishield brand.

India touts them as relatively easy to handle and less expensive than those made by other countries. It is believed to be donating mainly the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to other countries.