Vials containing Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine for COVID-19 are seen at the San Marino State Hospital, in San Marino, Friday, April 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Antonio Calanni

Vials containing Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine for COVID-19 are seen at the San Marino State Hospital, in San Marino, Friday, April 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Antonio Calanni

China, Russia using their COVID-19 vaccines to gain political influence

U.S. may soon share its supply of COVID vaccines globally, limiting China and Russia’s ability to influence

China and Russia have been using their locally produced COVID-19 vaccines to grow their international soft power by giving doses to desperate countries in order to have more political influence over them, experts say.

Benjamin Gedan, deputy director of the Latin America program at the Wilson Center in Washington, called the practice “vaccine diplomacy,” noting that it happens when countries seek to grow their international prestige by distributing vaccines to nations that need them.

He said authoritarian governments, including those in China and Russia, have taken the lead in vaccine diplomacy in the last months.

“It’s never encouraging to see the world’s largest dictatorships taking most advantage of this diplomatic opportunity,” Gedan said.

The China National Pharmaceutical Group Corp., Sinopharm, is producing two COVID-19 vaccines while Sinovac, a Beijing-based biopharmaceutical company, is making a third one.

Gedan said while China had offered bilateral loans of US$1 billion in Latin America, it refused to give COVID-19 vaccines to Paraguay, which recognizes Taiwan diplomatically.

“There have been reports from the foreign minister of Paraguay that intermediaries of the Chinese government explicitly said that Paraguay will not access the Chinese vaccine unless it changes its position on Taiwan,” he said.

He added there have been reports that Brazil, which is suffering one of the world’s worst COVID-19 outbreaks, could not access Chinese vaccines without committing to allow Chinese telecommunications company Huawei from accessing its 5G wireless network auction.

Lynette Ong, an associate political science professor at the University Of Toronto, said China has donated or sold its COVID-19 vaccine to almost all southeast Asian countries.

“It usually comes with some sort of strings attached,” she said.

“There’s definitely vaccine diplomacy going on quite aggressively by China.”

China’s vaccine diplomacy is not as effective as its personal-protective equipment diplomacy was last year, Ong said.

She said China was the only major producer of personal protective equipment last year while it’s competing now with many other countries that are producing different types of COVID-19 vaccines.

“China was not the first (country) to have the vaccine produced and manufactured,” she said.

Ong said China has invested a lot in boosting its soft power in developing countries from Latin America, Africa and southeast Asia, but it has also received a lot of pushback.

“There is so much pushback against Huawei just because it is a Chinese brand, right, not because people have found evidence that we can squarely put Huawei in the category of espionage,” she said.

Aurel Braun, a Russian foreign policy professor at the University of Toronto, said Russia has been pushing particular political agendas and integrating vaccine diplomacy as a much more significant element of its foreign policy than China.

“China is much wealthier, has a far larger economy than Russia. It is able to provide all kinds of other economic benefits. Providing the vaccine is one of many options that they have,” he said.

“(For Russia,) The Sputnik V (vaccine) is a much more important tool, and they have been especially focusing in certain parts of Europe or where leaders have been more sympathetic to Mr. Putin’s policy … like Viktor Orban in Hungary or in Slovakia.”

Jillian Kohler, a pharmacy and public health professor at the University of Toronto, said China and Russia saw an opportunity in the lack of COVID-19 vaccine supply, and they are taking advantage of that to further their political goals.

“If … Russia or China aren’t actually asking for something explicitly, there’s an implicit bargain happening here,” she said.

“Countries are turning to Russia and China because they’re desperate, so when you do that, I mean, you’re in a position of weakness, and when you’re in a position of weakness that might mean at some point that you’re going to have to compensate for that.”

Gedan, the Washington-based Wilson Center expert, said the United States may soon share its supply of COVID-19 vaccines globally, which would limit China and Russia’s ability to influence other countries using their supplies.

“I think we’re rapidly approaching the moment where the United States will be able to play a major role in the global vaccination campaign,” he said.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently named Gayle Smith, who headed the US Agency for International Development under former president Barack Obama, to a new position as the U.S. coordinator for global COVID-19 response to support a worldwide effort to inoculate against the novel coronavirus.

Gedan said the United States has made some efforts to be helpful by committing US$4 billion to COVAX, a World Health Organization program, and by sending Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine shipments to Mexico and Canada.

But these efforts are going to be more significant soon when the U.S begins exporting more of its Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, he said.

He said the United States is planning to do most of its vaccine distributions through COVAX, which means they will get distributed to both friendly governments and adversarial countries.

“(The U.S. approach is) to distribute vaccines in a way that reflects, you know, public health needs and not foreign policy goals,” he said.

Most countries are not only struggling with a lack of capacity to produce vaccines locally but also with a lack of resources to procure vaccines from the companies that are making them, he said.

He said the lack of a local capacity to produce vaccines has slowed Canada’s vaccination campaign, but Canada has been able to purchase an extraordinary number of doses.

“Eventually, Canada will likely be exporting some of these vaccines that it has purchased that are above and beyond its local need.”

———

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Maan Alhmidi, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

ChinaCoronavirusRussiavaccines

Just Posted

Michelle Jacobs receives her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Coast Capri Hotel on April 28, 2021. The pop-up clinic was hosted by the First Nations Health Authority. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
126 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health over the weekend

There are 22 individuals hospitalized due to the virus, and 13 in intensive care

x
Kimberley issues Water Quality Advisory

The first Water Quality Advisory of the season was issued by the… Continue reading

The City of Kimberley has launched a new survey to assess its short-term rental situation. Paul Rodgers file.
Survey launched to assess short-term rental situation in Kimberley

The City of Kimberley has launched a survey with the goal of… Continue reading

BC Wildfire Service personal put out a suspected human-caused fire near Horseshoe Lake. (Photo courtesy Jaime Vienneau)
Small wildfires near Cranbrook are under control or out, but risk still high

The small Hidden Valley wildfire southeast of Cranbrook which started Sunday is… Continue reading

Columbia Valley RCMP say there was one fatality in a single vehicle accident Friday. (File photo)
Traffic fatality reported near Fairmont, Friday May 14

Columbia Valley RCMP are reporting a traffic fatality on Friday, May 14,… Continue reading

An avalanche near Highway 1 in Glacier National Park. Avalanche Canada will benefit from a $10 million grant from the B.C. government. (Photo by Parks Canada)
Avalanche Canada receives $10-million grant from B.C. government

Long sought-after funds to bolster organization’s important work

Sicamous RCMP Sgt. Murray McNeil and Cpl. Wade Fisher present seven-year-old Cody Krabbendam of Ranchero with an award for bravery on July 22, 2020. (Contributed)
7-year old Shuswap boy receives medal of bravery for rescuing child at beach

Last summer Cody Krabbendam jumped into the lake to save another boy from drowning

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry update the province’s COVID-19 vaccine program, May 10, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate stays below 500 a day over weekend

14 more deaths, down to 350 in hospital as of Monday

Royal Bay Secondary School’s rainbow crosswalk was vandalized shortly after being painted but by Monday, coincidentally the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, the crosswalk had been cleaned up and students had surrounded it with chalk messages of support and celebration. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
B.C. high’s school’s pride crosswalk restored following ‘hateful’ graffiti attack

Hate terms, racial slur, phallic images spray-painted at Greater Victoria high school

Terrance Mack would have celebrated his 34th birthday on May 13, 2021. Mack’s family has identified him as the victim of a homicide in an apartment on Third Avenue in Port Alberni sometime in April. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
Family identifies Ucluelet man as victim of Vancouver Island homicide

Terrance Mack being remembered as ‘kind, gentle’ man

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Vancouver Canucks’ Jake Virtanen (18) and Calgary Flames’ Josh Leivo, front right, vie for the puck as goalie Jacob Markstrom, back left, watches during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Vancouver, on Saturday, February 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver Canucks forward Jake Virtanen sued over alleged sexual assault

Statement of claim says the woman, identified only by her initials, suffered physical and emotional damages

An avalanche near Highway 1 in Glacier National Park. Avalanche Canada will benefit from a $10 million grant from the B.C. government. (Photo by Parks Canada)
Avalanche Canada receives $10-million grant from B.C. government

Long sought-after funds to bolster organization’s important work

Daily confirmed COVID-19 cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day rolling average in white, to May 12, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C. preparing ‘Restart 2.0’ from COVID-19 as June approaches

Daily infections fall below 500 Friday, down to 387 in hospital

Most Read