In recent weeks, there has been a proliferation of advertisements for Chinese vaccines against Covid-19 in Africa. It would have been 300,000 doses for Egypt, 200,000 for Zimbabwe, 100,000 for the Republic of Congo, 50,000 for the Seychelles. Morocco, Algeria and Egypt itself would have received lots.
The numbers represent a drop in the ocean for African needs. But the symbolism is not small. At a difficult time, China offered to help. The dividends will come.
A China Daily editorial says China has already supplied vaccines to 53 countries and exported to 22 others.
Meanwhile, the developed world is looking inward, and vaccine nationalism has become an increasingly popular sport. Canada, for example, has guaranteed a volume of vaccines five times greater than the needs of its population. For poor countries, the end of the line.
Looking at the Chinese but also the Russians, with his Sputnik V, Emmanuel Macron proposed to the United States and Europe to allocate up to 5% of their vaccine stocks to developing countries. Biden’s United States quickly rejected the idea.
The political calculation in developed countries has fostered the logic of saving yourself if you can. Meanwhile, also threatening immunization efforts in the rich world, new variants of Sars-CoV-2 insist on reminding us that the virus cannot be unleashed anywhere.
The calculation in China regarding vaccination is another – and unclear, it must be said. At phenomenal speed, the country has built field hospitals and developed at least three vaccines against Covid-19. However, there does not seem to be the same rush to vaccinate the local population.
The goal here was to vaccinate 50 million by mid-February. The number is high, but it represents only 4% of Chinese. At the same time, the United Kingdom intended to vaccinate 22% of the population.
Official forecasts indicate that China will produce enough doses to immunize 70% of its population by the end of the year. However, this will not be the priority. China will use part – the part of which is not known – for vaccination in other countries.
With the pandemic now under control, anxiety about the vaccine is less here. But, of course, vaccinating the Chinese helps prevent the problem from coming back.
Beijing is investing in the vaccine as part of the country’s diplomatic speech and performance. At the same time, it speeds up the production of doses. And vaccinate the locals – but not at a Chinese rate.
Beijing’s assessment is that, under the current circumstances, investing in vaccine diplomacy is now worth it. At the same time – and not before – it immunizes its population.
The bet on the soft power of vaccines embodies its risks. The promised vaccines must be delivered – preferably without delay. The vaccines should give the desired results and the PR effort should be measured. China will be viewed with suspicion if it sells too high a price. What if you donate in volumes that seem too small.
Clearly, Chinese vaccine diplomacy is uncomfortable among rich countries. However, empty-handed, they will not contain China’s influence in Africa, nor in the developed world in general. Worse yet, the anti-Chinese rhetoric seems hypocritical on the part of those who practice vaccine nationalism.
With vaccine coverage in the US and Europe reaching good levels, they will likely pay more attention to the rest of the world. They will arrive late and find, especially in Africa, countries more sympathetic to China.
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