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Vaccine diplomacy boosts Russia’s and China’s global standing

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Vaccine diplomacy boosts Russia’s and China’s global standing

It is a way to reward old friends and win new ones

IN JANUARY, AS many rich countries were rolling out covid-19 vaccine programmes, others were being left behind. “Today it’s harder to get the vaccines than nuclear weapons,” complained Aleksandar Vucic, Serbia’s president. Mr Vucic compared the situation to the sinking of the Titanic, where everyone wanted a lifeboat only for themselves. Serbia has now surged ahead of many of its European neighbours in the vaccination race—mostly because it gained easier access to Chinese and Russian jabs and signed deals to produce them. But many countries are still scrambling to get their hands on jabs.

This is especially true in poor parts of the world. According to a recent tally by Agence France-Presse, a news agency, of the more than 1bn doses of vaccines that have been administered worldwide, just 0.2% have gone to people in low-income countries.

Many have turned to China and Russia for help. A report published on April 28th by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), a sister company of The Economist, shows how the two countries are filling a “vaccine vacuum” by helping poor economies secure doses. They have shipped millions of jabs to developing countries stuck at the back of the global queue. Such vaccine diplomacy is designed to bolster the two countries’ global standing, improve bilateral relations and gain strategic influence. The EIU estimates that the Russian government intends to send shots to around 70 countries, mostly in Asia, eastern Europe and Latin America.

By April 22nd China had distributed or planned to export vaccines to around 90 countries (see map). In comparison, the rich world—notably, America and the EU—are providing little, and COVAX, a global vaccine-sharing initiative, is hampered by India’s recent restrictions on vaccine exports.

To ensure they gain a foothold in places where Western influence is declining, both China and Russia are setting up vaccine-production facilities abroad and training local workers. The two countries are playing a long game. But, besides enhancing their global prestige, they may also be using vaccines to reward loyal friends or secure particular favours. The EIU report points out that Russian officials began talks with the Bolivian government about access to mines producing rare-earth minerals and nuclear projects shortly after Russia had delivered a batch of its domestically produced Sputnik V vaccine. And China’s generosity to Cambodia and Laos may be partly explained by gratitude for their backing for China’s position on the South China Sea.

For all their diplomatic success, China and Russia have fared less well at home. China’s enormous population may stymie its own vaccination drive, and its Sinovac jab yielded an efficacy rate of just 50.7% in recent phase-three trials conducted in Brazil, barely above the 50% threshold set by the World Health Organisation for covid-19 vaccines. Meanwhile, Russia’s inoculation campaign has been sluggish because of vaccine hesitancy and production problems at home. So far both countries have administered only 0.2 shots per 100 people per day, compared with almost three times as many in Britain and France and five times as many in America.

The EIU reckons that Russia will achieve widespread vaccination only in mid-2022, and China not until late that year.

 

Πηγή: economist.com

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