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Chinese vaccine could strengthen ties with poorer nations

What’s happening? Producing a Covid-19 vaccine that can be distributed in poorer countries could help China bolster its international reputation, Mike Bird has argued in a Wall Street Journal editorial. The vaccine being developed by Sinovac needs to be stored at temperatures of between -2C and -8C, making it more suitable for distribution in hotter climates, Bird noted. It may even last a week at room temperature, according to the researchers. In contrast, Pfizer’s vaccine, which is reportedly nearing approval, must be stored at -70C.

Why does this matter? Bird also notes in the above article how a recent stalling of Sinovac’s vaccine in Brazil should be viewed in a positive light: that proper safety precautions are being taken around its development, which should bolster trust in Chinese health care products.

Cynics may question whether developing a vaccine that could be easier to distribute in hotter climates was a deliberate move on Beijing’s behalf (Sinovac is a private company, but did receive state funding as part of efforts to develop its vaccine).

This could allow China to boost influence in developing nations, which will be reliant on Beijing for an effective inoculation against the coronavirus. Against this backdrop, political commentators in countries such as Indonesia have expressed concern the distribution of the vaccine will give China too much influence. They concede, however, there’s little they can do to curb this if they want to garner the required doses of a vaccine.

While recent reports have pointed to richer nations dominating advanced orders of vaccinations, there is perhaps an emerging realisation that hoarding doses is poor diplomatic move. Canada, for example, which reportedly has 10 doses on order for every citizen, is reportedly drawing up plans to donate surplus supply. Meanwhile, the EU recently announced an additional €500m worth of funding for the WHO’s COVAX programme which aims to distribute vaccines equally among participants, regardless of income.

Lateral thought from Curation – With political change afoot in the US, it’s worth keeping tabs on jockeying for influence in South East Asia over the next few months.

Recent reports have suggested China is the main beneficiary of the recently signed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) in the region. Commentators have said the pact can allow Beijing to paint itself as committed to “trade liberalisation” at a time when the US has turned increasingly insular under President Donald Trump.

While this may change under Joe Biden, it’s also been noted that previous trade arrangements the US explored in the region – mainly the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) – were disliked by dissenters on both sides of the political aisle. Asserting influence, therefore, may be difficult to do initially.

Nick Jardine

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