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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Stettler Mayor Sean Nolls and Stettler County Reeve Larry Clarke sign a proclamation for International Economic Development Week which runs May 9th to 15th.
photo submitted
Stettler celebrates International Economic Development Week May 9th to 15th

The week builds awareness of the positive work economic developers do to enhance local economic impact

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, May 11, 2021. Trudeau is rejecting accusations from Alberta’s justice minister that his federal government is part of a trio rooting for that province’s health system to collapse due to COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau rejects Alberta cabinet minister accusation PM wants COVID-19 health disaster

Alberta has recently had COVID-19 case rates that are the highest in North America

The RCMP logo is seen outside Royal Canadian Mounted Police "E" Division headquarters in Surrey, B.C., on Friday, April 13, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Jewish group extremely disturbed by reports of Hitler Youth flags in Alberta towns

RCMP spoke to the property owner, who refused to remove the flag

Alberta’s environment department has known for years that toxins from old coal mines are contaminating populations of the province’s official animal, the bighorn sheep. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Craig Bihrl
Alberta government knew bighorn sheep contaminated with coal mine selenium, scientist says

Jeff Kneteman says Alberta Environment has known about the problem in bighorn sheep for years

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau receives his COVID-19 AstraZeneca vaccination in Ottawa, Friday, April 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
75% of Canadians need 1st vaccine dose to have more normal summer: Trudeau

The country is on track to hit a major milestone on the road to COVID-19 herd immunity Tuesday, with 40% vaccinated with a 1st dose

A vial of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio
Alberta to stop giving first doses of AstraZeneca COVID-19 shot as supply dwindles

There aren’t any confirmed shipments of AstraZeneca coming, and the province only has 8,400 doses of it left

Winnipeg Jets’ Andrew Copp (9) and Edmonton Oilers goaltender Mike Smith (41) watch an incoming shot during second period NHL action in Winnipeg, Monday, April 26, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade
‘Very jealous’: Canadian teams can’t take advantage of NHL’s relaxed COVID-19 rules

League eased some tight COVID-19 health and safety protocols over the weekend for fully vaccinated clubs

File photo
Arrest made for armed robbery in Millet, Wetaskiwin RCMP continue to investigate

Wetaskiwin RCMP are investigating an armed robbery took place May 4, 2021 in Millet, Alta.

Dr. Karina Pillay, former mayor of Slave Lake, Alta., is shown at her medical clinic in Calgary on Friday, April 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
10 years later: Former Slave Lake mayor remembers wildfire that burned through town

Alberta announced in 2011 that an unknown arsonist had recklessly or deliberately ignited the forest fire

Most Read