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China faces backlash as vaccine diplomacy flops

China's vaccine diplomacy flops

While China had a grand plan of using its vaccine diplomacy to bolster its geopolitical clout, the move has actually backfired because of the poor quality of these vaccines and lack of transparent data.   

Beijing had promised over 20 countries including Brazil and the ASEAN members that it would supply them with reliable vaccines. However, with China’s vaccine development programme getting discredited these countries have suffered a setback in the war against Covid-19. They are now turning to the western countries, India and Russia to meet their vaccine requirements.

A frustrated China has now adopted a strategy of running down the vaccines of western countries.  However, China has itself approached Germany to place an order for the Pfizer-BioNtech. This clearly exposes the hypocrisy of the communist country.

Similarly, while Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece Global Times had recently grudgingly conceded that India had world class facilities to produce vaccines, it also claimed that India is exporting its vaccines to gain influence among poor countries.  

According to a report in the New York Times at least 24 countries, most of them low and middle income, signed deals with the Chinese vaccine companies.  But the delays in getting the Chinese vaccines and the fact that the vaccines are less effective mean that those countries may take longer to vanquish the virus. China’s coronavirus vaccines were supposed to deliver a geopolitical win that showcased the country’s scientific prowess and generosity.  Instead, in some places, they have set off a backlash, the report adds.

In the Philippines, some lawmakers have criticized the government’s decision to buy a vaccine made by a Chinese company, Sinovac. Officials in Malaysia and Singapore, which both ordered doses from Sinovac, have had to reassure their citizens that they would approve a vaccine only if it had been proved safe and effective.

Similarly, Turkey which was relying on China has also complained about delays in getting the vaccine which has hindered its fight against the pandemic. Turkey is now turning to Russia for help to get the Sputnik V vaccine.

Misinformation on Pfizer, Moderna  

The New York Times report points out that Beijing officials who had hoped the vaccines would burnish China’s global reputation are now on the defensive.  State media has started a misinformation campaign against the American vaccines, questioning the safety of the Pfizer and Moderna shots and promoting the Chinese vaccines as a better alternative.

China has also distributed online videos that have been shared by the anti-vaccine movement in the United States.

Liu Xin, an anchor with CGTN, the state broadcaster, asked on Twitter why the foreign media had failed to “follow up” on the deaths of people in Germany who had taken one vaccine — though scientists have said the people were already seriously ill. Ms. Liu’s tweet was shared by Zhao Lijian, a top spokesman at China’s Foreign Ministry.

George Gao, the head of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, has questioned the safety of the American vaccines because their developers used new techniques rather than the traditional method adopted by Chinese vaccine companies.