Has China lost the vaccine diplomacy?
The last one year has been a calamitousone forhumankind. Stretchingfrom Covid-19 pandemic to the development of the vaccine, there was much talk on China’s mask diplomacy, its wolf warrior diplomacy which means an assertive way of acting and responding to criticism, vaccine diplomacy and so on. There was also debate based on conspiracy theory whether China itself generated the vaccine in the lab of Wuhan! With all this argument and counter argument, this year has shown some light of hope with the development of Covid-19 vaccine. In this regard, 2021 is already being called the vaccination year. However, another debate is about China’s losing of its vaccine diplomacy to India. This debate needs to be answered by delving into facts with critical analysis regarding China’s move in international politics.
China’s Vaccine Diplomacy in the African Continent
Covid-19 vaccines are finally starting to make their way to the global south, i.e., world’s poorest countries as productions of Chinese, Russian and Indian jabs ramp up. The concept of global south refers mostly to the developing and least developed countries. China is persuading the global south with its vaccine diplomacy and it has succeeded with its diplomatic maneuver to a greater extent. While India wanted to counter the Chinese with its vaccine diplomacy in South Asia, China became the first country to distribute vaccines to the African nations. In Africa, the Chinese have exported vaccines to half a dozen countries and are in talks with dozens more to make jabs available in the upcoming months. Similarly, a new air bridge between the two regions is now operational that will facilitate the transportation and distribution of vaccines throughout Africa.The deal was signed between Ethiopian Airlines and Cainiao Smart Logistics Network, the logistic division of Alibaba to distribute Covid-19 vaccines to parts of Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.
For the last few days, there has been a flow of Chinese vaccines in African countries along with the other parts of the global south. For instance, 300,000 dozes have been donated to Egypt, 200,000 vaccines have been committed to Zimbabwe, 100,000 vaccines to the Republic of Congo, and 50,000 dozes to Seychelles. The deliveries have already been made to Egypt, Morocco, and Algeria. Shipments are on their way to Sierra Leone, Equatorial Guinea, and others. China’s Sinopharm has already been able to grasp the market not only of Africa but also of the Middle Eastern countries. For instance, some scholarly analysis of the Middle Eastern media has been done in this regard. The Arabic, Hebrew, and the English national dailies of Middle Eastern countries did not cover the criticism against China. The main reason for not criticizing China is because of the Chinese soft power. Many of these countries have no problem criticizing the US and its allies and their consistent presence in the region.
Is China Really Losing Its Vaccine Diplomacy?!
Coming back to China’s vaccine diplomacy in Africa.China is not a new player in Africa alongside with India. When the Serum Institute of India announced that it would provide vaccines first to the South Asian nations, the very first neighboring countries of India, the most asked question was—is China losing itsvaccine diplomacy to India?! Well, this is a legitimate question to understand China’s and India’s position in international politics. These two Asian giants are having severe border dispute in the Himalayan region despite this Covid-19 pandemic. It is also uttered that China was about to take the sole control of Ladakh, a part of Indian administered Kashmir. Hence, this large-scale distribution of Chinese vaccines that is causing a lot of people around the world, particularly in U.S. and European countries, to become increasingly worried about the geopolitical ramifications and India is also not unaware of it. However, it is yet to be difficult to say that China is losing its vaccine diplomacy to India.
China is a country that plays each of its moves very prudently. One may argue that China has ignored its Asian neighbors for its vaccine diplomacy. But the fact is that to start its vaccine diplomacy with Africa is more important to China as China has been trying to persuade the African nations to contain India’s entry to the United Nations Security Council. To get the votes of 54 African nations is important for India to become the member of the UNSC.
Another aspect is that even though South Asian nations are the littoral states of the Indian Ocean, however, connectivity with African nations can also provide China an alternative and more secured route for its import of mineral resources from Middle East and other African countries. Indian Ocean region is the region where all major powers of the world, i.e., the USA, China, India, Australia, Japan, and others want their secured and persistent presence because of its viability and feasibility for international trade. And by keeping the African friends in its side, China has already been able to secure its position in the region.
To sum up, losing its vaccine diplomacy is still a far away from the Chinese tactics in politics. No doubt, China is a big influential player in international politics and with its development model, it has already achieved a good image in the eyes of the global south. To catch up with China, India still needs a long way to go. Let us wait till the end of this pandemic to predict the winner and the loser, if it ends so!
Author: Rumi Akter, Ph.D. Candidate, Palacký University Olomouc, Czech Republic