The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) badly wants some soft power amidst the Coronavirus backlash. Not too long ago, China was supplying faulty testing kits, substandard Personal Protection Equipment sets (PPEs) and useless masks to the entire world as a gesture to earn some respect. The ‘mask diplomacy’ had, of course, boomeranged. So now, Beijing offers to supply Coronavirus vaccine to the entire world after it discovers one.
China’s ‘vaccine diplomacy’ however is bound to fail. Beijing cannot tell us how it will manufacture vaccines for its 1.4 billion citizens and also produce an ample amount to immunise the rest of the world. Also, not to forget, the Chinese vaccine manufacturers produce some of the most unsafe and substandard vaccines in the world.
The world will realise the risks posed by Chinese vaccines in due course of time, just like it had realised the futility of Chinese testing kits.
China’s promise to supply vaccines to the entire world is only a bid to play up the narrative of being concerned about global well-being and to white-wash its misdeeds of sponsoring the pandemic. According to SCMP, Chinese wolf-warriors say that the vaccines will be a “global public good” in line with the promise made by CCP General-Secretary Xi Jinping at the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) governing body meeting in May.
China is trying to tap into the global panic about Coronavirus vaccines. Several COVID-19 vaccine contenders have moved into the final stage of human trials and are at a stone’s throw from getting the final approval. But there are speculations that supply shortages will last for months, or even years, owing to manufacturing constraints.
The developed world is looking to secure the immunisation of its citizens. Countries like the United States, Japan and the UK are looking to strike early deals with the vaccine manufacturers. The Chinese wolf-warriors are trying to build up sentiments against such early attempts to procure vaccines for domestic populations.
Last month, Chinese Foreign Minister’s spokesperson, Hua Chunying said, “China will not act like some countries and seek a monopoly or buy out vaccines.” China has already proceeded with its attempts to draw diplomatic leverage out of its promise to supply vaccines to low-income or underdeveloped countries.
Beijing has promised to prioritise delivery of successful vaccines, as and when they are discovered- to Pakistan, Nepal, Afghanistan and the Philippines. But the premise sounds absurd, to say the least.
China doesn’t have an impressive manufacturing capacity when it comes to vaccines. China has a hard time producing enough vaccines to take care of its own 1.4 billion people itself. John Donnelly, Principal at Vaccinology Consulting, a US-based vaccine firm said, “Historically China has not been a big player in some areas of global vaccine supply, partly because China is a very big country and has a lot of people so it’s a very big market all on its own.”
The WHO data also corroborates that China doesn’t have a significant global footprint, unlike India which is a world leader in manufacturing generic drugs and vaccines. It is because of this reason that China did not become a part of Covax- the WHO backed mechanism for equitable supply of vaccines to participating countries and helping those who cannot afford vaccine doses for their populations.
Till now, China was pre-occupied in handling vaccination of its own 1.4 billion citizens itself and never bothered to supply vaccines to low-income countries. But now it has realised that the country which will supply vaccines to the rest of the world will grab a lot of soft power. China doesn’t want to miss this opportunity and therefore it is making overtures to low-income countries that are not self-sufficient.
China is suggesting that once a vaccine solution is found, it will not have much of an issue in mass-producing vaccines. But in reality, the real problem will start after the vaccine is discovered. Around the world, it is accepted that manufacturing capabilities are critical when it comes to producing sufficient quantities of a Coronavirus vaccine.
Although, manufacturing constraints is not the only problem with Chinese vaccines. China’s vaccine industry is nothing short of a scam, and there have been frequent scandals of faulty vaccines. From 2013 to 2016, there were 21 infant deaths in China- all of them attributed to a spate of vaccine scandals. The number of deaths is, of course, official records coming from China and it is highly likely that the number of fatalities was played down.
A huge scandal happened in November 2017, when Changing and the Wuhan Institute of Biological Products sold more than 652,000 ineffective DPT (Diphtheria, Pertussis (whooping cough), and Tetanus) vaccines in the Jilin and Hubei provinces.
Last year, it was again reported that more than 20,000 were administered faulty Polio, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DPT), hepatitis B and varicella vaccines. The list of suspicious Chinese vaccine manufacturers includes State-run Sinopharm Group, whose affiliate- Beijing Institute of Biological Products is also a leading contender for a Coronavirus vaccine within China.
Moreover, in recent years, the Beijing Institute of Biological Products and Sinovac- a leading Chinese vaccine manufacturing group have also managed to secure WHO prequalification status. However, China’s vaccine industry remains untrustworthy.
China is desperately pursuing its ‘vaccine diplomacy’ as an attempt to wage another propaganda war and gain some goodwill in an increasingly hostile atmosphere against the Dragon. However, the lack of bulk production capacity and unsafe vaccines means that the latest diplomatic gimmick from Beijing is also bound to fail.