Russia – China Supremacy in Vaccine Diplomacy

Covid-19 vaccines are turning out to be an important form of diplomatic currency around the world; a tool for soft-power gains. Russia and China have been challenging the West for years. Their military build-ups, infrastructure projects and targeted economic support have already strengthened their geopolitical influence. And now, as the deadly coronavirus pandemic upsets the world, the two powers are presenting themselves as global rescuers. They offer the most in demand commodity what everyone desperately needs; yes the COVID-19 vaccine. Russia produced the first ever corona vaccine proven to have 95% efficacy. President Putin proudly presented ‘Sputnik V Serum’ after 8 months development and courageously offered his daughter for the first shot. Naming vaccine after the world’s first satellite launched by the USSR explicitly evokes images of Russia as a superpower. Vaccine was a big win for Putin administration domestically as well as internationally. It portrayed to its people that the current regime is strong and capable to face any challenge. China quickly followed Russia by two of their own manufacturers Sino-Vac and Sino-Pharm. Though western media tried it’s all best to accuse China for the pandemic, and Trump even called it a China-Virus, but Beijing is busy leading a fight against the Corona tragedy. It is an understood fact that China look forward to a positive response of her vaccine generosity from the receivers of Chinese vaccine. Global vaccine race is political and pulls in lot of business. As USA being a global player seems absent from the vaccine race and EU is looking inward, it is no surprise that Russia and China have rushed into fill the vacuum. The global vaccine race is a part of international power game and the west is in danger of losing more ground. In fact the damage to American and EU standing is already done.

European Union (EU) failed badly on supplying vaccine to their own citizens, even their closest neighbor like Serbia is sticking her hopes to Russia and China. Hungry is the first EU member state to approve Chinese vaccines; a huge credibility boost to Beijing. Even EU giant nations like Germany, opening the idea of buying Chinese or Russian Vaccine once they are approved; are they waiting for western approval? The EU pledges from the start to help developing and poor nations. It invested heavily on research and development, and sealed deals with 6 different drug manufacturers to secure 2 billion doses of vaccine where as their need was only 450 million doses. Indeed the rest was planned for the world but those promises seem to have been postponed as vaccine supply is too slow for their own people. EU which buys vaccines on behalf of its 27 member states has authorized three shots developed in Germany, the US and the UK. But the bloc was slow to sign contracts and authorize the shots, while manufacturers have struggled to deliver the doses promised. Shortages have been even worse in non-EU countries in Europe. Have some European capitalist gobbled the public money? The story needs attention.

Some small European governments are turning to China for Covid-19 vaccines as EU procurement stumbles and Western vaccine makers’ production hiccups hamper the fight against the pandemic. This trend would definitely increase China’s influence in the region. China was one of the first countries to make a diplomatic vaccine push, promising to help developing countries last year even before the nation had mass produced a vaccine that was proved to be effective. Just in February Chine donated 500, 000 vaccines doses to Pakistan and it would donate 300,000 vaccine doses to Egypt in the same month. Other low to middle-income countries from Brazil and Nigeria to Algeria are looking to Moscow and Beijing for doses. Chinese vaccines are finding buyers in Latin America and the Middle East. Vaccines from state-owned Sino-Pharm are distributed in the United Arab Emirates and the Balkans. Sino-Vac received orders from Turkey and Brazil. Russia has received orders for 1.2 billion doses of ‘Sputnik V Serum’ and Iran started mass vaccination by giving a Sputnik V dose to the son of its health minister.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi of China toured four countries: Myanmar, Indonesia, Brunei, and the Philippines, in January this year, and since October, he has visited every country in Southeast Asia except Vietnam. At each destination Wang assured that helping others through vaccine is top priority of Chinese foreign policy. The world is witnessing that US and EU are unable to maintain a balance of domestic needs fulfillment on one hand and helping the needy on other. They are struggling to immunize their own people but Russia and China is making their offerings at a time when the United States and other rich nations are scooping up the world’s supplies. West is once again on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure.

Strangely the western media showed their ignorance about this development and western critiques were stingy in appreciation; rather the critics say Russia and China threatening the international order. Instead of accusing, shouldn’t we be applauding Russia and China for their efforts? and why not? Instead of forcefully sending troops under a deception of securing a country and later destroying nations, Russia and China are protecting the countries by saving lives, by saving their economy, by helping with their vaccination.