China’s ‘big bet’ pays off: Beijing reaps rewards with major vaccine export deals

Dr Hilary discusses vaccine rollout on Lorraine

Xi Jinping’s nation has come under fire on the international stage, not least for its handling of the coronavirus outbreak, but also its aggression in the South China Sea and the introduction of a new security law in Hong Kong. US President-elect Joe Biden has promised a tough approach to China after his inauguration tomorrow, and he will be hoping other western nations follow suit. But that attempt appeared to be thwarted earlier this year when the EU agreed on terms for an investment deal with Beijing.

And now political risk consultancy Eurasia Group has tipped China to turn the tide on the pandemic by making closer global ties in their assessment of the ‘Top Risks of 2021’.

The report reads: “Unlike the Trump administration, which pursued a tougher China policy unilaterally, Biden will enlist and coordinate with allies in this area, seeking a multilateral front against specific Chinese economic and security policies. 

“The European Union, Japan, and India will be key targets of US outreach. 

“Following the China-EU investment agreement, the new administration will have some suspicion of China. 

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“In turn, that will create deeper fissures between Beijing and these US allies. But creating a broad united front on China will not happen easily.”

As the global race to produce a vaccine continues, China appears to have made huge strides with two front-running companies – Sinovac and Sinopharm – already striking deals abroad.

The former created CoronaVac, an inactivated vaccine which works by using killed viral particles to expose the body’s immune system to the virus without risking a serious disease response.

By comparison, the Moderna and Pfizer jabs are mRNA vaccines – meaning part of the virus’ genetic code is injected into the body, triggering it to begin making viral proteins – which train the immune system to attack.

And Eurasia Group sees this as a major pressure point.

They add in the report: “Beijing will lash out at countries closely coordinating with Washington, as it did against Australia last year. 

 “In other cases, Beijing will offer its own economic incentives to push back against efforts at encirclement.  

“That will create a battle of diplomacy that will serve as an additional irritant to US-China relations.

“Meanwhile, the US and China will both try to increase their influence by providing vaccines to other countries.” 

On paper, one of Sinovac’s main advantages is that it can be stored in a standard refrigerator between 2C-8C, like the Oxford vaccine. 

Moderna’s vaccine needs to be stored at -20C and Pfizer’s vaccine at -70C.

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It means that both Sinovac and the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines are a lot more useful to developing countries which might not be able to store large amounts at such low temperatures.

But as the US approaches 400,000 coronavirus deaths and Prime Minister Boris Johnson focuses on vaccinated Britons, China has been able to make new allies by containing the virus.

The document adds: “China is poised to outperform the US. 

“Having largely contained the pandemic within the country’s borders, China’s powerful state apparatus will be able to export vaccines more easily. 

“And unlike the best vaccines available in the US, current Chinese vaccines can be safely moved at a relatively warm temperature, making them attractive to low-and-middle-income countries that lack cold chain infrastructure. 

“These advantages will enable China to make good on the big bet it placed on vaccine diplomacy.”

The two leading Chinese manufacturers have signed deals with more than a dozen countries including Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, the Philippines, Indonesia and Hungary.

China has made bold promises that, by playing a leading role in the global immunisation drive, its vaccines will deliver closer ties for the future.

And the forecast in the report appears to agree.

It continues: “Beijing has signed export deals for its vaccines and agreements to produce them in key emerging markets, allowing it to deepen friendships in Southeast Asia, Latin America, and sub-Saharan Africa. 

“And these efforts come at a time when ‘wolf warriors,’ or hardliners, are ascendant in making Chinese foreign policy.

“The result will be hubris on Beijing’s part, albeit with rewards for those in the Global South eager to be vaccinated.”

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