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Covid-19 vaccine, a powerful weapon to help Russia and China increase soft power

When shipments of Russia’s Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine reached countries around the world, hundreds of millions of doses were labeled “made in China”.


Last month, Chinese companies reached an agreement to produce more than 260 million doses of Sputnik V. These agreements show that China and Russia’s international vaccine goals are increasingly intertwined as they supporting developing countries abandoned by their traditional Western partners.

CNN cites a Duke University study that found that while some countries like Canada, the UK and New Zealand have bought enough vaccines to vaccinate their entire population more than three times, the vast majority of countries. there are hardly enough doses of vaccine to immunize half of the population.

Bobo Lo, an expert on Russia-China relations who served as deputy head of the mission at the Australian Embassy in Moscow, asserted that both Moscow and Beijing see a geopolitical opportunity in the context of the pandemic and act quickly. gain support and influence for them.

Increased demand

Russia was the first country to announce the production of a vaccine in August 2020 and named it Sputnik V. Initial doubts about the effectiveness of the preparation were quelled thanks to a study published in the journal The Lancet medical journal in February, with initial results confirming the vaccine was 91.6% effective.

Currently, hundreds of millions of doses of Russia’s Sputnik V along with China’s Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines have appeared around the world, although only Sinopharm has been approved to join the WHO COVAX initiative. world economy (WHO).

In Latin America, a region traditionally influenced by the United States, countries such as Argentina and Chile have purchased large quantities of vaccines made by Russia and China to fill gaps in the deployment of human immunization. people.

According to Duke University’s vaccine procurement tracking results, Argentina has ordered 30 million doses of Sputnik-V and 4 million doses of Sinopharm. So far, the country has not been able to reach an agreement to buy a vaccine from US pharmaceutical company Pfizer, despite having ordered 23 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine.

Indonesia, a longtime US ally in Southeast Asia, has turned to China to order more Sinovac vaccine after the AstraZeneca vaccine order was delayed by up to a year due to a strong outbreak in India. , according to the Antara news agency. To date, Indonesia has purchased at least 125 million doses of Sinovac, more than any other country.

Sinovac’s second-largest trading partner is Turkey, a “key regional partner” for Washington as the State Department puts it. Turkey bought 100 million doses from the Chinese pharmaceutical company and started administering the first vaccines in January this year. Ankara has even sent hundreds of thousands of excess doses of Sinovac to neighboring Libya.

In February, the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) said that it had received orders for more than 2.5 billion doses of Sputnik V. The Global Times quoted a representative of Sinopharm as revealing that customers had placed orders for the company. produced a total of 500 million doses of vaccine. Meanwhile, Reuters reported, Sinovac was asked to supply 450 million doses and is planning to transfer production technology to 10 other countries.

Tighten cooperation

China and Russia have experienced turbulent relations over the past century. However, in recent years, the two countries have developed close ties, based on shared geopolitical interests.

The Covid-19 pandemic has strengthened that relationship even further. Russian Ambassador to China Andrey Denisov himself announced in April 2020 that the two countries will “hand in hand” fight a common enemy “as they did during the Second World War”.

In an editorial published in China Daily on April 7, Chinese Ambassador to Moscow Zhang Hanhui also affirmed: “The more the world changes and the more chaotic the world, the more wonderful friendship between China and Russia will be. getting bigger and bigger.”

In fact, China is not only producing homemade vaccines, but also helping to produce Russian vaccines. As of April 19, three mainland private companies have signed large contracts with RDIF to produce 260 million doses of Sputnik V. These agreements are partly due to Russia’s lack of production capacity. In January, the RDIF warned of delays in deliveries to countries by up to three weeks.

Russia was forced to cut contracts with international suppliers to meet its delivery target of Sputnik V. In April, the RDIF confirmed that 20 contractors in 10 countries would produce the vaccine for Russia.

China’s ability to produce vaccines for other countries, including Russia, is partly due to the fact that the mainland has almost completely controlled the epidemic inside the territory and rapidly upgraded production capacity. In March, Sinopharm announced plans to ship up to 3 billion doses per year. Sinovac also announced that it is aiming to increase its annual capacity to 2 billion doses.

The cooperation has alarmed some Western leaders. French President Emmanuel Macron on March 25 warned that Russia and China could use vaccines to influence developing countries.

However, according to Thomas Bollyky, Director of the Global Health Program at the non-profit organization Council on Foreign Relations based in the US, Russia and China, it has contributed to bringing quick solutions to many countries in the world. “thirst” for vaccines, although there are doubts that they have not yet published basic clinical trial data to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of the preparation.

Enhancing soft power

Both Russia and China deny running vaccine diplomacy. Speaking at a meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov on March 23, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi asserted that both countries are conducting “humanitarian work” instead of hoarding vaccines for their own interests. like “some other big country”. However, some world leaders are skeptical.

Currently, only 5.9% of the Russian population is vaccinated with 2 doses of the vaccine. China said it had injected more than 300 million doses to its people as of May 7, but did not specify how many were the first and how many were the second. According to AP statistics, the amount of vaccine that China exports or gives is about 10 times more than the amount distributed in the country.

Observers say that Moscow and Beijing know that their chances of providing vaccines to the developing world are very limited, even if Western countries have not caught up. Therefore, the two countries are taking advantage of expanding influence and consolidating “soft power” through vaccine funding at the moment.

But, some experts note, global vaccination efforts are in their early stages. Any major developments, including the US President Joe Biden’s administration’s support for a temporary waiver of copyright protection for the Covid-19 vaccine, could change the current situation.

Tuan Anh

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