KEY POINTS

  • China is being blamed for the global spread of COVID-19
  • The country is now positioning itself to be a global leader to fight the virus
  • China intends to strengthen coordination with poor countries to control COVID-19 spread

China is already making overtures to poor and developing countries that they will be a priority to receive any Chinese-produced COVID-19 vaccine. China is positioning itself to be a global leader to fight the disease instead of the country being blamed for its global spread, according to SCMP.

The communist country is in the race to create a successful vaccine to combat COVID-19, which has claimed over 704,000 people worldwide, according to Worldometer statistics. Preliminary studies trace the disease’s origins to Wuhan, China.

"If China plays 'vaccine diplomacy' this is going to help project China’s soft power," Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, told SCMP.

If Beijing hopes to improve its image on the world stage it will have to balance the needs of its own 1.4 billion citizens against the added prestige that may come from being the "savior" of impoverished countries. China also faces numerous obstacles to implement the plan.

"There certainly will be legitimate concerns, given the history that we’ve seen with vaccine-related scandals in China," Huang told the publication. "China is keenly aware of developing a [COVID-19] vaccine that safety is critical."

Huang referenced a series of recent safety scandals that involved substandard and outdated vaccines sold for child immunizations. A new law tightening vaccine industry regulations was implemented last year.

The approval process of any vaccine is another issue that could hinder China’s efforts to send the drug to needy countries due to the different regulatory agencies that may be involved. More markets could, however, open for China if the World Health Organization (WHO) does not intervene in the process due to the urgent need for the vaccine.

Another issue with any vaccine is its equitable distribution to ensure that countries that cannot afford the vaccines will have access. COVAX is a WHO-backed organization that seeks to ensure a fair distribution to poor countries, but China is not involved with COVAX.

Instead, China is appealing directly to countries like Nepal, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Philippines that could benefit from the vaccine.

Supply and demand will be the factors in the COVID-19 vaccine equation as well. Rich countries like the U.S. Britain, and Japan, can cut deals with pharmaceutical developers for early doses for their citizens.

China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said in a statement last month, "China will not act like some countries and seek a monopoly or buy out vaccines."

Critics say China’s effort is another attempt to take control of countries through infrastructure loans that cannot be paid back by the poorer nations. Any "priority loans" offered for a coronavirus vaccine would only add to that debt.