China pushes ahead on vaccine diplomacy

In the US, it is reported that we are almost at the point where there is going to be a surplus of vaccines. Now that vaccine programs are underway all over the world, the issue of inequality of access has started to loom large, with accusations that wealthy countries are hogging most of the supplies.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has criticised what it describes as a “shocking imbalance” in the distribution of coronavirus vaccines between rich and poor countries.

The group’s chief said a target of seeing vaccination programmes under way in every country by Saturday would be missed.

The WHO has long called for fairer distribution of Covid-19 vaccines.

It is leading the Covax scheme which is designed to get jabs to poorer nations.

So far, more than 38 million doses have been delivered to around 100 countries under the scheme.

Covax hopes to deliver more than two billion doses to people in 190 countries in less than a year. In particular, it wants to ensure that 92 poorer countries will receive access to vaccines at the same time as wealthier countries.

“There remains a shocking imbalance in the global distribution of vaccines,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference on Friday.

“On average in high-income countries, almost one in four people have received a Covid-19 vaccine. In low-income countries, it’s one in more than 500,” he said.

High-income countries currently hold a confirmed 4.6 billion doses, while low-middle income nations hold 670 million, according to research by the Duke Global Health Innovation Center.

China is stepping into this breach and sending its vaccines to many of the poorer countries.

China is on the verge of expanding its international influence as it adroitly wields what is arguably the most valuable export of the moment, COVID-19 vaccines.

The global rollout of Chinese jabs amid a serious shortage of doses, especially in low- and middle-income countries, is helping Beijing attain a new kind of soft power that could easily translate into global clout. At least 70 countries and territories have either approved Chinese vaccines or struck deals to receive doses from China.

The recipients of this outreach include countries covered by Beijing’s Belt and Road global infrastructure drive as well as Latin American nations that have not signed onto the program.

China had exported 115 million doses by the end of March, according to Airfinity, a British company that provides real-time life-science intelligence. By comparison, India had exported 63 million doses, most of which were vials of the AstraZeneca vaccine that it makes under license.

The European Union, meanwhile, has shipped 58 million doses to the U.K., Japan and other countries.

As for output, China has produced 230 million doses, far more than what the U.S., Europe or India have made.

It is clear that China is using vaccine diplomacy as part of its strategy to gain global influence, adding global vaccination passports to enable freer travel between countries.

Beijing has made no secret of its intention to use its vaccines for diplomatic gain. Guyana abruptly scrapped an agreement with Taiwan to open a representative office in the South American country shortly after China offered to donate vaccine doses to the country.

China, already campaigning for mutual recognition of health certificates, recently launched a coronavirus vaccine passport program. It has also begun issuing an International Travel Health Certificate and announced plans to simplify procedures for entry into China for foreign nationals who have been administered Chinese vaccines.

A vaccination pass or passport proves the holder has been inoculated against COVID-19, or shows that the holder has tested negative for the virus.

The passports are controversial as they could lead to a decoupling of sorts. China’s International Travel Health Certificate will prioritize foreigners entry only if they have received a Chinese vaccine. But Chinese vaccines have not been approved in most industrial nations.

China is also asking other countries to recognize its passports, holding out the carrots of economic exchanges and Chinese tourists pouring across borders with their UnionPay cards.
Industrial nations that have not approved Chinese vaccines will have to weigh the benefits.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry is already negotiating with countries for mutual recognition of these certificates, stealing a march on other global powers.

While China is promoting its own vaccine passports to enable travel, as with everything pandemic-related in the US, the idea of vaccine passports has become a controversial partisan issue here.

China has shown itself to be very adept at using soft power to gain global influence, so that even crises like the pandemic become an opportunity to expand their reach.


  1. mnb0 says

    “China has shown itself to be very adept at using soft power.”
    Sure. But ask Taiwan -- this superpower is more and more using hard power as well. Thus far I don’t see a counterstrategy, neither in the USA nor in Europe.
    I wonder how MarcusR’ sarcasm looks like on this topic?

  2. says

    Why does Taiwan have a right to exist? Its a geopolitical oddity of the US war against communism and is a huge violation of Chinese sovereignty. I don’t care much for nationalism in general, because it creates these incipient disaster, using civilian populations as chips in some great game they never agreed to play.

    So I guess my feeling about Taiwan is that it’s a leftover of European colonial attempts to subdivide China to weaken it. It’s always been a pawn and may suffer the pawn’s fate. We just care about it because it annoys China and justifies militarism in the region.

    If I thought the US gave a fuck about Taiwan I might see the situation differently.

  3. Sam N says

    @3, I’d note that is a rather calloused view. I have friends in Taiwan, from Taiwan. Hell, I’m planning to move there for a while, maybe longer. Pawn or not. I still believe there should be rights of self-determination. Taiwan seems more civilized to me than the US.

    I may not like who holds and manipulates power in the USA, but I sure as shit feel the same regarding China. Just in general they seem more intelligent and comparably ruthless.

  4. Rob Grigjanis says

    Marcus @3: Holy shit. Every fucking country on the planet is a geopolitical oddity of some conflict or other. The US is a geopolitical oddity of whiny rich fucks who didn’t want to pay taxes, and is a huge violation of British sovereignty. Lather, rinse, repeat ad nauseam.

  5. Rob Grigjanis says

    Oh, and of course, both the US and Taiwan had issues with the folks who were (and still are) living there before others started colonizing.

  6. says

    Rob Grigjanis@#5:
    Holy shit. Every fucking country on the planet is a geopolitical oddity of some conflict or other.

    Exactly. That’s the great lie of nationalism. I don’t see how the mere existence of a state justifies turning it into a war-zone to protect it from another state, unless we were living in some post-nationalist utopia in which nationality and borders were consensual. But -- they are not. So, the Taiwanese are a token in a great game, as are the South Koreans, the people on Guam, Okinawa, Cuba, etc. Unless you buy into the lies of nationalism, there is no justification for the US’ political attitude toward Cuba. What do we do? Ideally we’d reject the entire game, but in the real world the US and China are willing to blow the shit out of Taiwan for no perceptible benefit. It’s crazy that people tolerate this but nationalists believe strongly enough in their nations that they’re apparently willing to kill over their imaginings.

  7. says

    Sam N@#4:
    Pawn or not. I still believe there should be rights of self-determination.

    Everyone should be allowed self-determination, but that entails a post-nationalist world order.
    Personally, I am horrified that we are dominated by organized gangs that are willing to go to war or brutalize people because they were born inside of certain imaginary lines on a map. I’d love to see that order destroyed but I don’t know what would replace it, and it sure would put up a fight, because putting up fights is what it’s optimized to do.

  8. Rob Grigjanis says

    Marcus @7: So the stuff about “a huge violation of Chinese sovereignty” was just bullshit?

    And it’s not simply a “great lie”. In Canada, for example, Quebec and the First Nations are groups of people with identities distinct from the majority, who legitimately want control over their lives and lands, and don’t want to rely on the beneficence of the dominant group. Cuz, you know, people are arseholes, and people with power are even bigger arseholes. Only people in the dominant group of nations comfortable enough in their established existence have the luxury to talk about the “lie” of nationalism.

    The problem with dismantling the whole idea of nations is that everybody on the planet has to agree to it and act on it at the same time. Related to the problem of dismantling armed forces. I blame John Fucking Lennon.

  9. says

    So the stuff about “a huge violation of Chinese sovereignty” was just bullshit?

    If you’re working in a nationalist system, and there is an idea of soverignty that is basically “we get to control the arrangement of people within our borders” then having a bunch of people declare they are a new state is them establishing sovereignty at the expense of the original state’s sovereignty. Does that work? And then when another nation comes along and supports the new state, that seems like an attack on the original state’s sovereignty.

    I wish I was not so cynical that I could believe the US motives were any more noble than a desire to establish a base that annoyed Mao, who was the enemy du jour.

  10. tororosoba says

    Regarding the question of Taiwan, which is a bit off-topic, one could argue that the government in Taipeh is the “original state” and the legitimate Chinese government. At least that has been their official stance. Another argument are the over 20 million people who live there and who certainly have a right to exist. In my opinion, they also have the right to determine how they are governed, especially after decades of dictatorship. It seems to me that the majority there is not too keen on getting governed by the people in Beijing.

  11. Holms says


    Why does Taiwan have a right to exist [as a separate political entity]?

    Because they want to self-govern, would be my guess.

    I don’t see how the mere existence of a state justifies turning it into a war-zone to protect it from another state

    Self-defence is always justified, invasion is not. Kinda simple, really.

  12. Deepak Shetty says


    Thus far I don’t see a counterstrategy, neither in the USA nor in Europe.

    Because the USA has such a good track record on solving conflicts ? I suppose you want Jared Kushner back to solve this issue.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *