In the post-COVID-19 era, Chinese President Xi Jinping recently announced that China’s developed COVID-19 vaccine will become a “global public good”. Chinese officials have begun using a possible pandemic vaccine as a policy tool and are therefore promising early access to the vaccine to poor and developing countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America and other areas of the world.
It has become abundantly clear that China’s recent global health work is all an attempt by Beijing to control the narrative surrounding the origins and management of the coronavirus. After appearing in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late December last year, the virus has been dubbed the “Chinese virus” by many heads of state, including US President Donald Trump. China has since received a lot of criticism from other nations for its inefficient handling of the outbreak, which has led to the spread of the virus to other parts of the world, as well as for hiding critical information about the virus from the world, leading to greater devastation.
China has been accused of silencing individuals such as Dr. Li Wenliang has tried to warn the world of a deadly new group of viral infections. The incident of Dr. Li’s mistreatment at the hands of the Chinese authorities made him a hero to many Chinese. Dr. Li’s silence is just one of the reputational damage caused by the COVID-19 virus. China also entered into a diplomatic confrontation with Australia after the country requested an independent investigation into the origins of the virus. This seemingly understandable request has unsettled and angered China to no end, and China has even threatened trade sanctions against Australia for hinting that it had somehow contributed to the creation and spread of the virus. Such an illogical and extreme response from China raises the question of whether China is hiding something from the world.
It is in this charged international environment that China is attempting to politicize the COVID-19 vaccine and not only change the previous narrative in its favor, but also serve Chinese interests. China’s approach to the vaccine was in stark contrast to the message put forward by the West. While Western countries like the US have invested billions in acquiring a Covid-19 vaccine as soon as possible, China has joined “COVAX”, the vaccine alliance that aims to make the vaccine available to poorer countries. at a reduced price. China has also enlisted the help of several countries to help with its vaccine trails, the China National Biotec Group is currently testing two possible coronavirus vaccines in Argentina, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan, Peru and the United Arab Emirates. United. Sinovae, another Chinese pharmaceutical company, has started vaccine trials in Brazil, Chile, Indonesia and Turkey.
Countries that are participating in vaccine trials in China have also drawn up agreements to purchase doses of the vaccine. Indonesia has already signed up to 50 million doses, while Turkey is expected to purchase 20 million doses. In poorer countries promising COVID-19 vaccines at a reduced cost, China is looking to take the lead in securing a market for its vaccine. The race to find a safe and stable vaccine has taken on geopolitical significance for China. China has already provided $ 1 billion in loans to Latin American and Caribbean countries for access to vaccines. Experts compared these loans to China trying to make countries dependent on them by trapping them in debt. The vaccine diplomacy that China is currently using is a risky bet for Beijing. In an effort to use the vaccine as a political tool to change the narrative and deflect blame, China risks doing more harm to itself.
Chinese vaccine diplomacy is similar to another scheme Beijing tried to implement during the early stages of the virus. China’s diplomatic strategy involved shipping medical supplies to European countries in another attempt to bolster its damaged image. The scheme failed after several European governments rejected thousands of Chinese test kits and medical masks because they were sub-standard or defective. In one such incident, Dutch officials were forced to recall 600,000 masks that had already been distributed to frontline medical teams. EU diplomat Josep Borrell coined China’s actions as a “policy of generosity”.
China’s “mask diplomacy” and now China’s “vaccine diplomacy” are all attempts by Beijing to control the coronavirus narrative. Chinese media in recent weeks have also eagerly pushed wild and unfounded conspiracy theories about the origins of the virus. The conspiracy theories that the Chinese media have pushed have changed their narratives multiple times, from blaming the coronavirus on the United States to frozen foods imported from Europe. The latest victim of China’s attempts to spread falsehoods and usurp fiction is a well-known German scientist named Alexander Kekule. He became a Chinese star and has his photos all over the Chinese media after his research was taken out of context to shift the blame for the virus from China to Italy. Dr. Kekule has repeatedly and publicly stated that he believes the virus originated in China and that what China was doing with its research was “pure propaganda”.
Another Chinese concept that first appeared in 2015 is the “Health Silk Road” concept. This Chinese concept has taken on new meaning in a world that has been ravaged by COVID-19. Due to COVID-19 and its effects on trade and travel, workers and equipment needed for China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) have come to a halt. The Silk Road of Health, therefore, represents a way for China to redirect the narrative energies of the BRI. The Health Silk Road has the same ultimate goal as the BRI and strives to convey Beijing’s well-meaning intentions towards the international community.
The Chinese government in the past year has been heavily criticized for its mishandling of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan and also for trying to hide the origins of the virus. The news of Dr. Li’s death in January of this year sparked a greater wave of criticism for China. In response, the Communist Party of China has even stepped up censorship of media content in the face of mounting criticism online. Chinese President Xi Jinping sees these criticisms as a vulnerability for the party. The Chinese government will rarely publicly accept its flaws or mistakes.
In the past, China has attempted to change the narrative surrounding the virus by pushing unconfirmed theories that other countries were responsible for the COVID-19 virus and not China. Xi Jinping also attempted to caress nationalistic sentiments by stating that China’s handling of the coronavirus is proof of the Communist Party’s superiority. These nationalistic sentiments that Xi Jinping are also meant to distract the Chinese people from their set of internal problems, such as the widening wage gap in China.
Similar to China’s “mask diplomacy”, “vaccine diplomacy” is also an attempt by Xi Jinping and China to garner goodwill on the world stage and distract people from its glaring shortcomings. By pledging the Covid-19 vaccine at a lower cost to poorer countries, the Chinese government is attempting to take a leadership role in global health and loans to poorer countries to buy the vaccine from China will ensure those countries get into debt to China. , further ending up as colonies of China!