China is still most likely months away from mass producing a vaccine that is safe for public use. But the country is using the prospect of the drug’s discovery in a charm offensive aimed at repairing damaged ties and bringing friends closer in regions China deems vital to its interests.
Latin American and Caribbean nations will receive loans to buy the medicine, and Bangladesh will get over 100,000 free doses from a Chinese company.
In the Philippines, where China is competing with the United States for influence, President Rodrigo Duterte told lawmakers in July that he had “made a plea” to China’s leader, Xi Jinping for help with vaccines. He also said he would not confront China over its claims to the South China Sea.
A day later, Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry, said China was willing to give the Philippines priority access to a vaccine.
China’s vaccine pledges, on top of earlier shipments of masks and ventilators around the world, help it project itself as a responsible player as the United States retreats from global leadership. Beijing’s moves could also help it push back against accusations that the ruling Communist Party should be held responsible for its initial missteps when the coronavirus first emerged in China in December.
The ability to develop and deliver vaccines to poorer countries would also be a powerful signal of China’s rise as a scientific leader in a new post-pandemic global order.
“People are very willing to take a Chinese vaccine,” said Ghazala Parveen, a senior official at the National Institute of Health in Pakistan, where two Chinese vaccine makers are conducting trials. “In fact, we are being asked by people to have the vaccine ready as soon as possible.”