(ATF) With vaccine diplomacy emerging as the centrepiece of the global foreign policy agenda lately, India and Australia have stepped up efforts to expand global vaccination to counter China’s growing soft power.
While India has urged the US, Japan, and Australia to invest in its vaccine production capability, Australia too is trying to join US’s vaccine push to show China isn’t ‘only game in town’.
According to senior Government officials, India has urged the three nations to invest in its vaccine production capacity, as the so-called Quad alliance tries to counter China’s growing vaccine diplomacy.
The Quad, also known as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, is an informal grouping formed in 2007 as an “Asian version of NATO” to tout a free and open Indo-Pacific.
The US sees the Quad as an attractive means of exerting influence in the Asia-Pacific because its members are established democracies with a combined population of 1.8 billion – exceeding China’s 1.44 billion.
The Quad’s small size and informal structure is also believed to be more agile than larger and more bureaucratic multilateral organisations.
Already the world’s biggest vaccine maker, India believes it is best placed to steer the effort with its unmatched vaccine manufacturing prowess.
Indian companies such as the Serum Institute of India (SII), Bharat Biotech, Biological E and Cadila Healthcare have the combined capacity to produce billions of doses of their own vaccines or contract-manufacture for others.
SII, the world’s biggest single manufacturer, has a licensing agreement with AstraZeneca to supply one billion doses of the Oxford University Covid vaccine to middle and low-income countries, including India.
SII has already supplied over 60 million doses of its vaccine, Covishield, to the Indian government and another 90 million doses to 51 countries.
Also, India is trying to sell a vaccine created by Bharat Biotech and the state-run Indian Council of Medical Research to 40 countries including Brazil, the Philippines and Zimbabwe. Bharat Biotech says it can make about 700 million doses of the shot a year.
Indian vaccine makers are also planning to produce more Covid vaccines developed by the United States and Russia, including Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, Moderna, and Novavax shots in bulk.
China, too, is aggressive in its vaccine diplomacy and is apparently giving more priority to its Covid vaccine "for global good policy" than its domestic inoculation programme.
According media reports Beijing has committed to provide at least 463 million doses of its home-made vaccines through exports and donations across the world from Asia to Africa, Europe and Latin America.
A tally compiled by the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post shows China shipped at least 46 million ready-made vaccines or their active ingredients around the world, up until February 15, with hundreds of millions more doses to follow.
Already, Indonesia has received 125 million doses of China’s Sinovac vaccine, and the Philippines have started distributing the first of the 25 million Sinovac doses ordered from Beijing. Malaysia received its first Chinese vaccine shipment this week.
In contrast, the country's health authority said 40.52 million vaccine doses had been administered in China as of February 9, lower than the US, where more than 50 million jabs have been injected.
China though, insists its vaccine rollout overseas is not politically motivated.
Late February, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said "by participating in international cooperation on vaccines, China seeks to make vaccines a global public good".
He also said China was exporting vaccines to 27 countries — the vast majority of them developing ones — and providing vaccine aid to 53 nations in need.
According to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, a political advisory body in Beijing, concerns that China was using vaccines to sway other countries were “extremely narrow-minded.”
India is not the only country trying to act as a bulwark against China’s growing assertiveness in the region.
Australia too is set to play a major role in the region’s vaccine rollout as the country down under is holding talks with the Biden administration to reinforce the strategic importance of the Quad, according to reports.
For instance, both The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age have reported that Australia is preparing to make a major announcement on distributing Covid vaccines to developing Asian-Pacific countries as early as this week.
A source familiar with the vaccine distribution plan said: “It’s a big deal if they pull this off and it looks like they will,” adding that it would be a “diplomatic coup for Canberra”.
Australia had earlier announced that helping a global recovery from the pandemic was a policy priority for the country and its Quad partners. It added it was also exploring a number of options to work with partners to enhance stability and prosperity in the region.
Japan’s Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi told a news conference on Friday that the four countries discussed the “necessity and importance of international cooperation to ensure equal access to vaccines for developing countries,” but nothing was decided.
- With reporting by Reuters.
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