Signs of Sino Ambition: China and its Quest for a COVID-19 Vaccine
Beijing is attempting to utilize the ongoing pandemic to celebrate its most significant victory over the United States to date. It reportedly managed COVID-19 better than Washington and now aims to deliver the world’s first meaningful vaccine.
With America never having had the virus under control and Europe currently stumbling into the second wave, the country responsible for the virus is steadily climbing up the ladder to its previous status quo and beyond.
China’s Strong Position
As of now, China is the world’s only major economy that has grown. The public does not fear the virus and has somewhat resumed its everyday life, even regarding travel. Compared to October 2019, the month of China’s national day, national travel decreased by only 20 percent.
It is thus no surprise that China is currently exuding confidence. The virus appears to be an issue of the past. While occasional local outbreaks continue to occur, the government has set up a gigantic test apparatus that has helped contain the virus. As a result, the situation in China has largely normalized. The success translates into marketable self-confidence, particularly in light of the mediocre crisis management Washington has delivered.
Beijing is Devoting Enormous Resources for Creating a Vaccine
But China’s magnum opus is yet to come. Beijing has put all its resources behind the development of a vaccine. Those who have paid attention to China over those past four decades will know that if China needs to get something done, it will get it done – and generally in record time.
Naturally, the sought-after acceleration in finding vaccines takes a level of creativity. Beijing has hence outsourced its testing. As a result, Chinese vaccines are currently being tested in more than a dozen countries. It is a quid pro quo in which the participating countries will receive priority access to a vaccine in return. It is the often mentioned and controversial “corona diplomacy”.
With Beijing throwing the kitchen sink at the vaccine, the New Yorker even recently reported a vaccine is set to be released in October. Four Chinese companies are currently conducting Phase III testing: the critical phase of vaccine clinical testing.
Vaccination is Already Taking Place in China
However, although none of the Chinese companies have concluded the clinical tests yet, vaccination is already taking place in China. The National Health Commission announced this in September and justified its decision with the emergency rules of the WHO. The commission left open how many Chinese receive a vaccine.
The fact that the risk of infection in China is practically zero is positive for the people, but it is detrimental for vaccine development. It is impossible to find out whether a vaccine protects against infection. Therefore, the Chinese vaccine developers test their vaccines in more than a dozen other countries, including Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates.
China’s Attempt to Wield Increased Global Influence With a Vaccine
The Chinese “corona diplomacy” even led to new alliances. The UAE, a historical partner of the United States, recently introduced a Chinese vaccine for emergency use. Beijing has also promised preferential access to a vaccine to several countries in Africa and Asia.
However, the “corona diplomacy” undermines China’s pledge, namely to make a vaccine available to the world as a “global public good”, as President Xi Jinping announced at a WHO meeting in May.
Moreover, China has utilized the opportunity to extend its influence globally by joining the Covax initiative. Under the leadership of the WHO, Covax aims to promote the development and dissemination of affordable vaccines. China’s engagement continuous the trend of filling the vacuum the US isolationism under President Trump has occurred.
If China were to become the first nation to produce an effective vaccine on a large scale, the symbolic weight would further exacerbate its rise and the US’s decline on the global stage, and so far, the country where the pandemic had its origin appears to be in great shape to deliver.