China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi has reiterated Beijing’s promise to make Chinese Covid-19 vaccines a “global public product”.
He made the comments after meeting envoys from Indonesia and the Philippines in southwest China’s Yunnan province and visiting Cambodia, Malaysia, Laos, Thailand and Singapore last week.
“China will earnestly fulfil its commitment to make vaccines a global public product once they are successfully developed and put into use, and will contribute to the accessibility and affordability of the vaccines in developing countries,” he was quoted as saying in a Xinhua article published on Saturday.
Several representatives of Southeast Asian countries had expressed an interest in working with China on vaccine research and development, he said.
China is a leader in Covid-19 vaccine development, accounting for four of the 11 candidates in final stage clinical trials around the world, but is also known for its high-profile vaccine scandals, which has led to questions about the efficacy and safety of its products.
Earlier this month, Beijing signed up to Covax, a global initiative led by the World Health Organization that is designed to ensure the fair distribution of Covid-19 vaccines, especially to poorer countries.
“We have solemnly pledged to make vaccines developed and deployed by China a global public good, which will be provided to developing countries as a priority,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on October 8.
Mark Eccleston-Turner from Keele University in Britain said China’s vaccine diplomacy would not be affected by its involvement in Covax.
“Covax hasn’t contracted with China for supply as far as I’m aware,” he said. “It’s possible that a manufacturer of Covax has contracted with may sub-licence their technology and know how to a manufacturer based in China to ramp up supply. But that has not happened.”
Beijing has also offered a US$1 billion loan to Latin American and Caribbean countries to ease access to Chinese vaccines, and agreed to deals with Pakistan and Indonesia to run vaccine trials that would enable them to secure preferential supplies and prices.
China has also made frequent promises that members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations will have priority access to Chinese vaccines once they are available, in a sign of the importance it places on the bloc and despite being engaged in disputes in the South China Sea with half of its members.
In an interview with Chinese tabloid newspaper Global Times last week, Malaysia’s ambassador to China Raja Nushirwan Zainal Abidin said Kuala Lumpur would handle South China Sea issues with Beijing on the basis of mutual respect and mutual awareness.
On the subject of Chinese Covid-19 vaccines, he said: “If vaccines are made available to us, we will consider that to be another expression of the very good historical relations between our two countries.”