EU, China should bond over COVAX efforts despite US rancor

By Gu Xinyang Source: Global Times Published: 2020/10/14 18:18:40

A staff member displays samples of the COVID-19 inactivated vaccine at Sinovac Biotech Ltd., in Beijing, capital of China, March 16, 2020. Photo: Xinhua

On Sunday, the EU welcomed China's participation in the COVAX anti-COVID-19 initiative, saying it is looking forward to working with China to achieve victory in the fight against the virus. This followed an agreement signed on October 8 by China to join COVAX.

EU countries have also joined COVAX. In fact, the EU has been an important COVAX initiator and participant with its own considerations. 

On the one hand, the EU is an important advocate of globalization and multilateralism. Owing to the severe situation of the US' withdrawal from the WHO and the absence of leadership with global public health governance, the EU is burdened to defend the global health governance system with the WHO at its core.

On the other hand, the EU joined COVAX to not only help other countries suffering from the epidemic, but also help itself. Most major EU member states have entered the second phase of the COVID-19 outbreak, and their situation remains grim. 

The US and the EU have had differing attitudes and actions to combat the pandemic. The Trump administration has pursued the "America First" doctrine, while the EU follows global multilateral norms. Therefore, the US and Europe have serious differences on many global issues, including COVAX.

The US had announced its withdrawal from the WHO. Despite there is no stipulation that the US cannot join COVAX, the US has refused to join WHO-led COVAX. In addition, the main purpose of COVAX is to prevent countries and regions from stockpiling COVID-19 vaccines. 

However, it has been reported that the US intends to bypass the EU and directly contact the representatives of pharmaceutical companies in EU countries. This will allow the US to monopolize and prioritize vaccines for Americans. COVAX's goals run counter to those of the US. Hence, it is not surprising that the US will not join it.

Therefore, China's accession is a boon to both COVAX and the EU. This contrasts sharply to the self-serving attitude of the US. 

It is no wonder that EU leaders and leading parties are unanimous in welcoming and praising China's accession.

During the early days of the coronavirus outbreak in China, the EU provided China with anti-epidemic assistance. When the epidemic eased in China but raged in Europe, China also provided assistance to EU countries. However, long-standing negative perception of China in the European countries still exists. This will not be fundamentally improved because of mutual assistance the two sides have shared in fighting the virus. Sadly, they may even worsen.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, some politicians and media outlets in EU countries have criticized China regarding the origin of the coronavirus and its initial response measures. During this period, they also made wanton interference with China's internal affairs related to Hong Kong and Xinjiang. These matters had nothing to do with the pandemic. 

Certainly, there is no doubt that some politicians in the Trump administration will continue to stir up troubles and sow discord.

China and the EU must realize that although some long-standing differences between them cannot be resolved in a short period of time, their common interests far outweigh contradictions and differences. Whereas Europe remains one of the worst-hit regions in the world, and China is also facing severe pressure from newly imported and local COVID-19 cases, there is still much room for bilateral cooperation. Joining COVAX at this juncture is an opportunity for cooperation between both sides.

Predictably, China's participation in COVAX is unlikely to fundamentally reverse negative perceptions of China in Europe. After all, certain European politicians and media outlets will not stop criticizing China and casting prejudicial commentary. However, the differences between China and the EU should not affect joint efforts to fight COVID-19.

As will be written in the history books, the COVID-19 pandemic is the worst global disease in a century. No country is immune to it. Right now, China and the EU should shelve their differences and strive to eliminate interference from third parties, especially the US. They should deepen cooperation to eradicate this plague, and firmly uphold the historical trend of economic globalization and multilateralism.

The author is a PhD candidate at the Institute of International Relations, Nanjing University.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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