China makes vaccines global, US does it selfishly

By Robert Walker Source: Global Times Published: 2020/12/2 16:08:40

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The race to approve and distribute a COVID-19 vaccine continues to grip the world with baited breath. If successful, this will allow countries to return to a somewhat normal state as soon as possible.

Hopefully, this will finalize and end some of the bitter feelings some countries have expressed to others. For example, as the coronavirus surged across Italy and beyond earlier this year, finger-pointing against China started in earnest. Political figures and media outlets in parts of the Western world began suggesting that blame for the natural outbreak of the virus should lay squarely on China.

When China painfully shut itself down in early 2020, it was often criticized as overreacting. But with the virus largely under control in China, its efforts began shifting to creating a vaccine to stamp out COVID-19. And even when the dreaded second wave arrived in Europe and North America in the fall, leading to record hospitalizations and a major spike in cases and deaths, the complaints against China in parts of the political and media spheres didn't stop. 

But while the blame game against China continued, the country continued to focus on solutions. These efforts are bearing fruit. While some British, German and American vaccine candidates are showing promising results, China is light years ahead. It's reported China is on track to produce more than 600 million doses by the end of the year.

Tragically, in parts of the Western world, the race for a vaccine has become less about health and safety, and more about nationalism. The US, for example, has refused to join more than 180 other countries in a World Health Organization-organized initiative called Covax. This program seeks to ensure vaccinations are able to be distributed to developing countries around the world. But this should not come as a surprise. In March, after the true dangers of the virus became apparent in the US, the Trump administration hoarded personal protective equipment, making it difficult for manufacturers like 3M to distribute internationally.

Fortunately, China is showing real leadership in the area of vaccine distribution. China currently has five vaccine candidates in phase-3 clinical trials. Due to a shortage of active coronavirus cases in the country, trials are taking place in foreign countries including Indonesia, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan and others.

China is taking a step further too. China is even offering loans to countries where purchasing the vaccine could be cost prohibitive. But it would be a mistake to look at these actions in isolation, and not part of a larger outward focus by China.

President Xi Jinping recently reaffirmed China's commitment to help and support other developing countries through making COVID-19 vaccines a public good that is accessible and affordable around the world when addressing the G20 Riyadh Summit via video link.

Predictably, some Western media outlets are suspicious of China's "vaccine diplomacy," and have expressed worry that the standing of the US will be harmed as a result. But the answer is obvious: If the US is afraid of losing its stature, nothing is stopping it from following in China's lead. America is more than welcome to use vaccines as a way to help some of the poorest countries in the world - not for isolationist purposes. 

Clearly, the development of successful vaccines will be beneficial for the world, helping ensure that fewer people will die from a preventable illness. This will allow for the global economy to recover faster, and life can return to normal - or at least a semi-normal state - as soon as possible. Although China was baselessly blamed in many quarters for much of the pandemic, its response has been clearly effective. Now, the Western world generally, and the US specifically, can either continue to blame and malign China, or join it to help develop and distribute life-saving vaccines around the world. To do so otherwise would not only be cruel to the developing world, it would also be supremely self-defeating in terms of global influence.

Hopefully, the US will soon realize that scapegoating China accomplishes nothing of substance. It will perhaps have an epiphany and realize that it still has an opportunity to learn from its past mistakes.

The author is an expert in international branding strategy, with a particular area of interest in China's image in the Western world.


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