US anxious over Chinese LatAm vaccine deals
Hegemonic mind-set incompatible with waning influence
Published: Feb 23, 2021 10:18 PM

CanSinoBIO's vaccine Photo: VCG

The US is getting anxious amid news that Chinese COVID-19 vaccines are being delivered to more Latin American countries, including Uruguay that will receive its first batch from Sinovac on Thursday, while Pfizer deals with the region appear slow. 

Seeing Latin American countries' normal vaccine cooperation with Chinese firms as "threats" to its backyard, the US cannot abandon its hegemonic mind-set despite being mired in domestic crises, observers said.

The first batch of 198,000 doses Sinovac vaccines will arrive in Uruguay on Thursday, local media reported. The country also purchased from Pfizer-BioNTech, and the first shipment is scheduled in March.   

Argentina approved emergency use of Chinese producer Sinopharm's vaccines on Sunday and the shipment of the first one million doses will arrive in the next few days, Buenos Aires Times cited Argentina's new Health Minister Carla Vizzotti as saying on Monday. 

Argentina started its vaccination program in December 2020 with Russian vaccines. It greenlighted Pfizer vaccines the same month, but Deutsche Welle reported Sunday that the hard-hit country did not administer a single Pfizer dose, except 3,000 people who volunteered in the Phase III clinical trials in August 2020. The deal was struck partly due to the transport costs as the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine requires extremely low temperatures. 

For major regional country Brazil, despite President Jair Messias Bolsonaro's pro-US stance, the country has so far received mostly AstraZeneca-Oxford and Sinovac vaccines. 

Mexico received the raw materials for 2 million doses of the one-shot CanSino vaccine developed by China and approved the emergency use of Sinovac vaccines on February 10 after Pfizer production delays resulted in vaccinations coming to a near standstill, media reported.  

Peru began vaccinating citizens with 300,000 Chinese Sinopharm doses on February 9. The country earlier had a 20 million-dose deal with Pfizer, with 500,000 doses to arrive by April and half of it in March.

Chile and Columbia have also received batches of Chinese vaccines, according to media reports. 

But such cooperation with developing countries is frequently referred to as "vaccine diplomacy" and the Wall Street Journal covered it with the headline "China deploys Covid-19 vaccine to build influence, with US on sidelines." The Associated Press also reported that China's growing economic and diplomatic influence in the region has worried US policymakers as a "national security threat."

Chinese experts pointed out such thoughts were misjudging China's activities based on the US' own zero-sum mind-set. It has the tradition of cultivating an agent adjacent to competitors and expects China to do the same.

Xu Shicheng, a research fellow at the Institute of Latin American Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), told the Global Times on Tuesday that China's vaccine deals are not exclusive and China always welcomes joint cooperation with Latin American countries. 

"China does not aim to and cannot take all vaccine orders from the region. The US should be their priority supplier, but the reality is the US is busy with its own affairs," Xu said. 

Pfizer vaccines are first given to Americans and core US allies, while Latin America falls far behind on the waiting list, analysts said. 

Lü Xiang, a research fellow on US studies at the CASS in Beijing, told the Global Times that the Monroe Doctrine is still dominating so that the US is anxious of losing its backyard.

China not only provides vaccines but also authorizes local production. As for loans, they are non-discriminatory  with no political strings attached, Lü added, noting the US cannot stop politicizing the vaccine and other issues.

Politicizing the pandemic is the primary cause of the US' domestic failure in its coronavirus response, and the same logic is seen in foreign policy when the world should be united to emerge from the pandemic, the expert said.