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Editorial: China’s vaccine diplomacy met with two-prong attacks | Apple Daily HK

By Li Ping

Yesterday, India announced that its COVID cases have reached 412,000 with 3,980 deaths, both single-day highs. Countries neighboring India are also struggling with the surge in confirmed cases. Last month, China took the chance to establish an epidemic prevention circle around India and achieved vaccine diplomacy success in South Asia. However, the U.S. suddenly backed waiving intellectual property (IP) waiver at WTO for COVID vaccines, and the two China-made vaccines are now facing attacks on two fronts with regard to gaining emergency authorization from the WHO. Since Carrie Lam’s administration has been so dedicated in its support for China’s vaccine diplomacy, is it going to try even harder to push the China-made vaccines?

Since June of last year, China’s CanSino vaccine has been approved for special needs by the military, and Sinopharm and Sinovac have both been approved for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration. In September, the UAE became the first foreign country to approve the emergency use of China’s vaccines, and that was the beginning of China’s vaccine diplomacy. According to incomplete statistics, China has so far donated or exported 11.8 million doses of vaccine to 49 countries, which constitutes a much higher number than other countries and has effectively reversed the image of subpar diplomacy since COVID rampaged the whole world last year.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi denied that China is carrying out vaccine diplomacy in an interview with state mouthpiece Xinhua News Agency at the beginning of last month, and instead, accused the sprouting of “vaccine nationalism” around the world. He stated that certain developed countries have purchased two to three times more vaccines than the entire country’s population, while many developing countries are facing a huge vaccine shortage. He stressed that China was currently launching vaccine R&D and production cooperation with ASEAN to jointly build a regional vaccine production and distribution center. On April 27, Wang Yi hosted a video conference on response to the epidemic with five foreign ministers of Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and Pakistan to build an epidemic containment circle around India. All of these countries have seen a surge in cases in recent days, and they have asked China to provide vaccines and medical equipment.

As the epidemic situation in India worsens, while China’s vaccine diplomacy seems to be gaining confidence, China’s domestically made vaccines have received attacks on both the WTO and WHO fronts in the meetings held by both organizations during this period. Yesterday, during the discussion of the proposal to waive IP for new COVID vaccines at the WTO, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai issued a statement saying that in order to help fight the epidemic, the U.S. supports the exemption of vaccine patents. When the WHO Strategic Advisory Group evaluated whether to authorize the emergency use of Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines, it believed that these two vaccines are effective on adults, but the data on side effects and risks are insufficient, therefore has “low confidence” on the Sinovac jab, and “very low confidence” on the Sinopharm jab. As the export and donation of China’s vaccines are bound to be hindered, the Chinese vaccine companies’ stock prices plummeted a great deal yesterday.

It should be noted that although WHO’s independent expert’s assessment of Sinovac and Sinopharm determined confidence in the effectiveness of both vaccines in adults aged between 19 and 59, the effectiveness on 60+ of the latter is not as high as that of the former, and there may be the consequences of severe side effects. The WHO has once again postponed its decision on whether to approve the emergency use of the two Chinese vaccines, but it looks like that won’t make a huge difference in hindering the determination of the Carrie Lam administration in promoting the Sinovac vaccine.

The Indian double mutant variant has entered Hong Kong. Carrie Lam’s administration quarantined the patient’s residential building, conducted compulsory testing, and evacuated residents. It was chaotic. Although experts and political parties mostly agree that these measures are understandable in stopping the spread of the virus, however, if loopholes still exist despite all of the government’s efforts in blocking virus import, sampling inspection, and tracing the virus, then the worries of the next wave of outbreak are still there. Moreover, will the quarantine centers run out of room if more and more buildings are quarantined? How effective are the vaccines against these mutant variants? Shouldn’t the government clarify some of these?

What remains to be seen is the impact of the import of mutant variants to the Carrie Lam administration’s vaccine policy. A doctor residing at Royalton II in Pok Fu Lam said that despite having received both doses of Sinovac and showing antibodies in tests, he was still sent to mandatory quarantine centers for 21 days. Is this to exaggerate the fear of the mutant variants, urge the citizens to get the jab, or raise skepticism around the effectiveness of Sinovac and reduce the people’s willingness to get vaccinated? Such contradicting strategies — can they really help promote the China-made vaccines and help China’s vaccine diplomacy?

However, with regards to the immigration wave, Carrie Lam even dared to publicly claim that “those who leave (Hong Kong) are all fugitives we do not care about.” Then, if she announces that only by receiving the Sinovac jab no matter how high the risks are could one prove to be a patriot, how hard can it be?

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