Friday, February 19, 2021

India tries to outdo China and Russia in vaccine diplomacy

Some interesting geopolitical moved are playing out in the area usually referred to as "vaccine diplomacy".

The main players are China and Russia - no surprise there - but also India, which is increasingly active. Both China and Russia are playing economic and political games quite unabashedly, as is their wont, exporting vaccine doses even at the expense of their own populations, while accusing Western countries of hoarding doses for their own populations. This plays very well with developing nations. Crates of Sinopharm vaccines have been arriving in countries like Zimbabwe and Equatorial Guinea marked with stickers blazing "China Aid. For shared Future." Quantities of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine has been shipped to countries like Guinea, Algeria, Tunisia and Togo.

Even Europe has been tempted. Serbia, for example, has snapped up vaccines offered by both Russia and China, rather than wait for the EU to get its act together, as has Hungary. Even worse, Serbia has been offering some of its doses to ethnic Serb populations in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo, adding a whole ugly ethnic element to vaccine diplomacy.

India, which has a huge vaccine production capacity (indeed, the largest in the world), has, in some ways, gone even further than China and Russia. It is offering vaccines FOR FREE to neighbours ("friendly countries") like Nepal and Sri Lanka, which it worries have increasingly fallen under Chinese sway in recent years, accumulating large amounts of goodwill and soft power in the process. It has also exported large quantities to relatively wealthy countries like Brazil, South Africa and UAE on commercial terms, as well as several poorer countries in Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and Asia, despite having vaccinated only 1% of its own huge population. Even Canada is trying to import vaccines from India

Both Russia's Sputnik V and, to a lesser extent, China's Sinopharm and Sinovac  vaccines are considered to be both "safe and effective" (even by "Western standards"), so you can well see that if poorer countries are faced with a choice of no vaccines (or maybe vaccines through the UN-sponsored COVAX program at some unspecified time in the future) or vaccines naow from China or Russia, they might choose the latter.

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