Coronavirus: China hits out at vaccine ‘hoarding’ nations during BRICS talks

·4-min read

The Chinese foreign minister has accused some developed countries of “hoarding” Covid-19 vaccines, but praised the BRICS bloc of emerging economies for doing the opposite and offering doses to other nations.

Wang Yi made the remarks on Tuesday in a virtual meeting of foreign ministers from the grouping of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. China, India and Russia all have vaccine makers.

“The coronavirus pandemic has seen cases growing in the global south and declining in the north – the hoarding of vaccines and control of exports from some developed countries is not unrelated to this,” Wang said during the talks hosted by his Indian counterpart Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.

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“China has provided more than 350 million doses of vaccines to the international community. This is in sharp contrast with developed countries that have adopted a ‘domestic first’ approach,” he said, according to a statement from China’s foreign ministry on Wednesday.

“We hope that BRICS countries will continue to make vaccines a global public good, and adhere to the principle of fair and reasonable distribution,” Wang said. “[We] support our vaccine makers to transfer their technology to other developing countries to co-produce vaccines.”

Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar hosted the BRICS meeting on Monday. Photo: AFP
Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar hosted the BRICS meeting on Monday. Photo: AFP

Wang also again hit out at countries using “politicised labelling”, an apparent response to last week’s US announcement that it would further investigate the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic, including the possibility of a laboratory leak in Wuhan, the Chinese city where the first cases were reported in late 2019.

China’s foreign minister urged the BRICS nations to stand against “unilateral acts under the banner of multilateralism” such as a “domestic first” approach, forming “clubs”, and “selective multilateralism”. He said some countries were exercising hegemony “in the name of multilateralism”.

Wang’s comments come as the pandemic is still raging worldwide, with many nations – particularly poorer ones – scrambling to secure vaccines in a roll-out marked by geopolitical tensions and a lack of global coordination.

Lin Minwang, a professor and assistant dean at the Institute of International Studies at Fudan University, said given their strained ties it was important for China to find common ground with India on vaccines.

“BRICS is a multilateral platform that China shares with India, so it’s a good chance to point out that India has many roles in the vaccine roll-out,” Lin said. “Instead of just cooperating with the US, Japan and Australia [in the Quad grouping’s vaccine initiative], it is important to point out … that its ability to produce vaccines can benefit the world beyond this context,” he said, giving the example of India agreeing to produce Russia’s Sputnik V shots.

China has sought to position itself as a global vaccine supplier, but critics say it is engaging in “vaccine diplomacy” to win points and future business opportunities. While Beijing has said it supports any country pledging to offer doses to developing nations, it has criticised US-led initiatives to expand vaccine production in the region like that of the Quad, which it calls an “anti-China club”.

Under the Quad’s plan announced in March, the US, Japan and Australia will provide funding for India – the No 1 producer of vaccines globally – to manufacture up to 1 million doses to be distributed in Asia, mainly Southeast Asia, by the end of next year.

But progress on the initiative is unclear since India stopped exporting vaccines last month as it battles a devastating second wave of infections.

Coronavirus: China pledges US$3 billion in aid to developing nations

Both the US and China have joined the World Health Organization-backed Covax Facility to ensure poorer countries receive fair and equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines. And in May, US President Joe Biden pledged that the United States would donate 80 million doses of vaccines globally.

The foreign ministers in a joint communique on Monday also called for a BRICS vaccine research and development centre to get up and running – a centre initiated by China and established in Beijing.

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