China and Indonesia have agreed to work more closely together to fight Covid-19 as Beijing on Friday sought to bolster ties with a regional neighbour through what some analysts are calling “vaccine diplomacy”.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told visiting Indonesian special envoy Luhut Binsar Panjaitan at a meeting in Kunming, the capital of southwest China’s Yunnan province, that vaccine programmes could provide a new focus for relations between Beijing and Jakarta.
“China is willing to work with Indonesia on vaccine research, production and distribution, and support exchanges of relevant departments and medical institutes to help ensure access to affordable vaccines across the region and around the world,” Wang said.
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Beijing has used the concept of vaccine diplomacy to engage its neighbours, including promising the Association of Southeast Asian Nations its 10 members, and other countries, that they will be among the first to receive Chinese Covid-19 vaccines once they become available.
Chinese President Xi Jinping said in May that any vaccines developed in China would be a “global public good”.
On Friday, China announced it had signed up to the World Health Organization’s vaccine distribution scheme Covax, which aims to provide free access to vaccines for low and middle-income countries.
The meeting with Luhut came ahead of Wang’s Southeast Asia tour that starts on Monday and will take in visits to Cambodia, Malaysia, Laos, Thailand and Singapore.
The trip comes after the United States last month launched its Mekong-US Partnership, offering projects worth more than US$150 million to Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam in a bid to counter China’s influence in Southeast Asia.
As their two-way rivalry has become increasingly bitter, Beijing and Washington have both sought to garner support in the region.
As one of the front runners in the global race to develop an effective vaccine for Covid-19, China was keen to put its advantage to good use, said Pang Zhongying, an international affairs analyst at the Ocean University of China in Shandong.
“Vaccines are at the centre of China’s charm offensive in Southeast Asia,” he said. “It’s good to make vaccines a public good but any impulse to attach geopolitical purposes should be restrained.”
Without a product of its own, Indonesia has been keen to secure supplies of Covid-19 vaccines from drug companies around the world, including China’s Sinovac Biotech whose candidate is in the final phase of human trials.
The company said in August it would help Indonesia’s state-owned drug maker Bio Farma to produce at least 40 million doses at its own facilities before March 2021.
While China appears to have Covid-19 under control, the disease is still wreaking havoc in some parts of Southeast Asia.
Indonesia’s health ministry reported a record daily high of 4,094 new cases on Friday and 97 deaths, taking the respective totals to 324,658 and 11,677.
As well as discussing Covid-19 vaccines, Wang said he and Luhut agreed to pursue cooperation through the Belt and Road Initiative – Xi’s pet infrastructure development plan – and in the areas of e-commerce, artificial intelligence, big data, 5G and cloud computing.
More from South China Morning Post:
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- Coronavirus: Sinovac vaccine trial said to be stalled in Bangladesh over funding
- Coronavirus: China positions itself for ‘vaccine diplomacy’ push to fight Covid-19
- Coronavirus: what China’s decision to join the WHO’s vaccine scheme means
- South China Sea: Malaysia to stick with ‘quiet diplomacy’ towards Beijing in dispute, analysts say
This article Vaccine diplomacy: China, Indonesia agree to cooperate in fight against Covid-19 first appeared on South China Morning Post