China-produced COVID-19 vaccines and BRI share two similarities: expert

Updated: February 28, 2021 Source: Belt and Road Portal
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Editor's Note:

Hopes for a life-saving vaccine are high as the world surpasses 100 million confirmed COVID-19 cases. China has been strengthening efforts to develop the vaccine and aims to make domestically-produced vaccines a global public good.

What does "global public good" mean exactly? Why has China decided to make its vaccines a global public good? Why are some Western countries accusing China of conducting "vaccine diplomacy"? How should China respond to the smear?

In a recent interview with the Belt and Road Portal (BRP), Wang Yiwei (Wang), professor with the School of International Studies of the Renmin University of China, said that China-made COVID-19 vaccines share similarities with the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) -- both are non-competitive and non-exclusive, and contribute to the building of a community with a shared future for mankind.

China is being responsible in providing its vaccines to the world, while some foreign media smear it as "vaccine diplomacy". To dispel such rumors and further promote its vaccines as a global public good, Wang suggested that a white paper on China's move to build a community of common health for mankind needed to be published.

BRP: President Xi Jinping has said on many occasions that China's COVID-19 vaccines would be a global public good. What exactly does a "global public good" mean?

Wang: A global public good is different from a private one, as it is characterized by being non-profit and non-commercial. Chinese vaccines are provided for non-competitive and non-exclusive use. In other words, China's vaccines are non-profit in nature, and they do not compete with vaccines from other countries, nor do they take part in a winner-takes-all market.

For a long time, it was developed countries that provided this kind of global public goods, because they were capable of developing these vaccines. But they want to maintain this hegemony.

China, as a developing country, has offered to provide its vaccines as a global public good to the rest of the world, especially to the people of less-developed countries, emphasizing the concept of "people first and life first", which has shattered the myth of hegemonic stability.

BRP: Traditionally, it was developed countries that provided this kind of global public good. Why should China take up this role now?

Wang: China has the ability to take this role and it is necessary for China to do so. From the perspective of objective needs, we live in an increasingly interconnected world, and globalization is an interdependent chain. Only when everyone in the world is safe can we be truly secure.

As a large number of people are still living in the shadow of the virus, if Chinese vaccines are not used as a global public good, the pandemic will remain uncontrolled, globalization will not be able to return to normal, and the global supply chain will be in chaos, which might hurt China itself and, in turn, the BRI.

From a moral point of view, it is necessary for China to share its vaccines. The epidemic industry, which is dominated by developed countries, has long been capital-oriented, causing a great deal of injustice. Vaccines developed in Western countries are expensive and costly to store and transport, making them a bad choice for low-income countries.

In the current vaccine situation, some developed countries have accumulated over a billion more vaccine doses than they need, while some developing countries have little or none. The vaccine is a magic mirror that reflects the selfishness of human nature, the greed of capital, nationalism and the chaos of the international community.

BRP: More and more scholars at home and abroad have accepted that BRI has become the largest global public good. What are the similarities and differences between the BRI and China-made vaccines?

Wang: As global public goods, they are similar in nature, as both are non-competitive and non-exclusive. The BRI infrastructure projects focus on connectivity rather than exclusive competition.

Although their nature is similar or even the same, the practices are different. The BRI projects are enterprise-led, while the government provides only certain necessary services. Therefore, making a profit is one of its aims. China-made vaccines are used as a global public good, not for commercial purposes.

BRP: Has China lived up to its promise of making Chinese COVID-19 vaccines a global public good so far? How should China further promote its vaccines as a global public good?

Wang: It should be said that Chinese vaccines have now acquired some properties of a global public good. Firstly, we have defined the features of global public goods, namely, they are non-competitive, non-exclusive and not for profit. To date, more than 20 countries have ordered Chinese COVID-19 vaccines, including developing countries, some countries along the BRI routes, as well as developed countries such as Hungary. But it is important to note that the number is still limited.

To further promote Chinese vaccines as a global public good, we first need to ramp up production of vaccines and consider setting up production centers overseas. For countries with full or partial production capacity, China can help or assist them in terms of materials and technology. For example, we can produce vaccines in Dubai and then distribute them to the Arab world, West Asia, the Mediterranean, North Africa and even to Europe.

Secondly, we could consider cooperating with the US to promote Chinese vaccines in the American market. The accessibility and affordability of Chinese vaccines meet the needs of low-income people in the US who cannot afford other expensive vaccines. In addition, with the Biden administration now focusing more on the disadvantaged, there may be room for cooperation in this area. If this can be achieved, it will be a highlight in China-US cooperation. Such cooperation will also give more countries greater confidence in Chinese vaccines.

We could also seek third-party cooperation with developed countries, especially in Africa. As new coronavirus strains emerge in South Africa and other countries, China and some Western countries can cooperate in the research and development, trials and use of COVID-19 vaccines.

BRP: Some foreign media have described China's efforts to make COVID-19 vaccines a global public good as "vaccine diplomacy". What's your view on that?

Wang: It is just as an old Chinese proverb says: "One gauges the heart of a gentleman with one's own mean measure," which is also why they criticize the BRI. In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, China provided a large number of masks to the world to help fight the pandemic. They said that China was engaging in "mask diplomacy". It seems they will escalate everything to the diplomatic level. If China helps, they say it's a diplomatic act. If China doesn't help, they criticize China for being irresponsible.

China's industrial civilization has developed very well. It has created the most independent and complete industrial system in the world, and its digitalization has also been very successful. Some forces are not comfortable with China's development. They want to squeeze China out of the overseas market and even cancel out China's competitive advantage.

BRP: What do we need to do in response?

Wang: There is a Chinese saying that "a straight foot is not afraid of a crooked shadow" as long as you do your own thing well. But this is no longer feasible today. Since we are in the information age and the post-truth era, we-media is very developed, and it is easy to confuse fake news and truth. So we have to do something to set the record straight.

Firstly, a white paper on public health assistance is expected to be issued. In June 2020, we published a white paper on China's fight against the epidemic, telling the world how China brought the epidemic under control and how China's contribution was reflected by data. This kind of voice is very important.

So on the issue of COVID-19 vaccines, we should also publish a white paper titled "Building a Community of Common Health for Mankind: China's Actions" to clarify why we should build a shared community and how China is building it. What is the mechanism of Chinese vaccines? Why is it a global public good? Are they provided free of charge? These are all issues that we need to make clear to the world.

July 2021 marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China (CPC). I suggest we issue a white paper, titled "Building a Community of Shared Future for Mankind: Vision and Actions" incorporating China's achievements in building a moderately prosperous society in all respects into the great journey of building a community of shared future for mankind.

Secondly, we need to explain the relevant concepts in a positive way to fight back and dispel rumors and fake news. As for some rumors spread by foreign media, we need to point out the logic behind them. For example, some foreign media have said that China is engaged in "vaccine diplomacy" and that "Chinese vaccines are not safe". We need to understand that such accusations may be motivated by commercial interests, geopolitics, and the intentions of creating conflicts, confusing and manipulating public opinion.

Thirdly, we need to encourage people to tell the true story of China in the international community. I once met two Americans on a show, and one of them lives in China and made a very interesting comment. In October 2020, Qingdao, East China's Shandong Province, carried out nucleic acid tests on 10 million people in five days. It was the same number the US had tested in the months since the outbreak began. He said that it was only because he was living in China that he could believe this figure. People living in the US cannot imagine how efficient China is. They did not believe that China could do better than the US and thought it was fake. So we need to tell the real story of China.

Editor: Yu Huichen