China seeks to use access to COVID-19 vaccines for diplomacy

Beijing hasn’t disclosed the details of many of the agreements it is reaching with other countries. Still, official Chinese statements suggest a willingness by China to blur humanitarian and foreign-policy objectives that include garnering support from countries on Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea.

In some countries, accepting a vaccine from a Chinese drugmaker could help deepen diplomatic ties with Beijing at Washington’s expense. Earlier this month, Malaysia’s foreign minister spoke with both Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo on ways to further vaccine collaboration.

Neither Beijing nor Washington has promised to help Malaysia gain early access to a vaccine, but both are seeking to strengthen ties with Kuala Lumpur amid tensions in the South China Sea, where the U.S. is trying to build resistance to Chinese claims on disputed waters.