Amid complaints from abroad and even back home about how the United States is “taking too long” to begin shipping huge numbers of doses of vaccine to other, poorer countries, some of those nations are finding some hope from what may seem like an unlikely source. China is now up and running in producing vaccines at a frantic pace. And rather than attempting to vaccinate all 1.4 billion of its own people first, the Chinese are making expansive promises about shipping literally billions of doses to countries around the globe. The process actually began more than a month ago. China shipped a significant number of vaccine doses to Chile in January and at this point, they have sent shipments to a total of at least 25 countries. Of course, when you’re talking about the Chinese Communist Party, you have to ask yourself why they are doing it and if the program is safe or effective. (Associated Press)
China’s vaccine diplomacy campaign has been a surprising success: It has pledged roughly half a billion doses of its vaccines to more than 45 countries, according to a country-by-country tally by The Associated Press. With just four of China’s many vaccine makers claiming they are able to produce at least 2.6 billion doses this year, a large part of the world’s population will end up inoculated not with the fancy Western vaccines boasting headline-grabbing efficacy rates, but with China’s humble, traditionally made shots.
Amid a dearth of public data on China’s vaccines, hesitations over their efficacy and safety are still pervasive in the countries depending on them, along with concerns about what China might want in return for deliveries. Nonetheless, inoculations with Chinese vaccines already have begun in more than 25 countries, and the Chinese shots have been delivered to another 11, according to the AP tally, based on independent reporting in those countries along with government and company announcements.
If the Chinese are actually performing some sort of humanitarian gesture and helping to save the world, then good for them. There’s obviously a global vaccine supply chain challenge at the moment that is more than daunting. But what are the odds of that being the case? This, after all, the Chinese Communist Party we’re talking about. Several significant concerns are already being raised about this news.
The first issue is whether or not the vaccines that China is shipping out are both safe and effective. Given the number of doses that have been administered in multiple nations, if there had suddenly been an outbreak of millions of people dropping dead, we’d probably have heard about it by now. So the vaccines probably aren’t lethal. But how effective are they really? These vaccines are being produced in the traditional style by weakening a small amount of the virus and injecting it into patients to prompt an immune response. That’s not new technology, so there’s a fair chance that the doses are delivering at least some level of immunity, but nowhere near the shocking success rate of the new mRNA technology being used to create the ones being distributed in the United States.
Even if we assume that the vaccines are up to snuff, the other obvious question we need to be asking is what China expects in return for all of this generosity. The Associated Press article speculates that China is engaging in some type of “vaccine diplomacy” in the hopes of rebuilding global trust in their government. The Chinese handling of the pandemic’s outbreak in the early stages was extremely poor, to put it mildly. They almost certainly hid a lot of data from the rest of the world to make themselves look better and suspicions remain as to whether they originally cooked up the virus in a lab.
But the CCP doesn’t really seem to be all that dependent on goodwill or global opinions. What they do want is to ensure and reinforce their control of the global supply chain and influence over financial markets. Are the beneficiaries of China’s charitable help being quietly told that there’s going to be some washing of the other hand once the pandemic is under control? Perhaps some free access to the host nation’s technological assets might be in order.
If we want to drink a little more deeply from the conspiracy cup, there are almost certainly representatives of the Chinese government and health officials arriving with these shipments to ensure everything is deployed correctly. Is it really all that hard to imagine some of these benefactors sticking around to “help” with the nation’s pandemic response, while subtly working their way inside? If that sounds crazy, just consider how many spies and technology thieves we’ve been rooting out of America’s university laboratories and technology companies in recent years.
It no doubt costs a lot for China to manufacture these volumes of vaccines and ship them around the globe. But they’ve always been willing to invest in the short term if it promises a much bigger payoff in the future. This vast act of generosity probably translates to a vast amount of future opportunity. Hopefully, our intelligence community is monitoring the situation closely.