The pandemic has thrown stark light on the vast divide between the rich and developing nations. Besides their limited healthcare facilities, the U.N. has repeatedly called international attention to the struggle of the underdeveloped countries to acquire the requisite vaccines.
According to an estimate by the New York Times, of the one billion vaccination shots administered so far, the low-income countries received only 0.2% of it.
With rising cries for assistance from the third world countries, the first world nations were forced to walk a thin line between balancing their domestic needs and extending humanitarian aid. While the U.S. prioritized vaccinating its citizens, China and Russia stepped in to fill the 'vaccine vacuum.'
Reports suggest that Russia is likely to send vaccines to seventy countries, while China intends to supply ninety nations with vaccine doses. Together, they have pledged close to a billion doses of the vaccine to other countries.
In the light of such reports, the TIPP Poll asked Americans what they thought of the U.S. efforts at vaccine diplomacy.
We asked, "Russia and China have been supplying vaccines to many third-world countries. Do you believe the United States is doing enough or not doing enough to counter this influence?"
- 39% yes, doing enough
- 28% no, not enough
- 33% not sure
Vaccines have become a tool of 'soft power.' The timely offer of assistance is aiding China and Russia to foster friendly ties with vulnerable nations. The two countries have already sent over a million doses of Covid vaccines worldwide in the past few months. While this is undeniably a commendable deed, analysts see the far-reaching effects of this 'vaccine diplomacy.'
What Is 'Vaccine Diplomacy'?
Vaccine diplomacy is equivalent to making hay during the pandemic by offering vaccines to underdeveloped countries to further diplomatic relations or exert political/economic influence.
By coming to their aid in the hour of need, Russia and China have forged strategic bonds with many developing or 'emerging' countries. Their generosity and humanitarianism have enhanced their global standing and established long-term bilateral relations with countries flung far and wide.
'Vaccine diplomacy' is not a novel idea. It's been around since vaccines have been around. There are records of such initiatives during the smallpox outbreak, the Hundred Years' war, and even during the Cold War.
During the current pandemic, Russia seems to have gained ground, supplying its Sputnik V vaccine to countries like Argentina, Turkey, and Egypt. They have gone one step further by facilitating and permitting domestic production in countries like Mexico, Egypt, and Argentina.
China has done its best to reclaim lost credibility from the besmirch of being the pandemic's origins. It has provided many hundred thousand vaccine doses to Syria, Mexico, Chile, Indonesia, Serbia, and Hungary, to name a few.
Far ahead of others in vaccine diplomacy, China seems to see this as an opportunity to further its agenda with vulnerable countries. Taiwan has accused Beijing of "offering Chinese-made Covid vaccines to pressure Paraguay to sever ties with the island." Paraguay is only one of fifteen countries in the world to recognize Taiwan as an independent nation. China has, of course, denied the allegations. But, in the world of shifting political alliances, this is only a sign of things to come.
What's The American Approach?
The U.S. initially adopted 'vaccine nationalism,' i.e., it opted to focus on vaccinating American citizens before aiding other countries. While only time will tell on the merits or demerits of this approach, the administration has recently come forward to assist other countries with vaccines and medical supplies.
Our survey found that overall, Americans would like to do more to help the less fortunate.
The TIPP Poll presented the survey respondents with options on how America can counter the influence exerted by Chinese and Russian vaccine diplomacy overtures. Respondents were allowed to choose as many options as they saw fit.
To the query, "How should the U.S. Counter this influence?" Americans responded:
- 29% - Directly donate vaccines to countries
- 24% - Donate medical supplies such as respirators, PPE, Oxygen tanks, etc.
- 22% - Allow other countries patent rights to produce their own vaccines
- 19% - Donate more to the United Nations COVAX (vaccines for all) initiative
- 25% - All of the above
- 16% - None of the above
Political ideologies, as one might expect, influence a significant portion of these responses.
The Democrats and Independents showed more support for all the offered options than Republicans. Only 10% of Republicans were in favor of donating more to the UN COVAX initiative. More than a quarter of them, 27%, did not back any of the suggested options. Here's a look at how much support each option garnered from the Democrats and Republicans.
With the second wave hitting some nations hard and the U.S. likely past the peak of infections, American initiatives to help other countries will mostly be well received at home and abroad. Whether the U.S. can successfully match Chinese and Russian vaccine diplomacy initiatives and regain some lost ground remains to be seen.
- The US has said reports of a prisoner swap with Iran "are not true."
- Iranian state media reported that Tehran had struck deals with British and American officials to release prisoners and unfreeze funds.
- A pro-Iranian Lebanese TV channel first reported the deals. An Iranian state TV channel cited an anonymous official who said agreements had been struck with US and British officials.
- Iran's UN envoy said the reports were not confirmed.
- British officials downplayed unconfirmed reports about a separate deal concerning the possible release of British-Iranian national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.
- China's Shandong aircraft carrier group recently conducted annual exercises in the South China Sea, the People's Liberation Army said.
- China's navy said similar drills would come more regularly amid escalating tensions with the island of Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its sovereign territory.
- US reconnaissance aircraft and warships have become more active around China since President Joe Biden took office.
- Last week, the Chinese defense ministry urged the United States to restrain its front-line forces in the air and seas near China.
- Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that differences between New Zealand and China are becoming harder to reconcile as Beijing's role in the world grows and changes.
- In a speech at the China Business Summit in Auckland, Ardern said there are things on which China and New Zealand "do not, cannot, and will not agree," but added these differences need not define their relationship.
- The comments come as New Zealand faces pressure from some elements among Western allies over its reluctance to use the Five Eyes intelligence and security alliance to criticize Beijing.
- The post on the Chinese site Weibo showed an image of a rocket launch in China alongside a photo of the bodies of Covid victims being cremated in India.
- Text with it read: "Lighting a fire in China vs. lighting a fire in India."
- The post, which appeared on Saturday afternoon, has since been deleted.
- It was reportedly published by an account belonging to an official Chinese law enforcement agency - the Communist Party's Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission - which has millions of followers on Weibo, a popular Chinese microblogging site.
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