Pakistan may be getting Chinese Covid vaccine shots in return for its approval of projects linked to China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), according to the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).
In a report on vaccine diplomacy, thee EIU said that China may also seek to reward Cambodia and Laos with vaccines for their support on territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
EIU said when it comes to donations, which are led by state-owned Sinopharm, the Chinese government has prioritised participants of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
The Chinese authorities have not released complete data as to where vaccines have been sent, probably in an attempt to prevent comparisons among countries. News reports indicate particularly large donations have been pledged to Cambodia (1.7 mn doses) and the Philippines (1 mn). China will also provide loans for recipient countries to purchase vaccines; the Chinese government has pledged to extend a $1bn loan to Latin American and Caribbean countries for this purpose.
Such donations serve several purposes. They aim to create a positive environment for future bilateral economic and political co-operation, facilitate the economic recovery of BRI countries (which are in some cases suppliers of commodities for China), and expand China's soft power through positive local media coverage, the report said.
The Chinese authorities are able to pursue domestic and overseas vaccination drives in parallel because they face less urgency to vaccinate their own residents; China has consistently kept new daily cases under 200 since April 2020.
China has shipped or plans to export or donate Covid-19 vaccines to a total of around 90 countries as of April 22. The number of countries that China supplies will expand if a Chinese vaccine candidate is approved by the WHO and can therefore become part of the COVAX programme.
EIU said Russia and China are aiming to take advantage of a "vaccine vacuum" - a perceived failure of Western states to help in the provision of vaccines. They are also seeking to leverage resentment against Western countries, which have secured access to more than half of the global supply of vaccines this year and are prioritising immunising their own populations. China and Russia are using this situation to their own advantage by presenting themselves as the "saviours" of emerging countries, providing vaccines on an often (although not always) affordable basis to countries that would otherwise struggle to vaccinate their populations.
However, China and Russia are not sending vaccines in equal numbers to all emerging countries. Some, such as Brazil, Chile, Indonesia and Mexico, will get millions of doses. Others, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, will get only a few thousand vaccines, suggesting that this is more of a public relations exercise than a genuine attempt to fill an urgent need.