Criticising China over “Vaccine Diplomacy” is Trivial and Inhuman.

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Workers at the Robert Gabriel Mugabe Airport in Harare coordinate the transfer of Sinopharm vaccines donated by the Chinese government to Zimbabwe. PHOTO: CGTN Africa/Farai Mwakutuya
Workers at the Robert Gabriel Mugabe Airport in Harare coordinate the transfer of Sinopharm vaccines donated by the Chinese government to Zimbabwe. PHOTO: CGTN Africa/Farai Mwakutuya

By Allawi Ssemanda.

Over the past months, some international media and political pundits in different capitals have been very active framing and creating negative narrative targeting China’s Covid-19 vaccine donations to poor and developing countries. Many branded this humanitarian gesture as China’s “Vaccine Diplomacy” while other critics see it as “vaccine favouritism” simply because China, a Sovereign Country independently decides who to donate its vaccines.

When you critically look at insinuations raised by Beijing’s critics questioning this life much needed assistance of donating life-saving vaccines to poor and developing countries, the two arguments often advanced are trivial and, in all ways, are naïve.

Firstly, some of critics wonder why before vaccinating its entire population, China is donating covid-19 vaccines to other countries. Drivers of such arguments forgets one key fact: Since November 2020, China has recorded only 0.01 per cent of World’s Covid-19 new cases, and many of these are imported cases. Therefore, whether overtly or covertly, one criticising China for donating vaccines to developing countries before her own population is akin to “Small talk.”  As the saying goes; ‘a friend in need is a friend indeed’; China is aware that Covid-19 cases in a number of developing countries is on rise, so criticising Beijing for doing offering a helping hand to countries in need is unacceptable and inhuman.

Secondly, it is now an open secret that with “vaccine nationalism” the world has witnessed especially amongst developed western countries where rich(er) countries booked and bought almost all first production of vaccines and reserved extra for themselves, and many of developed countries dragging heels in supporting COVAX program which is meant to help developing and poor countries secure enough vaccines. Also, COVAX initiative experts say may cover just 20% of those in need, making other sources of Covid-19 vaccine much needed since it saves life.

An argument can also be made that had China not taken this humanitarian step to donate Covid-19 vaccines to poor and developing countries, arguably, to date many of them would still be waiting without a single dose. The consequence of this is severe including continued deaths. Therefore, from humanity perspective, anyone putting Beijing under critical lenses with a view of finding ulterior motives for their humanitarian assistance should be treated with contempt.

Other than the claim that China is donating Covid-19 vaccines to developing countries before vaccinating enough of her citizens and also invested more funds in Belt and Road project, promoters of the so-called “China’s Vaccine Diplomacy” argue that Beijing is doing so because the two meets China’s diplomatic and strategic goals. The argument above doesn’t really hold for it simply promotes selfishness. Even if it was true that China will strategically gain from her humanitarian gesture in aspect of good relations with other countries especially those Beijing has donated or promised to donate vaccines, still this is a very simplistic argument if compared with the outcome of China’s primary intention of donating these vaccines which is saving lives.

Also, from historical perspective, those against China helping others when the country seems to be in need lack historical facts. It is on record China has never been a selfish country and has always been on the side of developing countries. For example, during colonial bondage, despite her challenges at home as a developing country, China played a key role in helping African countries to snap the ugly shackles of colonial rule. In late 1960s, China set up a soft loan of about $400 million to assist in construction of the famous TAZARA railway line linking Tanzania and Zambia which helped in easing transport in East African region and beyond. China set up this fund at a time when its total per capita GDP was still low compared to Sub-Saharan Africa. For record, until 1978, Sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP was about $490 while China’s averaged was about $156. Therefore, it is not new China to consider helping other developing countries at a time when Beijing seems to be in need.

It is important to recall that even before Covid-19 pandemic, China has always helped poor and developing countries when it comes to medical assistance. In Uganda for example, Beijing has been helping the country in medical field through different programs including assisting in establishing one of Uganda’s National Hospital, China-Uganda friendship Hospital Naguru which has helped tens of thousands of people in getting specialised medical services. The hospital has Chinese medical experts and, on many occasions, Beijing supplies it with necessary medical supplies. Such assistance is wide spread in different parts of Africa. During Ebola outbreak, Chinese medical experts played a pivotal role in containing the outbreak in a number of developing countries including among others Guinea Conakry, Sierra Leone, Democratic Republic of Congo among others.

It is also important to note that China has not only donated vaccines to developing countries but has also extended the same assistance to international organisations. On March 15th, China’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Zhang Jun announced that Beijing will donate 300,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccines to UN Peace keepers, the first of its kind to the organisation.

If you critically examine arguments raised by critics of China’s vaccines donation, you will see that all reasons advanced are nothing but a cobweb of politics. arguably, it also fits in Beijing’s critics held view that it is always alright for the so-called “traditional doners” not Beijing to offer assistance to developing world. Put differently, this is textbook of libido dominandi – a Latin concept loosely translated as the urge or lust to lead and dominate in everything that gives credit. This way, Beijing’s “Vaccine Diplomacy” critics think it should be the West leading in this good cause which China is presently doing perfectly!

It is upon this background that considering the many benefits of China’s medical assistance to poor and developing countries, instead of putting China’s donation of covid-19 vaccines under microscope hopping to find ulterior motives as some claim, the world should hail China’s humanitarian assistance for offering to assist needy countries by donating the much-needed Covid-19 vaccines specially to developing countries.

By Allawi Ssemanda, Senior Research Fellow at Development Watch Centre.



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