China Is Struggling to Get the World to Trust Its Vaccines

Bloomberg Quicktake: Now published this video item, entitled “China Is Struggling to Get the World to Trust Its Vaccines” – below is their description.

Many developing nations may come to rely on Chinese vaccines amid global shortages, but China is struggling to build trust in its jabs abroad. Bloomberg’s Marc Daniel Davies reports.

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Of all the developing countries testing China’s Covid-19 vaccines, few are friendlier to Beijing than Pakistan. In the years leading up to the pandemic, China financed nearly $70 billion across the South Asian nation on roads, railways and power stations, and Pakistan now has two Chinese clinical trials underway, with even senior government officials being inoculated.

Yet interviews with people in Karachi, the nation’s biggest city — as well as in other developing nations from Indonesia to Brazil, together with surveys and official comments — show that China has failed to assure the millions of people who may have to rely on its vaccines.

“I won’t take it,” said Farman Ali Shah, a motorcycle driver in Karachi for local ride-hailing app Bykea, as local shops closed early ahead of an 8 p.m. virus-induced curfew. “I don’t trust it.”

That mistrust, and the reliance of dozens of poorer nations on China to inoculate their populations could set the stage for a major global political headache if citizens offered the Chinese vaccine feel they are being given an inferior product.

China’s vaccines were meant to score a clear diplomatic win for Beijing, shoring up ties with dozens of poorer nations amid an anticipated shortage of Western-developed shots. But there has been little information about how the Chinese versions have fared in final-stage clinical trials, with just the United Arab Emirates and China itself endorsing the vaccines for emergency use so far. Meanwhile, some U.S. and European companies have published data on the safety and efficacy of their shots and started to deploy them.

That uncertainty presents another roadblock in China’s efforts to extend its political influence across Asia, Africa and South America. Through its seven-year-old Belt and Road Initiative, Beijing spent billions on loans and projects and cultivated local elites to buttress its political and economic power — efforts that have often backfired because of poor management and heavy-handed implementation. The mistrust was compounded by China’s exports early in the pandemic of subpar tests and personal protective equipment.

“China has a great opportunity to do vaccine diplomacy and distribute a life-saving product,” said Jorge Guajardo, a senior director for McLarty Associates, who was Mexico’s ambassador to China for six years. “In my experience, every time they’ve engaged in diplomacy, they screw it up — they manage to upset the countries on the receiving end of their aid.”

Missteps could undermine President Xi Jinping’s claims that China’s ruling Communist Party has handled the virus better than western democracies. China, which saw the first known cases of Covid-19 a year ago, used its authoritarian system to virtually eliminate the virus, mass testing millions of people when cases emerged, shutting its borders and locking down parts of the country to snuff out infections. That approach has seen China’s economy begin to recover even as countries such as the U.S. and U.K. struggle to control outbreaks.

Bolstered by its virus success, Beijing sparred with the U.S., U.K. and Australia over everything from the origins of the virus to crackdowns in Hong Kong and Xinjiang. The pain of the pandemic also hardened the stance of the U.S. and China in wider economic disputes, including American efforts to stop countries from adopting the next-generation communications technology of China’s Huawei Technologies Co.

“The key thing I am looking out for is if they come in with offers for a vaccine in exchange for a countries’ commitment to using Huawei 5G telecommunication lines, or to allowing China to invest in key sectors,” said Guajardo. “Given that they have a history of this behavior, it wouldn’t surprise me if they did it again.”

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