Many European countries have purchased vaccines – via the EU or independently – from Pfizer, Moderna or AstraZeneca. The United States also buy as many vaccines from Western producers as they can get. Countries with less influence and money go wrong.
China and Russia jump conveniently into this hole created by the West. With the Russian Sputnik V vaccine or the Chinese CoronaVac they try to gain a foothold in the rest of the world. They do this to help fight corona, but also to increase their own influence, say geopolitical experts.
For what, hear what
“ China is now helping the world and itself to fight a pandemic, but is also working to improve geopolitics,” says China specialist Ties Dams. “China wants to show that it is a reliable and powerful partner.”
Russia views the global crisis in the same way, says geopolitical analyst Isa Yusibov. “It‘s a kind of vaccine race. Russia is trying to assert itself as a superpower and presents itself as a cheaper alternative to the West. In the Russian backyard, as well as in the Middle East, Africa and Latin America, more and more countries are queuing up to buy the Russian Sputnik vaccine.”
“Putin, thank you.”
With lower prices per dose and with donations and loans, Russia and China ensure that developing countries can afford their vaccines. But they don’t do that without something opposite.
An example is Argentina. On the global market, it was difficult for the poor country to get vaccines. Russia offered the helping hand with a gift and a good deal for Russian vaccines. The Argentinian President thanked his Russian colleague Putin extensively on national television. The flight of the aircraft containing the vaccines was defeated as a heroic sports match on TV.
“ Russia is very pleased with this,” says Yusibov. “The most important thing for Putin is that Russia positions itself as a reliable partner and also maintains or strengthens alliances in that region.”
In neighbouring Brazil, China is playing a strategic game. The Chinese already supplied vaccines to the country, but suddenly shut down the supply.
China is now demanding the departure of the Brazilian Foreign Minister before deliveries are resumed. The reason? “President Jair Bolsonaro has criticized quite a few times about the Chinese vaccine and expressed a bad opinion about Chinese leaders, which does not fall well in Beijing,” explains Dams. “This is a very strong example of political influence.”
In the Philippines too, the Chinese want direct political results. In exchange for 25 million Coronavac vaccines, the country has to take criticism of the controversial islands that China is laying in the South China Sea. Actually, President Rodrigo Duterte wants to reclaim areas here. Dams: “Duterte is one of the first world leaders admitting what the deal with China is: less influence, but vaccines.”
“ I think China is mainly working to prevent the further spread of the virus in neighbouring countries, so that China is also safer. But at the same time, a geopolitically important country becomes much more dependent on China. It tries to strike two birds with one stone.”
In Africa too, Russia and China are doing everything they can to bring vaccines in favor of leaders. Dams: “African countries are going to have to buy a lot of expensive vaccines on a large scale. China has it to offer, and says: we can, under the terms you know of us, provide loans so that you can actually pay those vaccines.”
What helps is that China has been investing heavily in transport and telecommunications in Africa for a long time. And not without reason. “The big money in the world economy is going to be made in Africa and Southeast Asia in thirty years,” says Dams. “China now wants to create its image as a reliable and innovative partner for them.”
‘Russia wants to achieve PR success’
According to Dams, China does what it does in every crisis: to forge an alliance that lasts longer than the crisis. On the contrary, Russia seems to be using its vaccine more for direct PR purposes. “Russia does not have the desired technology or the resources for infrastructure investment,” says Yusibov. “Russia is using its vaccine to be a cheaper and more available alternative to the West. Easier to transport and store, good for Third World countries.”
But China also sees the pandemic as an opportunity to present itself as a noble new world leader in order, emphasises Dams. “China pretends that the world is made up of the West and the rest, and keeps repeating that China does stand up for the interests of the rest.”