For some time before the fierce tide of coronavirus inundated the world, the global North had already been suspicious of the growing economic and developmental initiative of China. Through sustained growth often superior to that of Western nations, Beijing has succeeded in reaffirming its global prominence since the end of the Cold War.
Its symbolic prowess was confirmed in spectacle and fervent pride when, following close to two-decades of strong economic performance, it played host to the 2008 Olympic Games. Despite debates over its impact, it was undoubtedly viewed by the Chinese as a reaffirmation of its soft power, confirming a return from sleeping giant status. So sure were they of this multi-fronted success that, following the Olympics, their apparent ‘self-confidence turned into over-confidence’. In some respects, this analysis is applicable to the current race to vaccinate.
It is through this scope, then, that the approach of vaccination development in China can be viewed. Already seething over its damaged worldwide reputation for its handling of coronavirus, Beijing had struggled to re-orientate itself in light of accusatory sentiments shared among the international community. Further compounded by faltering domestic feedback, it would seem that the Chinese government is now keener than ever to reinstate its authority as a principal commander of the world.
A rapid vaccination programme could be the desired medium to ensure a reputational recuperation of sorts
A rapid vaccination programme could be the desired medium to ensure a reputational recuperation of sorts. Empowered by the baying call of soft power, a vaccine distribution could present Beijing with significant leverage, and a chance to extract more international solidarity for its agenda.
Any chance of a steadfast campaign of vaccine development and distribution is hardly obstacle-free. The rollout of the Chinese vaccine has been greeted with scepticism, even among its friendliest partners. Added to recent findings that the vaccine has had inflated effectiveness, scepticism is growing regarding its potency as a force to suppress the flow of coronavirus among a given population. This presents a severe threat to any ambition Beijing may be harbouring through its vaccine roll-out.
Any chance of a steadfast campaign of vaccine development and distribution is hardly obstacle-free
Encapsulated here, though, is the breakneck speed from which Western and Chinese efforts have engineered potential remedies of Covid-19. Despite concerns regarding its efficacy, China has still managed to broker deals with countries spanning five continents, demonstrating the diplomatic initiative that is at the heart of the vaccine operation. Western ingenuity has also enabled the first doses of its vaccines to be introduced around the global North, reflecting the remarkably rapid progress made in only a matter of months.
It appears that the ability to forge an advantage from a vaccine isn’t solely exclusive to China, with the US also intent on making its Operation Warp Speed a success after a tumultuous 2020.
It is of vital importance that vaccine programmes are egalitarian and just
It is therefore of vital importance that vaccine programmes are egalitarian and just. Because, if the West veers to restrictive nationalism, it gifts China space to grow its authoritarian influence over those neglected by Western efforts. This would be a reproach that world democracy could ill afford to permit.
Image: Marco Verch via Creative Commons