Vaccine diplomacy: China hopes its vaccine development and outreach to the developing world will refurbish its image

Sao Paulo Gov. Joao Doria holds a box of China's CoronaVac vaccine. Credit: Reuters
Sao Paulo Gov. Joao Doria holds a box of China's CoronaVac vaccine. Credit: Reuters

Brazil is among the countries worst hit by the pandemic, with over six million cases and nearly 170,000 deaths.

China has promised that 6 million doses of CoronaVac, made by the biotech firm Sinovac, will reach Brazil by January. São Paulo’s highly respected Butantan Institute, which is testing the vaccine, will get raw materials to make millions more.

The shipments to Brazil are part of a campaign of vaccine diplomacy that Beijing has mounted around the world. The fallout from the spread of Covid-19 has fuelled mistrust of China internationally, and damaged the global appetite for the exports which helped drive its growth.

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A successful vaccine, provided at an affordable price, offers a potential route to address resentment and criticism of China’s early handling of the virus, as well as a financial boost for the country’s biotech firms. China manufactures around a fifth of the world’s vaccines at the moment but those are mostly for domestic use.

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“The idea that the Chinese vaccine is going to be a global public good is very important for China right now, because it became the way they are fighting the propaganda war in the pandemic,” said Maurício Santoro, a professor at the State University of Rio de Janeiro who specialises in China-Brazil relations.

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