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Xi’s outlook helps enhance vaccine equity

A woman is inoculated against COVID-19 with the Chinese SinoPharm vaccine by personnel of the Bolivian Health Ministry, outside her home at the Santa Rosa neighborhood in El Alto, Bolivia, on Sept 17, 2021. (JORGE BERNAL / AFP)

Led by President Xi Jinping’s vision and pledges made at critical international meetings on COVID-19 response, China is winning increasing support and recognition as it bolsters global unity and helps address inequities in vaccine distribution and vaccination, officials and experts said.

President Xi Jinping has made pledges at multiple international events on making China’s COVID-19 vaccines a global public good.

Behind Beijing’s commitments are its strong sense of duty as a major country and its evolving solutions to handling crises such as the pandemic-jointly building a global community of health for all, they added.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned on Monday that the global response to fight the coronavirus has so far been “too slow and too unequal”.

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“I call on the world to mobilize behind a global vaccination plan that doubles vaccine production, to reach 70 percent of the world’s population by the middle of next year,” Guterres said at an international meeting on achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

China became the first country to propose the building of a global community of health for all last March, when Xi put forward this major initiative in a message to French President Emmanuel Macron.

At the Global Health Summit last May, Xi delivered a speech titled “Working Together to Build a Global Community of Health for All”.

In the speech, he urged nations to put people and their lives first, follow science-based policies, promote solidarity and cooperation, uphold fairness and equity and improve the global governance system.

Xi’s vision for building a global community of health for all has been “pointing the way forward for China’s participation in global cooperation against COVID-19 and building the consensus that the international community should fight the virus in solidarity”, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters earlier this month in Singapore.

Xi has made pledges at multiple international events on making China’s COVID-19 vaccines a global public good.

“China will provide $2 billion over two years to help with COVID-19 response and with economic and social development in affected countries, especially developing countries,” he announced on May 18 last year when addressing the opening of the 73rd session of the World Health Assembly via video link.

In October last year, China joined the global vaccine initiative COVAX in an effort to ensure that developing countries and least developed economies have equitable access to vaccines.

Beijing also launched the Initiative for Belt and Road Partnership on COVID-19 Vaccines Cooperation in June, which includes the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and another 21 Asia-Pacific countries.

China convened the International Forum on COVID-19 Vaccine Cooperation, and Xi sent a message to the first meeting of the forum on Aug 5, in which he announced that China will strive to provide 2 billion doses of vaccines globally this year.

On Friday, Xi said at the 21st Meeting of the Council of Heads of State of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization that China will step up efforts to realize the goal of providing 2 billion doses and that the country had provided close to 1.2 billion doses of finished and bulk vaccines to over 100 countries and international organizations.

“China’s ideas, initiatives and concrete actions mentioned above have been recognized and responded to by all parties, laying a foundation for building a global community of health for all,” said State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

Ruan Zongze, executive vice-president of the China Institute of International Studies, noted that China “demonstrates commitments not only in words, but also in deeds “when it calls for building such a global community of health for all, manifesting the broad vision and strong sense of mission of a major country.

“To bolster global unity and speak with one voice on vaccines, countries must tackle three major challenges: inadequate production capacity, inequitable distribution and attempts to politicize vaccine issues,” Ruan said.

Hopes rise

According to the Nepali newspaper Kathmandu Post, a consignment of 4.4 million doses of Chinese vaccines arrived in Nepal’s capital city on Friday afternoon.

Sagar Dahal, chief of Nepal’s National Immunisation Programme under the Ministry of Health and Population, told Xinhua News Agency: “There is hardly any complaint about the side effects of the Chinese vaccine. There is also widespread acceptability of this vaccine among the Nepali population.”

In contrast, Gordon Brown, a former British prime minister, wrote in an article in The Guardian this month that “even though the G7 nations promised COVAX in June that they would share 870 million doses with the poorest countries, just 100 million have been released to them”.

“Our collective failure to turn the scientific success of the vaccines themselves into actual protection for all, and to avoid dividing the world into vaccine haves and have-nots, is a moral catastrophe,” Brown wrote.

While addressing the opening ceremony of the plenary session of the sixth Eastern Economic Forum on Sept 3 via video link, President Xi called on all parties in Northeast Asia to join hands to overcome the challenge of COVID-19, foster mutual cooperation and safeguard regional peace and stability.

Oleg Timofeyev, an associate professor at the People’s Friendship University of Russia, told Xinhua that Xi’s address underscored rejecting any politicization of COVID-19 vaccines and origin-tracing, and called for striving to build a global community of health for all, which will have both global implications and a positive impact on people’s lives.

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Ruan, the CIIS scholar, said China’s pledges on providing vaccines and funding support have been targeting the difficulties experienced by the vast number of developing countries and will effectively boost vaccine accessibility and affordability in those countries.

“The leading role Beijing has played in global vaccine collaboration shows that China is a reliable partner of the international community and a good friend and partner of fellow developing countries,” Ruan said.

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