FAIR COMMENT | Alito L. Malinao
During the last few days hundreds of Chinese vessels have been seen in Julian Felipe Reef in the West Philippine Sea which is within the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the Philippines. The number of these vessels, which the Chinese embassy in Manila has said are fishing vessels, has dwindled but they are still in our territorial waters.
Whether China is now expanding its territory by grabbing uninhabited isles, reef and atolls in the West Philippine Sea is something that we cannot categorically say at the moment. But what is clear is that China is now spreading its influence throughout the world through what some call vaccine diplomacy.
According to the Chinese foreign ministry, Beijing has been providing free vaccines to 69 countries and commercially exporting them to 28 more.
The Philippines has secured 2 million doses of China-made vaccine Sinovac, the first 1 million which came in two shipments were donated by China and the other 1 million, which has also arrived, were purchased.
A report by Diplomat, an online news magazine, says that by early February, three Chinese vaccine makers—Sinopharm, Sinovac, and CanSino—had received overseas orders of more than 572 million doses, accounting to nearly 8 percent of all doses under contract globally. In Indonesia, Sinovac alone will supply 38 percent of the nearly 330 million doses that Jakarta has secured. Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim country.
As of mid-February 2021, China—a latecomer in internationally marketing its vaccines—had shipped more than 46 million doses or their active ingredients overseas.
By donating vaccines to underdeveloped countries such as the Philippines, is China being magnanimous?
I don’t think so. The deadly coronavirus has originated in Wuhan, China in late 2019 and in just a few months has spread like wildfire to other countries around the world killing several millions and infecting hundreds of millions.
In a civilized society, China is duty-bound to help countries that have suffered from the virus that originated from the country. In fact, China is now facing billions of dollars in damages in the United States and some European countries. So, the vaccines that it donated to some countries are just a trickle compared to what it is earning, and will earn, from the vaccines it is exporting.
China has now overtaken the United States in the battle to win friends in the world through its vaccine diplomacy. Although the Biden administration has announced that it will soon assist countries in the vaccine requirements it has not yet done so. The reason: the U.S. is still battling the virus which has continued to rise in the country despite its massive vaccination rollout. The U.S. has already recorded more than half a million deaths.
Although the Chinese government has denied that by distributing vaccines to countries in need is aimed at broadening its global influence it is a fact that Beijing is now winning friends. Officially China is saying that by helping other countries in a crisis, it is only acting as a responsible world power.
Of course, we must take whatever Beijing says with a grain of salt. Everybody knows that China is an authoritarian state where dissent is stifled and the state controls all information.