German Foreign Minister Criticizes China’s Vaccine Diplomacy: ‘It’s Not the Right Way to Go’

May 18, 2021 Updated: May 18, 2021

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has indirectly criticized the Chinese regime for taking the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to expand its influence through “vaccine diplomacy.” He called on the international community to counter China’s expanding influence in Africa and Latin America, and warned against the regime’s tactic to divide Europe.

Maas gave a speech at the Ecumenical Church Congress in Frankfurt, Germany on May 15. He said that some countries are trying to increase their geopolitical influence through vaccine diplomacy—referring to China and Russia, according to a report by World Today News.

Their vaccine diplomacy is more about “the interests of countries that provide vaccines than those of countries that are urgently dependent on vaccines,” Maas said.

He also emphasized that “vaccine nationalism is not the way to go.”

At the meeting of foreign ministers of the Group of Seven (G7) held earlier this month, Maas called on all the countries to jointly formulate a human rights-focused China strategy. He said that while paying attention to economic interests, “We are all of the opinion that it is far more effective if we raise issues like human rights or freedom of the press together,” according to German media Deutsche Welle (DW).

G7 foreign ministers wear face masks and are socially distanced for a group photo
G-7 foreign ministers wear face masks and are socially distanced for a group photo, with front row left, European High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, middle row left to right, German Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs Heiko Maas, Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Motegi Toshimitsu and Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Marc Garneau, back row from left, Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs Luigi Di Maio and French Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian, on the stairs at Lancaster House in London ahead of bilateral talks at the G7 Foreign and Development Ministers meeting in London on on May 4, 2021.(Stefan Rousseau/Pool via AP)

Maas pointed out that totalitarian states constantly try to challenge freedom and democracy with their own political models. Therefore, the world should establish common values and formulate common strategies under the G7 structure to counter China’s influence, “reaching out to Africa and Latin America, with concrete offers of cooperation,” he said.

The Chinese communist regime has been taking advantage of the raging COVID-19 epidemic in Central and South America. Through vaccine diplomacy, Beijing attempts to build ties with Honduras. Honduras does not have formal relations with China but has diplomatic ties with Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its territory.

Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernández said on May 11 that in order to obtain more Chinese-made vaccines, he would look for a “diplomatic bridge” and to establish trade offices in China, according to a report by Reuters.

In response to Honduras’ decision, the U.S. State Department condemned Beijing’s vaccine diplomacy without directly mentioning China. “We condemn the cynical use of potentially life-saving medical assistance to advance the narrow political agendas of certain donors,” a State Department spokesman told Reuters.

Maas also warned that China uses vaccine diplomacy to divide Europe, as the authoritarian states are trying to “play us off against each other.”

Hungary is an example of China’s vaccine diplomacy’s influence in Europe. In March, the Hungarian government decided to buy 5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines made by Chinese state-owned company Sinopharm. In April, Hungary blocked a European Union statement criticizing Beijing’s implementation of a national security law in Hong Kong. In May, Hungary blocked another statement from the EU which condemned the Chinese regime’s suppression of freedom in Hong Kong.

Maas criticized Hungary’s move and called it “absolutely incomprehensible,” according to a report by Politico.