Quad to Compete With China’s Vaccine Diplomacy in Indo-Pacific

March 28, 2021 Updated: March 28, 2021

NEW DELHI—The Quad nations—United States, India, Australia, and Japan—are pushing back against the Chinese regime’s vaccine diplomacy.

At the first leadership summit of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue on March 12, the nations announced a partnership to end the pandemic, expand vaccine manufacturing with facilities in India, and provide assistance to the countries in the larger Indo-Pacific region with vaccination and with existing multilateral mechanisms.

“Together, Quad leaders are taking shared action necessary to expand safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing in 2021 and will work together to strengthen and assist countries in the Indo-Pacific with vaccination, in close coordination with the existing relevant multilateral mechanisms, including WHO and COVAX,” the White House said in a fact sheet released after the summit.

Experts said that the larger agenda of the informal strategic forum—to forge a union of democracies against authoritarian governments—is making itself visible in the partnership for vaccines, and that India has emerged as a viable and stable alternative to the Chinese vaccine supply chain.

“They pledged to expand and accelerate production in India of safe, accessible, and effective vaccines and partner at each stage to ensure that vaccines are administered throughout the Indo-Pacific region into 2022,” Joe Chalil, a health care executive and the author of the book “Beyond the COVID-19 Pandemic: Envisioning a Better World by Transforming the Future of Healthcare,” told The Epoch Times.

The partnership includes Australia supporting the delivery of vaccines to hard-to-reach communities in Southeast Asia, contributing $77 million. Australia has already committed $407 million to supply vaccines and for security to insure full vaccine coverage to nine Pacific Island countries and Timor-Leste.

“Japan will assist vaccination programs of developing countries such as the purchase of vaccines and cold-chain support, including through the provision of grant aid of $41 million and new concessional yen loans, ensuring alignment with and support of COVAX,” the White House said.

The existing vaccine programs will be leveraged by the United States, according to the release. The Quad partner will provide $100 million toward regional efforts focused on immunizations.

“They decided to combine their scientific ingenuity, financing, formidable productive capacity, and long history of global-health partnerships to surge the supply of life-saving vaccines in close collaboration with multilateral organizations, including the WHO and Covax Facility,” Chalil said.

President Joe Biden, while answering a question about the “meeting of democracies” in his first official press conference on March 25, highlighted the need to counter autocratic regimes.

“It is clear, absolutely clear … that this is a battle between the utility of democracies in the 21st century and autocracies,” he said.

Chalil said the comments are extremely straightforward as Biden points out a “battle” between democratic and autocratic regimes and the partnership for vaccines has to be looked at in this context.

“His administration sees the U.S. and other democratic nations locked in an ideological competition with China, Russia, and other totalitarian states for global influence,” he said.

Michael Kugelman, the deputy director of the Asia program at the Washington-based Wilson Center, told The Epoch Times that the goal of the Quad’s vaccine partnership is to push back against China’s vaccine diplomacy.

“It’s quite clear that the Quad wants to draw on these supply lines that are available through the networks of Australia and Japan and also India to push back against China’s supply lines. This idea for the four countries to work together to develop and produce and to distribute vaccines around the region, is essential to push back against what China has been doing with its own vaccine diplomacy in the region,” Kugelman said.

Epoch Times Photo
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga (2nd R) speaks during the virtual summit of the leaders of Australia, India, Japan, and the United States, a group known as “the Quad,” at his official residence in Tokyo, on March 12, 2021. (Kiyoshi Ota/Pool via AP)

Soft Power

Jeff M. Smith, a research fellow specializing in South Asia at The Heritage Foundation, told The Epoch Times in an email that the vaccine partnership allows Quad to exercise some soft power in a time of crisis.

“The Quad had its origins in serving as first responders and providing humanitarian aid/disaster relief services in the immediate aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Coordinating vaccine distribution is a similar way for the Quad to leverage its capabilities to provide global public goods while demonstrating that it is capable of more than security-focused discussions and military exercises,” Smith said.

He added that it’ll also be a good opportunity for the four nations to “gain functional experience cooperating on an issue where each of the four countries can leverage their respective strengths in service to a larger goal.”

The Quad leaders also decided to create a senior-level Quad Vaccine Expert Group, consisting of top scientists and officials from the four democracies. The group will work to design an implementation effort, identify hurdles, work to expand financers and production facilities for wider distribution of vaccines, coordinate delivery to hard-to-reach communities, and make recommendations before the year ends, the White House said in its fact sheet.

The leaders decided that the Quad Vaccine Expert Group will also “strengthen and support the life-saving work of international organizations, including the WHO, COVAX, Gavi, CEPI, UNICEF, the G-7, ASEAN, and governments, and call on other countries to do the same.”

Chalil said the decision to assemble an expert group is the beginning of calling all democracies for a coordinated effort that excludes China and Russia.

“Will the Quad shift from a pandemic manufacturing alliance to a new NATO of the future? Time will tell,” he said.

The vaccine partnership is a good way to leverage on the “threat of the moment, the pandemic” and China isn’t in a position to push back against this initiative, Kugelman said. He cautioned, however, that China, which has the ability to develop, manufacture, finance, and distribute vaccines, will always find a market.

“I think it’s important to point out here that even though there may be a rising consensus among the world, countries are not going to cut off their commercial ties with Beijing because [China is] one of the world’s biggest economies,” he said.

Epoch Times Photo
A box of AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid-19 vaccine vials are pictured at the Pontcae Medical Practice in Merthyr Tydfil in south Wales on Jan. 4, 2021. India’s Serum Institute is producing an Indian version of the AstraZeneca vaccine called Covishield that Brazil is buying. (GEOFF CADDICK/AFP via Getty Images)

Manufacturing in India

The Quad partners are collaborating to achieve expanded manufacturing of vaccines in Indian facilities, as authorized by the Stringent Regulatory Authority (SRA). SRA, initially developed by the WHO Secretariat and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, is widely used by the international regulatory and procurement community.

“Quad partners will address financing and logistical demands for production, procurement, and delivery of safe and effective vaccines,” the White House said in the fact sheet.

“Quad partners will work to use our shared tools and expertise, through mechanisms at institutions including the United States Development Finance Corp. (DFC), Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), and, as appropriate, Japan Bank of International Cooperation (JBIC), as well as others.”

The United States has decided to work with Biological E Ltd., an India-based, privately held biopharmaceutical company, to support the goal of producing 1 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine by the end of 2022.

“Japan, through JICA, is in discussions to provide concessional yen loans for the Government of India to expand manufacturing for COVID-19 vaccines for export, with a priority on producing vaccines that have received authorization from WHO Emergency Use Listing (EUL) or Stringent Regulatory Authorities,” the White House fact sheet states.

Chalil said: “This is an intelligent move from the U.S. and its allies in the Quad. They see India as a viable and stable alternative to China in vaccine production.”

He added that the Indian government has provided free vaccine doses or doses at very low cost to 75 countries around the world.

“India is leveraging its manufacturing capabilities to launch its initiative to bolster its global image as the ‘pharmacy of the world,'” he said.

The Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine factory, now produces 2.5 million doses of AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccines daily, after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the “Vaccine Maitri” (Hindi for “vaccine friendship”) humanitarian initiative in January.

“President Biden announced in February 2021 that United States intends to provide $4 billion to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to support developing countries’ vaccination using COVAX manufactured by the Serum Institute of India,” Chalil said.

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