Four Chinese companies have embarked on the intense race to develop a vaccine for COVID-19, starting testing on human candidates. The numbers represent an effort that is greater than the United States and United Kingdom combined – countries that are yet to contain the deadly virus within their borders.
In an attempt to expedite the vaccine development process, both the Chinese and US governments have pledged to slash red tape, with US President Donald Trump announcing that he would “slash red tape like nobody has even done it before.”
Much of the public are of the opinion that China’s efforts in winning the vaccine development race – if successful – will allow the country to win back political alliances during a time when international criticism over alleged initial mishandling of the outbreak is growing. However, others remain skeptical, speculating that China’s victory may simply provide the Asian nation with the upper hand – something which could potentially be exploited.
A US national security official who spoke to Politico stated that China knows that “whoever finds a workable vaccine right now basically rules the world.”
If China were to successfully find a COVID-19 cure, such a geopolitical victory would come during a time where the relationship between Washington and Beijing remains rocky, driven by a war of words as well as trade tensions which – although largely placed on the political backburner – still exist.
On Monday, May 4, in an online event featuring world leaders tasked to assist with the European Union’s effort to raise new funds for developing and distributing vaccines, China sent the lowest-level official to the event and made no new financial pledges. It also did not promise to make any successful vaccine a public common good.
Instead, Chinese ambassador to the EU Zhang Ming asked the world to stop the “blame games,” and reiterated the nation’s ongoing efforts to help the international community in the fight against the pandemic.
Zhang stated that until present, Chinese companies have supplied 24 billion face masks, 120 million protective suits and 24,000 ventilators over the last two months. Zhang also highlighted that his country has made several financial pledges, including 1 billion yuan (US$141.5) of investments in research on the disease and US$50 million worth of donations to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) COVID-19 response.