COVID-19 'vaccine diplomacy': China, Russia and India cherry-picking the countries they help

·3-min read

China, Russia and India have been accused of engaging in "vaccine diplomacy" as they cherry-pick nations to give their COVID-19 vaccines to in order to bolster their influence.

Sky News analysis has found 47 countries, plus the African Union which represents 55 nations, have made or been offered vaccine deals with India, China and Russia.

In 21 countries, their sole vaccine supplies up until 19 February were from Russia, China and India.

In another 16 countries, half or more of the doses agreed are from those three countries, data from science analytics company Airfinity shows.

Most of those vaccines are from China and Russia but some in Africa and Asia are from India.

However, the vast majority of the world's COVID-19 vaccines are not from Russia, China and India, with just one in 10 doses from them. Their main purpose is to impose their influence, experts have said.

Agathe Demarais, global forecasting director at the Economist Intelligence Unit, told Sky News: "What Russia and China are trying to do is to bolster their global standing.

"They've been doing this for decades but both leaderships are seizing this opportunity to further their standing - it's a brick in the whole ground plan."

Ms Demarais, who is also a former French diplomat in Russia and the Middle East, added that it is a long-term strategy so whether they are rich or poor is not necessarily the most important issue, it is whether they can impose their influence.

"Bolstering long-term global presence will give them leverage over emerging countries, when you're receiving vaccines from Russia and China, they will have small requests that you can't say no to," she added.

"Russia and China are presenting themselves as saviours but there's a risk - they have had production issues, they're struggling to vaccinate their own populations so there's a big concern they will overpromise and underdeliver."

China and Russia are not only providing vaccines to countries but they are also providing factories to make them and workers as part of their long-term strategy in some nations.

India, which is only producing vaccines in India, is targeting neighbouring countries and is trying to beat China to them, development expert Dr Subir Sahir from The School of Oriental & African Studies, University of London said.

He belives there is another strand of vaccine diplomacy for India in that the prime minister, Narendra Modi, wants to be seen on the world stage as a man of "great generosity".

However, with the roll-out within India going slowly and some states refusing to administer the Indian-made Covivax vaccine due to efficacy concerns, there is a question over how far India's vaccine diplomacy can go.

COVAX, the initiative aimed at ensuring all countries get the vaccine fairly, does not have any deals with Russia, China or India yet, but China has said its three developers have applied to supply their vaccines to the programme and is waiting to see if they are approved.