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When Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine is unloaded in countries around the world, hundreds of millions of doses will come with the label “Made in China.”
Chinese companies have made agreements over the past month to manufacture more than 260 million doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, which has been approved for use in more than 60 countries, including a large number of developing nations such as Mexico, India and Argentina.
The deals are symbolic of how China and Russia’s international vaccine goals are increasingly aligned, as they assist developing countries neglected by their traditional Western partners who have been accused of hoarding shots.
Duke University research shows that while some countries, such as Canada, the UK and New Zealand, have bought enough vaccines to cover their population more than three times over, the vast majority of countries have barely got doses for half their citizens, including some of the nations worst hit by Covid-19.
Bobo Lo, an expert on China-Russia relations and former deputy head of mission at Australia’s embassy in Moscow, said both Moscow and Beijing saw an opportunity for geopolitical gains in the pandemic, winning favor and influence for their autocratic systems.
“It’s useful to them to point out that the West is being selfish in limiting the distribution of vaccine to developing countries,” he said. “This is a really convenient narrative for both Beijing and Moscow.”
There is also a darker side to Moscow and Beijing’s vaccine cooperation. In recent months, Russian disinformation efforts have tried to undermine confidence in US and UK vaccines, such as those made by Pfizer and AstraZeneca, according to Judyth Twigg, professor of political science at Virginia Commonwealth University.
China has done the same, with state-run media hyping up reports of deaths from US and European-made vaccines.
Former diplomat Lo said both Russia and China had an interest in discrediting the US-led world order, particularly Beijing, which is keen for a chance to burnish its own reputation and promote itself as the leader of the global south.
“(China is saying), ‘We understand you, we’re not an imperial power like the Western powers … we’re just here to help,'” he said.