The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted the daily life of people around the world and changed the shape of global politics. Health diplomacy, which had attracted limited attention compared to political, economic, and military diplomacy, has gained new importance over the last year. Unlike during previous crises, however, rising powers are playing increasingly central roles in health diplomacy, especially in the developing world. China and India, in particular, have been proactive in using medical supplies and, more recently, vaccines to advance their diplomatic goals.
Being the country where the Covid-19 virus first broke out, China initiated vaccine research in January 2020, before cases appeared in many other countries. Vaccine development teams featured public-private partnerships that combined state research institutions’ resources and pharmaceutical companies’ manufacturing capabilities. These teams gained significant financial, institutional, and infrastructural assistance from the government. Four vaccines have been approved in China and at least one foreign country (BBIBP-CorV by Sinopharm and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, CoronaVac by Sinovac Biotech, Convidecia by CanSinoBIO and the Academy of Military Medical Sciences, and ZF2001 by Zhifei Longcom and the Chinese Academy of Sciences).
The bulk of Chinese vaccines are produced domestically. With the help of the government, manufacturers started ramping up production capacity as vaccines were being developed and tested. As early as April 2020, Sinopharm established production lines in Beijing and Wuhan with an annual capacity of 300 million doses, with plans to eventually export 300 to 500 million doses to over twenty countries. Similarly, Sinovac and CanSinoBIO increased their production to 300 million and 200 million doses, respectively. This expanded capacity allows China to meet domestic demand as well as fulfill orders from abroad.