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HomeWorldWestern Powers Have Lost The Vaccine Diplomacy Battle

Western Powers Have Lost The Vaccine Diplomacy Battle

New report by The Economist Intelligence Unit
(The EIU) outlines strategy, goals and risks behind Russia
and China’s successful vaccine diplomacy

  • China and Russia have been
    sending millions of doses of coronavirus vaccines to
    developing states in recent months.
  • Through this
    “vaccine diplomacy” operation, Russia and China aim to
    strengthen their global presence and boost relations with
    emerging countries.
  • Russia and China are aiming to
    take advantage of a “vaccine vacuum”—a perceived
    failure of Western states to help in the provision of
  • Russia and China are playing a long game
    with vaccine diplomacy. Their intention is to cement their
    influence over the long term.
  • Assistance in the form
    of vaccines will often come with economic or political
    strings attached.
  • China and Russia are focusing on
    regions where they are courting favours, competing with
    Western powers, or where they have a limited
  • By contrast, Western powers like the EU
    and the US have so far mostly been absent from the vaccine
    diplomacy scene.
  • It is likely that the damage to the
    reputation of Western countries has already been done and
    will be hard to repair.

With vaccine diplomacy,
Russia and China are gaining leverage on the cheap while
fulfilling commercial goals. In most cases, they are not
donating vaccines, but selling them; in China’s case,
state-owned firms are competing with private ones for the
supply of shots.

China and Russia are focusing their
efforts on regions where they are courting favours from
emerging countries (for instance Asia for China), or
directly competing with Western powers for influence (such
as eastern Europe, and in particular the western Balkans,
for both China and Russia), or in regions where they have
only a limited presence so far (as is the case for Latin
America, which is traditionally within America’s sphere of

Vaccine diplomacy comes with risks. In
Russia, and to a lesser extent also in China, conflicting
priorities between vaccinating the domestic population and
exporting shots will remain acute throughout 2021. To tackle
this issue, both countries are opening additional factories
(at home and abroad). However, it is unlikely that extra
production lines will help to ease supply issues before the
second half of 2021; setting up vaccine factories is
technically challenging and it takes a minimum of six months
before they are operational.

In the coming years, this
will reinforce the global standing and leverage of Russia
and China in emerging countries, helping both countries to
gain influence and pursue their interests around the world.
The longer term consequence of today’s vaccine diplomacy
will be a further fragmentation of the global

Agathe Demarais, The EIU’s global
forecasting director and author of the report,

“With vaccine diplomacy, Russia
and China seek to leverage resentment against Western
countries, which have pre-booked more than half of the
global supply of vaccines this year and are prioritising
immunising their own populations

Demarais adds that “Vaccine diplomacy is not about
sending shots as a one-off operation. Both Russia and China
are establishing vaccine facilities across the world and
training local workers from emerging countries, betting that
such a strategy will boost their presence on the ground for
decades to come.”

Finally, Ms Demarais mentions
that “Western countries will only engage in vaccine
diplomacy only later this year. This will likely be too late
to catch up with that of Russia and China, which are winning
the public relations battle.”



map depicts the latest forecasts from The EIU for the
rollout of coronavirus vaccines, reflecting the time when
countries may expect to have vaccinated the majority
(60-70%) of their adult population. Criteria taken into
account include supply deals, production constraints,
vaccine hesitancy, the size of the population, and the
availability of healthcare workers. The data are also
adjusted by analysts to reflect specific conditions on the


the EIU’s latest report here.

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