'Garbage vaccines': Calls for US to counter China's 'exploitation'

A US senator is calling for the Biden administration to go toe to toe with China and counteract its alleged attempts to use its pandemic prowess to strengthen regional ties in a move described as "vaccine diplomacy".

In a scathing editorial for the Wall Street Journal, the Republican senator for Nebraska, Ben Sasse, accused Beijing of manipulating poorer nations in desperate need of Covid-19 vaccines.

"The Chinese Communist Party has exploited the suffering of the developing world to advance its own interests," he said.

Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., speaks during a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law, on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, April 27, 2021, in Washington. (Al Drago/Pool via AP)
Senator Ben Sasse has called on the US to take a firm stance on China's alleged 'vaccine diplomacy'. Source: AP

"In its usual Mafioso fashion, Beijing has made delivery of vaccines contingent on the recipient nation’s breaking diplomatic ties with Taiwan, or agreeing to use Huawei—China’s tech giant/espionage agency—to provide 5G internet service.

"China has charged astronomical prices for garbage vaccines."

President Biden's big vaccine move

Senator Sasse said evidence revealed the US's vaccines were far greater than any around the world, and Washington should be pushing to have them distributed around the world, and would offer an "immediate" and no-strings attached solution, unlike China's vaccine.

On Monday, President Joe Biden announced the US would send at least 20 million more Covid-19 vaccine doses abroad by the end of June, marking the first time the United States is sharing vaccines authorised for domestic use.

The move is a significant step towards using the vaccine as a diplomatic tool and brings the total number of vaccines he plans to send overseas to 80 million. He vowed no country would send more vaccines overseas than the US.

However Senator Sasse slammed the previous decision of Mr Biden to throw his support behind a move to lift patent protections on US vaccines.

He said such a move would not speed up the distribution of vaccines as the developing world lacks the infrastructure to produce the vaccine, and instead would surrender the US's technological advances to China.

Senator Sasse said it was vital the US takes on China and makes "vaccine diplomacy the State Department's top budget priority".

MANILA, PHILIPPINES - FEBRUARY 28: Crates containing Sinovac Biotech COVID-19 vaccines are unloaded from a Chinese Airforce plane upon arriving at Ninoy Aquino International Airport on February 28, 2021 in Manila, Philippines. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte witnessed the arrival of 600,000 doses of Sinovac Biotech vaccines donated by the Chinese government. Sunday's delivery marks the first time the Philippines received official coronavirus vaccines, the last country in ASEAN to do so. Government officials in the country faced backlash after admitting to receiving doses of smuggled vaccines as early as October of last year. (Photo by Ezra Acayan/Getty Images)
China is accused of manipulating poorer countries with its vaccine. Source: Getty

"The State Department can spearhead an information blitz that reminds government leaders every vaccine dose taken from the Chinese Communist Party has dangers and strings attached, but America offers an immediate solution," he said.

And such a stance was echoed in the Senate on Monday where approval was given to discuss legislation that will enable the US to counter China's economic and geopolitical ambitions.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the Endless Frontier bill was a "once in a generation investment" into US infrastructure.

“We can either have a world where the Chinese Communist Party determines the rules of the road for 5G, artificial intelligence and quantum computing — or we can make sure the United States gets there first,” Schumer said.

Taiwan fears alienation from China's vaccine push

In the latest accusations thrown at China over its vaccine philanthropy, Taiwan condemned the "cynical use" of vaccines for political purposes.

Honduras, among a small number of Latin American countries to maintain diplomatic ties with Taiwan, has said it was considering opening an office in China in a bid to acquire much needed Covid-19 shots, prompting Taipei to criticise Beijing for pushing a vaccine-for-recognition deal.

Several Latin American nations are receiving Chinese vaccines, but countries such as Honduras and Guatemala that have built ties with democratic Taiwan — which Beijing considers a breakaway province — are not.

"We condemn the cynical use of potentially life-saving medical assistance to advance the narrow political agendas of certain donors," a State Department spokesman told Reuters without mentioning China when asked about the situation involving Honduras.

"Taiwan's relationships with countries in the region, including Honduras, reinforce the hemisphere's democratic values and support sustainable development," the spokesman said, adding the United States "stands with Honduras as it confronts these challenging times."

China's foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying responded at a daily news conference in Beijing on Friday, accusing the United States of double standards and of hoarding vaccines while not assisting other countries.

Taiwan has complained that China is applying similar pressure to Paraguay, one of just 15 countries that formally recognise the self-governed island over Beijing.

The Chinese government has repeatedly denied using vaccines to gain diplomatic advantage.

With Reuters

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