Last February 25, a webinar on the” Philippines’ Covid-19 Vaccine Strategy and Diplomacy” was conducted by the Jinan University of Guangdong, Guangzhou, China, Center for Philippine Studies with the Asian Pathways to Progress Foundation, Inc. (APPFI).
The webinar came amidst a survey on “Filipino’s Attitude on Covid-19 Vaccines” conducted by the Jinan University of Guangzhou, Guangdong, China and a Philippine private foundation.
One of the moving spirits behind the survey was Dr. Dai Fan, Associate Professor from the School of International Studies, Jinan University.
Dr. Dai Fan was also a visiting scholar at the Asian Center, University of the Philippines (Diliman) from 2007-2008, I met him several times during this time and later during his many visits to the Philippines. Dr. Dai Fan established the Center for Philippine Studies in Jinan University where he also serves the director of the Center.
The Jinan University Center for Philippine Studies also had a joint survey with the Ateneo Chinese Studies Program, and the survey showed, from my cursory review of the findings, that a cross section of the Filipino population at mid-February of this year, 2021, did not have a high trust level for Chinese vaccines, while the highest was for Pfizer with 2.8 rate; AstraZenica also at 2.8, Covaxin (India) 2.0, Sputnik (Rus) 1.9, and Sinovac (China) 1.7.
However, with Sinovac arriving in the Philippines on February 2, 2021 and being the first to be administered to high officials of the Philippines as well as top medical doctors of the major Philippines medical centers handling COVID-19 cases and the extensive media focus on all of these, the awareness and trust of the Chinese
The arrival of Sinovac when it did was perfect timing for the Philippines which was going out of its wits with the delays of the other vaccines that were promised by the Filipino brokers pressing on the government to bring in Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZenica, and the others, while many noisy lobbyists and media venues were denigrating the Chinese vaccines even though President Duterte had continued to endorse them.
The webinar that the Jinan University Center for Philippines Studies has sponsored jointly with the local Philippine foundation had intended to bridge the gap of understanding between the parties the webinar could reach and the Philippine government’s (Duterte’s position) strategy and diplomatic approach to the acquisition and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines that it could lay its hands on.
The webinar featured the reports of six resource persons, but undoubtedly the most effective in presenting the broad panorama of the Philippines’ and China’s strategies and diplomacy on the vaccine supply situation was Ambassador Chito Santa Romana who spoke first in the Zoom webinar and gave a comprehensive picture of the entire scenario at that point in time.
Ambassador Chito Sta. Romana started by defining the challenge of “vaccine equity” as the issue of unfair global distribution of vaccines had already been rearing its ugly head. The UN has already warned of vaccine nationalism or even apartheid as some called it, where 10 rich countries had cornered for themselves at least 75% of the vaccine supplies of the world. The UN Sec-Gen Antonio Guiterrez pointed out that 130 countries had not received a single dose of the vaccine yet at that time..
Sta. Romana had more revealing information: based on vaccine contracts tracked by Duke University in the US, as of early February, the European Union has ordered enough doses to vaccinate its population more than two times; Canada has five times more than enough to meet the needs of its population if each person will receive 2 doses; it pitted the developed countries versus the developing countries, the West versus the East.
To remedy the problem, the WHO created the COVAX in cooperation with the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations or GAVI. Its goal is to deliver about 2 billion doses of vaccines by the end of 2021 mostly for free. COVAX would provide 20 to 30 percent vaccines to people from poor countries by end of 2021. Below the 70% target to achieve herd immunity.
The countries that did not succumb to vaccine hoarding were China, India and Russia. India, however, had its own limitations and massive coronavirus difficulties and China had put the COVID-19 pandemic under control for over a year since. In mid-February, China’s Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccinated more than 40.52 million Chinese and exported about 46M ready-made vaccines to developing countries. China also exported active ingredients of its vaccines to more than 50 developing countries to manufacture.
Indeed President Xi Jinping delivered his pledge of making the vaccines for global public good. China also exported vaccines and other medical equipment for fighting the pandemic, and it was the bilateral agenda with the Philippines. Below are some of the outcomes of Pres. Duterte’s independent foreign policy and the consequential vaccine diplomacy it made possible:
China became the top donor and supplier of vaccines and medical supplies to the Philippines. In the past year there were more than 70 flights of the Philippine Air Force transport planes and from several commercial jets to the southern part of China to transport vaccines and other medical equipment; Sinovac will deliver 25M vaccines to the country from now until the end of this year. And the promised 600K doses has arrived.
China’s initial vaccine donation did arrive on February 28, 2021 at around 4pm with a Chinese military plane ferrying 600,000 doses of the Sinovac vaccines. This saved the timetable of the Duterte administration which had promised the vaccine roll out by the start of March, and a very relieved and thankful President Duterte said upon receiving the donation said to China’s Huang Xilian:
“Mr. Ambassador, I’d like to just say that towards the – maybe at the end of the yea, when everything has settled down – I intend to make a short visit to China to just shake hands with President Xi Jinping and to personally thank him for this donation.”
In another occasion President Duterte said in response to a nitpicking senator by the name of Riza Hontiveros that regularly picks on China and ask what China is asking in return for its donation, “China never asked for anything. China has been giving us everything but never asked anything from us actually…”
Before the arrival of China’s vaccine donation, I said: if the Jinan University Philippine Studies Center were to conduct another survey after China’s vaccine donation arrives, I think the Chinese vaccines will start to enjoy a wide margin of approval and trust from the Filipino public having shown reliability of its commitments, its guarantees and it acceptability to the professional medical practitioners. We may be looking at a sea change in the Filipinos’ attitude to China and its vaccines.
The week after week after February 28, 2021 the trust rating of Chinese vaccines did start to rise very significantly as the latest Jinan University polls found, from 1.7 China’s vaccines trust among Filipinos rose to 2.4, according to Prof. Dai Fan’s WeChat message to me reflecting a 35% rise. Since then dozens of prominent doctors, officials and celebrities have endorsed and got inoculated by the Sinovac vaccine, so it is reasonable to believe China vaccines’ trust ratings will only be going higher.
The final note to this episode of “vaccine humanitarianism” is China’s success in its vaccine humanitarianism is that has really boosted China’s image and credibility of its advocacy for the “Community of Shared Future for Mankind” so much that the Quad, i.e. U.S. Australia, India and Japan, have been forced to copy it in its latest Quad meet – promising to produce 1-billion vaccines to distribute to the poorer countries.