The U.S.’s first shot at vaccine diplomacy in Asia failed to deliver. Can a second do the trick?
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Grady McGregor here, filling in for Clay Chandler.
The top leaders of the Quad—the U.S., India, Japan, and Australia—kicked off their first summit of top leaders in March with a pledge to send 1 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses to the Indo-Pacific region by the end 2022.
“We are committed to leveraging our partnership to help the world’s most dynamic region respond to historic crisis,” the White House said in a joint statement with Quad leaders, optimistically titled ‘Spirit of the Quad.’
Under the deal, Japan and the U.S. agreed to finance (for an undisclosed sum) the production of 1 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines in India, from drugmakers including U.S. firms Novavax and Johnson & Johnson, which Australia would then distribute across Asia.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison hailed the vaccine pledge as a “new dawn” for the Indo-Pacific region, and the vaccine commitment was widely viewed as a means to counter China’s vaccine diplomacy in that part of the world.
But six months later, the sun has yet to rise on the Quad’s vaccine efforts.
Weeks after the Quad leaders first met, India, the lynchpin to the Quad’s vaccine plan due to its vast vaccine production capabilities, effectively blocked exports of vaccines as its own hospitals became overrun with COVID-19 patients in the spring and summer.
India’s continued restrictions on vaccine exports have all but choked off its ability to deliver vaccines to the region (and elsewhere, for that matter). The U.S., meanwhile, has sent small vaccine donations to Indo-Pacific countries, including 6 million doses to Vietnam, 2.5 million doses to Thailand, 1 million vaccines to Cambodia, and 1 million vaccines to Laos. Japan, too, has donated at least 3 million vaccine doses throughout Asia, while Australia has pledged to share 20 million doses in Asia by the middle of next year.
But the Quad’s individual efforts are measly compared to their collective goal and have not come close to matching China’s campaign.
China has delivered 454 million COVID-19 vaccines to countries in Asia, with at least 326 million of those vaccines delivered to the Indo-Pacific region, according to Bridge Consulting.
On Sept. 24, the Quad leaders are set to meet at the White House for their first-ever in-person gathering. In announcing the event, the White House did not specify that vaccines would be on the agenda, but said the countries will discuss “combatting COVID-19” in the region. The U.S. coordinator for the Indo-Pacific region Kurt Campbell previously promised that the upcoming Quad summit would bring “decisive” commitments in sending vaccines to the region.
But the Quad’s vaccine pledges may continue to be empty promises without access to Indian-made vaccines, which is why U.S. President Joe Biden will reportedly press India Prime Minister Narendra Modi to restart vaccine exports in the lead-up to the event.
A source in India’s government told Reuters this week that India may lift export restrictions “soon.” The move would be a welcome relief to a Biden administration that’s locked up its own vaccine stockpile of 100 million-plus doses for a potential booster shot campaign.
On Tuesday, a Chinese government spokesperson lashed out at the Quad’s diplomatic efforts and declared it “doomed to fail.” It’s certainly true that the bloc’s flashiest collaboration so far has come up way short, starving countries like Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Thailand of vaccine doses even as record waves of COVID-19 spread.
If the Quad meeting next week produces a second vaccine plan, it’s likely to be met with skepticism, rather than the optimism that accompanied the first.
“In a context of rampant COVID-19 outbreaks and the associated economic privation, [Southeast Asia] is likely to be less impressed by what the U.S. says than what it actually delivers,” writes Sebastian Strangio, Southeast Asia editor at The Diplomat.
More Eastworld news below.
This edition of Eastworld was curated and produced by Yvonne Lau. Reach her at email@example.com
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To booster shot or not
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Cashing in on crypto
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Markets and movers
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