The European Union’s effort to raise new funds for developing and distributing Covid-19 vaccines has met with a cold shoulder from China, despite the bloc’s success in almost reaching its US$8 billion fundraising target.
Not only was China the country that sent the lowest-level official to the online event on Monday, it also made no new financial pledges, nor promised to make any successful vaccine a common public good, as several participating countries have called for.
Instead, Chinese ambassador to the EU Zhang Ming asked the world to stop the “blame games” over the coronavirus. He also outlined existing Chinese efforts, such as commercial sale of protective equipment and masks, to needy countries.
“China is a responsible member of the international community, despite daunting tasks of outbreak response at home,” Zhang said. “China is doing its best to help those countries in need.”
“China also supports other countries in getting commercial access to medical supplies,” he said, adding that Chinese companies have supplied 24 billion face masks, 120 million protective suits and 24,000 ventilators in the last two months.
Zhang added that “panic and blame games are not useful at all” amid growing international calls – including from European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen – to investigate China’s role in the pandemic.
He reiterated that China had already made several financial pledges, including a special Covid-19 government fund of 2 billion yuan; 1 billion yuan of investments in research on the disease; and US$50 million worth of donations to the World Health Organisation’s Covid-19 response.
Of the 43 countries that participated on Monday, only China sent an ambassador, while the others sent a minister, a prime minister or president, or even the monarch, as in the case of Jordan’s King Abdullah II.
The US and Russia sent no representatives to the EU-led event.
Most countries showed solidarity with the vaccine development. Even Spain and Italy – the worst-hit countries after the US – pledged €125 million (US$137) and €140 million respectively.
Germany and France, the two biggest EU economies, pledged €525 million and €500 million. The EU Commission itself promised €1.4 billion.
“China wanted to convince the EU that it was a better partner than the US and would promote multilateralism. Yet they fail to act when they have the occasion to do so,” said Antoine Bondaz, an expert on EU-China relation at the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris.
The EU is eager to ensure that any successful vaccines be distributed equitably. French President Emmanuel Macron highlighted the need for Africa to receive the vaccines it needs, while British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, despite Brexit negotiations, joined the event and said vaccine development “is not a competition between countries.”
An EU diplomat noted that Zhang did not focus on a vaccine – which was the theme of the event – even though China is one of the leading countries in its development.
On Sunday, state media said Chinese regulators approved clinical trials for three Covid-19 vaccines by three companies: CanSino Biologics, which is partnering with a military research institute; Sinovac Biotech; and the Wuhan Institute of Biological Products.
Zhang’s attendance was announced at the last minute, since earlier EU documents indicated Premier Li Keqiang would be speaking, according to an EU media note sent four hours before the Monday event. But one hour before it began, the EU’s programme published online showed Zhang instead.
A spokesman for the Chinese mission to the EU, in an email, said: “China attaches great importance to and actively supports the global fight against the Covid-19.”
An EU spokeswoman said: “The countries decide the representative they send. Any representative sent represents the country at the highest level of the event.” She declined to say if Li previously agreed to attend.
The confusion, according to sources, seemed to have stemmed from von der Leyen’s call with Li last week, in which the Chinese premier showed an interest in the EU-led global campaign but offered no definitive confirmation of his attendance.
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This article Coronavirus: China gets defensive during high-level EU event on fundraising and vaccine development first appeared on South China Morning Post