Coronavirus: can Japan counter China’s vaccine diplomacy with Southeast Asian donations?
- Wednesday’s shipment of 1 million AstraZeneca doses to Vietnam will be followed by donations to Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand, Tokyo said
- Analysts described the move as ‘not purely a power play’ – while noting that Japan had geopolitical concerns and was keen to raise its profile in the region
Hiromi Murakami, a political-science professor at Temple University’s Tokyo campus, said with its planned vaccine donations to Southeast Asian nations “I believe Japan’s motivation is both an effort to help out its friends and neighbours and geopolitical.”
She said the government had opted to sidestep the WHO’s vaccine-sharing initiative as “if Japan had gone through Covax, then it would not have been able to designate where the vaccines went” – a particular problem in the case of Taiwan, which is not listed as a priority destination by the facility.
“[Direct assistance] enabled Japan to get more publicity for helping Taiwan and Taiwanese people were able to express their appreciation for Japan’s generosity,” she said.
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Tokyo has also had to get around a clause in its contract with AstraZeneca that stated the government would indemnify the manufacturer against liability for any health problems caused by the vaccine domestically by covering compensation claims – a responsibility that Taipei and Hanoi have now had to assume, as would other recipients of Japan’s vaccine donations.
Still, he said other factors were also at play – not least “the geopolitical connotations of Taiwan tilting towards China … and the impact that would have on the supply of semiconductors and supply chains”.
“Japan, the US and other countries can see how China has been making inroads by supplying the Sinovac vaccine to the Philippines and others, which jeopardises Tokyo’s ability to help them maintain their strategic economies vis-à-vis China,” Nagy said.
“These countries [in Southeast Asia] don’t want to be squeezed between China and the US, and although the Sinovac vaccine has enabled them to reopen their economies much earlier, Japan does not see it as an act of altruism on the part of Beijing – and now Tokyo wants to be seen to be providing medical assistance to its allies as well.”
“And I think that as soon as Japan has been able to vaccinate its own population, we will see a major outreach to other nations throughout the region,” he said.