On 5 February 2021, China’s State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi had a telephone conversation with Nepali Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali. In the call, Wang said China attaches great importance to Nepal’s urgent vaccine needs, promising Nepal the first batch of its vaccine assistance, and facilitating the country’s further procurement of vaccines.
Vaccines are vital to controlling the pandemic, protecting people’s lives and wellbeing, and in restoring the economy. The pandemic has had a great impact on countries around the world, especially developing ones. Due to its weak public health structure, Nepal’s traditional response to epidemics has been poor, and this is where China can help.
Virus does not recognize nationality, national boundaries, or people’s economic circumstances. As many countries need to be vaccinated as soon as possible in order to achieve mass immunity, and to return to a state of normal trade and people-to-people exchanges. Covid-19 vaccine has become the top priority for the Nepali people to curb the spread of the virus and save lives. Especially with the emergence of mutated viruses, the desire for vaccines has only grown.
Nepal and China are good neighbors linked by mountains and rivers and partners who trust each other. Since the establishment of diplomatic relations, the mutually beneficial cooperation between the two countries has continuously expanded and traditional friendship has deepened. Their relation is now a model of equal treatment, friendly cooperation and mutual benefit between neighboring countries. The people of the two countries share the feelings of mutual benefit and mutual learning, believing the towering Mt. Everest (Mount Qomolangma) bears witness to a long history of exchanges between them, and the endless Himalayas are a link of friendship.
China and Nepal have been helping each other since the first outbreak of the pandemic. At a time it was most difficult for China to fight Covid-19, Nepal extended a helping hand. Similarly, China has provided Nepal with anti-Covid materials such as testing reagents, masks, protective clothing and vaccines, as well as other support according to the needs of the Nepali people. The goal is to together overcome the pandemic and promote common development for the benefit of the two peoples.
At a time countries the world over are fighting the pandemic, as a major vaccine producer China has ditched vaccine nationalism. It has rather declared vaccines as global public goods, providing 10 million doses of vaccines to a number of developing countries, including Nepal.
This not only demonstrates China’s role as a great power in international affairs, but also highlights the practical actions it promotes for the development of strategic partnership between the two countries.
Vaccines are life savers, not political tools. Some media outlets have termed China’s vaccine assistance as “vaccine diplomacy”, with the vaccines regarded as “political weapons”. China is supposedly conducting vaccine diplomacy by exporting vaccines, in the hope of enhancing its international reputation and influence. Apparently, some other countries are also into this vaccine diplomacy in order to undercut China’s dominant position in regional politics and economy. But these media reports are misleading and filled with bias, as they simply can’t see that Sino-Nepal relations are based on equality and respect.
At the same time, other countries are engaging in vaccine nationalism by hoarding Covid-19 vaccines, aggravating the vaccine battle. Vaccine nationalism is both morally reprehensible and ineffective in corona-control. It is unfair to deny developing countries equitable access to vaccines and leave their people vulnerable.
The virus knows no national boundaries and does not distinguish between race, skin color and wealth. The ideas of vaccine diplomacy and vaccine nationalism ignore China's respect for life. China has already given a large amount of materials to the world in order to fight the pandemic, and now it is also providing a large number of vaccines, which is an embodiment of humanitarianism, internationalism and respect for life. China’s actions are a resounding answer to some countries’ provocation and stigmatization.
An effective response to the global health crisis cannot be crafted without multilateralism. In the face of the novel coronavirus, countries need to coordinate responses in scientific research and government action, and promote cooperative “vaccine multilateralism”. The logic is to resist vaccine diplomacy, vaccine nationalism, and prevent the politicization of vaccine distribution. Moreover, China, a country that believes in multilateralism rather than national selfishness, knows only interdependence can ensure its own well-being.
At present, fighting the pandemic is the most urgent task before the international community. We will continue to uphold the spirit of “one family in one boat”, strengthen exchanges and cooperation with the World Health Organization (WHO) and other countries, and continuously contribute China’s wisdom and strength to achieving final victory in the global fight against Covid-19. This will in turn help build a community with a shared future for mankind. China is willing to fight Covid-19 side by side with people from all walks of life in Nepal and to overcome difficulties together.
The two authors are scholars associated with Sichuan Police College