Asian diplomacy in the age of coronavirus

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AS the pandemic ravaged Southeast Asia, the region has turned toward the world’s largest pharmaceutical supplies producer, India. Owing to the successful development of Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin and Oxford-AstraZeneca’s Covishield, India, which was outflanked by massive strategic Chinese foreign investment, found a great diplomatic opening in its efforts to restrict Chinese dominance in the region. Recently, India announced a vast number of free dosages of Covaxin to Myanmar and the Philippines as a goodwill gesture aimed at extending its soft power in a move widely acclaimed as vaccine diplomacy. This competitive vaccine diplomacy presents both opportunities and challenges for stakeholders in Southeast Asia and has several far-reaching implications.

First, as China’s vaccine, Sinovac, has come under scrutiny for poor efficacy and manipulated trials, the region is questioning, if not rejecting, usage of Chinese vaccines and is preferring Indian counterparts. This means China will have to find alternative avenues such as financial investment and rebuilding Covid-struck markets where Beijing can exercise its soft power. This allows the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to position themselves such that the two Asian powerhouses are forced to give maximum reconstruction aid while only receiving marginal benefits as both New Delhi and Beijing would be wary of the other side providing better incentives…

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