U.S.-China Global Health Collaboration

Suggestions for collaboration: COVID-19

By Gracie Miller

Gracie Miller is completing her Bachelor of Arts at Agnes Scott College in international relations focused in East Asian studies with a minor in music. She is passionate about inter-Korean relations and education. She hopes to move to South Korea to teach English as a second language and pursue graduate studies regarding North Korea.

Current COVID-19 situation in China

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, China’s willingness for foreign assistance was low. According to an article published in Foreign Affairs, “Beijing tightly controlled information, shunned assistance from the CDC, limited World Health Organization travel to Wuhan, likely undercounted infections and deaths, and repeatedly altered the criteria for registering new COVID-19 cases.”[1] However, following the 76-day lockdown beginning on January 23, 2020, China initiated, and has maintained, extreme steps to combat the COVID-19 virus within its own borders.[2] As of today, there were only 5 reported newly confirmed cases since November, all imported from abroad. Since November, few to zero domestically transmitted cases of COVID-19 have been reported.[3] With regards to the vaccine, China aims to vaccinate 560 million Chinese residents – 40% of its population – by June 2021. As of February, China had administered 52.5 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccines.[4] In light of the ongoing pandemic, the best path for U.S.-China relations to open further dialogue and work collaboratively to meet the mutual interests of both parties. These interests included climate change and pandemic prevention.

Multilateral Collaboration on Vaccine Access

An avenue for collaboration to demonstrate mutual peace between the United States and China could be a bilateral or multilateral effort to distribute vaccines in developing countries. More specifically, the U.S., China, and other major geopolitical players could work collaboratively to manufacture vaccines and distribute them equitably. The status quo of vaccine nationalism is unhelpful, as combating the virus must be a global and collective effort. As of 2021, the COVAX plan, backed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and GAVI vaccine alliance, will start to roll out vaccines to low and middle-income nations.[5] The WHO stated that, “the goal of COVAX is by the end of 2021 to deliver two billion doses of safe, effective vaccines that have passed regulatory approval and/or WHO prequalification. These vaccines will be offered equally to all participating countries, proportional to their populations, initially prioritizing healthcare workers then expanding to cover vulnerable groups, such as the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions.”[6] China has applied to join the scheme and plans to provide 10 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccines.[7] Since Joe Biden took office in January, the U.S. has since joined COVAX and offered a $4 billion contribution to Gavi to expand COVAX’s reach.[8] However, the pandemic has already tested the limitations of developing states. For example, the global poverty rate is projected to increase due to COVID-19 as 71 million people are going to be forced into extreme poverty due to the effects of the virus. Another example is the lack of infrastructure in these countries causing low-income nations to face scarcity of personal protection equipment, hospital beds, ventilators, and other necessary equipment needed to combat the virus.[9] Through collaboration between the U.S. and China in donating vaccines to vaccine initiatives like COVAX, this would greatly benefit both poorer nations and bolster relationships among richer nations providing assistance.[10]

Potential Conflicts

Under the Trump administration, bilateral engagement with China rapidly deteriorated due to the Trump administration’s perspective that collaboration would be disadvantageous to the U.S. in the competition for global leadership. As a result, the Trump administration adopted a nativist “America first” approach to the relationship that ultimately expressed unilateralist and protectionist undertones.[11] Since the Biden administration took office, the trade war enacted by the Trump administration in January 2020 remains in place. This could potentially arise as an issue when collaborating with Chinese partners over vaccine distribution. Trump’s high tariffs resulted in fewer Americans purchasing medical products from China and as a result, U.S. import demands from the rest of the world increased by 23%. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, if shortages arise globally, with exclusions and high tariffs put into place, Chinese suppliers could put American consumers as their last choice. Following this issue, obtaining medical equipment and vaccines that could be vital in fighting against the COVID-19 virus could become increasingly difficult.[12]

The Biden Administration is currently evaluating the issues of the tariffs put into place by the previous administration. However, Biden is also focused on domestic issues (such as the domestic coronavirus situation and U.S. economy). The shift of power between the previous and new administrations is not completely set in stone yet. While developments are in the making, the current trajectory of Biden’s foreign policy towards China looks as though it will maintain the pressure strategy from the past administration. However, the Biden administration should be careful not to revert back to the China policy as under previous administrations, including both the Obama and Trump administrations.[13] The Biden administration has argued it will be more effective and strategic in keeping China accountable but also cooperation when possible as allies.[14] Blinken, at a State department event stated, “Our relationship with China will be competitive when it should be, collaborative when it can be, and adversarial when it must be.”[15]

For the Biden administration, vaccine distribution would be an opportunity to make true cooperation with China. Two major international powers working together to fight the COVID-19 pandemic would only be beneficial. By the U.S. collaborating on a global vaccine distribution to low-income nations, it would publicly demonstrate that it would make commitments as China has already promised. Working collaboratively would prevent global casualties, hold China accountable to its word, reduce tension between U.S. key allies, and bolster America’s reputation. [16]

Bibliography

AP NEWS. “Timeline: China’s COVID-19 Outbreak and Lockdown of Wuhan,” January 22, 2021. https://apnews.com/article/pandemics-wuhan-china-coronavirus-pandemic-e6147ec0ff88affb99c811149424239d.

AP NEWS. “Under Biden, China Faces Renewed Trade Pressure,” January 26, 2021. https://apnews.com/article/joe-biden-donald-trump-technology-beijing-global-trade-22f525e41676d4e6abf96f3ca9255d15.

Bader, David Dollar, Ryan Hass, and Jeffrey A. “Assessing U.S.-China Relations 2 Years into the Trump Presidency.” Brookings (blog), January 15, 2019. https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2019/01/15/assessing-u-s-china-relations-2-years-into-the-trump-presidency/.

Campbell, Kurt M., and Rush Doshi. “The Coronavirus Could Reshape Global Order,” February 16, 2021. https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/china/2020-03-18/coronavirus-could-reshape-global-order.

“China Coronavirus Updates: Latest Developments and Business Advisory.” Accessed March 10, 2021. https://www.china-briefing.com/news/china-coronavirus-updates-latest-developments-business-advisory-part-2/.

“COVAX Explained.” Accessed March 10, 2021. https://www.gavi.org/vaccineswork/covax-explained.

“COVID-19 Pandemic Demonstrates Multilateral Cooperation Key to Overcoming Global Challenges, President Stresses as General Assembly Concludes Annual Debate | Meetings Coverage and Press Releases.” Accessed March 10, 2021. https://www.un.org/press/en/2020/ga12273.doc.htm.

Finding Firmer Ground Report | The Carter Center. “Cooperation.” Accessed March 10, 2021. https://us-china.report/cooperation/.

Hsu, Sara. “The US-China Trade War Is Still Happening.” Accessed March 10, 2021. https://thediplomat.com/2021/03/the-us-china-trade-war-is-still-happening/.

Jul 07, Lisa Schnirring | News Editor | CIDRAP News |, and 2020. “US Pulls out of WHO amid Escalating COVID-19 Activity.” CIDRAP. Accessed March 10, 2021. https://www.cidrap.umn.edu/news-perspective/2020/07/us-pulls-out-who-amid-escalating-covid-19-activity.

Li, James Haynes and Cheng. “The US Cooperated with the Soviets on Smallpox – It Should Do the Same with China on COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution.” Brookings (blog), August 27, 2020. https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2020/08/27/the-us-cooperated-with-the-soviets-on-smallpox-it-should-do-the-same-with-china-on-covid-19-vaccine-distribution/.

Monitor, US-China Perception. “A “New Paradigm of Engagement” between the U.S. and China.” US-China Perception Monitor (blog), March 5, 2021. https://uscnpm.org/2021/03/05/roadmap-for-a-new-paradigm-of-engagement/.

NBC News. “China Poses ‘Biggest Geopolitical Test’ for the U.S., Blinken Says.” Accessed March 14, 2021. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/china-poses-biggest-geopolitical-test-u-s-says-secretary-state-n1259489.

Nikkei Asia. “China Rolls out Vaccine Passport, Aiming to Revive Foreign Travel.” Accessed March 10, 2021. https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/Coronavirus/China-rolls-out-vaccine-passport-aiming-to-revive-foreign-travel.

NPR.org. “China Has A Theory About Its New COVID-19 Cases. Many Scientists Are Skeptical.” Accessed March 10, 2021. https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2020/12/16/946737184/china-has-a-theory-about-its-new-covid-cases-many-scientists-are-skeptical.

NPR.org. “How Is The COVID-19 Vaccination Campaign Going In Your State?” Accessed March 10, 2021. https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2021/01/28/960901166/how-is-the-covid-19-vaccination-campaign-going-in-your-state.

NPR.org. “Unpacking The Surge In Violence Against Asian Americans.” Accessed March 10, 2021. https://www.npr.org/2021/02/10/966498602/unpacking-the-surge-in-violence-against-asian-americans.

The Borgen Project. “10 Facts About COVID-19 in Impoverished Nations,” December 12, 2020. https://borgenproject.org/covid-19-in-impoverished-nations/.

The White House. “Fact Sheet: President Biden to Take Action on Global Health through Support of COVAX and Calling for Health Security Financing,” February 18, 2021. https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/02/18/fact-sheet-president-biden-to-take-action-on-global-health-through-support-of-covax-and-calling-for-health-security-financing/.

“Trump’s Trade Policy Is Hampering the US Fight against COVID-19 | VOX, CEPR Policy Portal.” Accessed March 14, 2021. https://voxeu.org/content/trumps-trade-policy-hampering-us-fight-against-covid-19.

Staff, Reuters. “China to Provide 10 Million Vaccine Doses to COVAX Initiative.” Reuters, February 3, 2021. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-vaccine-china-idUSKBN2A30VZ.

Swanson, Ana. “Biden on ‘Short Leash’ as Administration Rethinks China Relations.” The New York Times, February 17, 2021, sec. Business. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/17/business/economy/biden-china.html. “172 Countries and Multiple Candidate Vaccines Engaged in COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility.” Accessed March 10, 2021. https://www.who.int/news/item/24-08-2020-172-countries-and-multiple-candidate-vaccines-engaged-in-covid-19-vaccine-global-access-facility


[1] Kurt M. Campbell and Rush Doshi, “The Coronavirus Could Reshape Global Order,” February 16, 2021, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/china/2020-03-18/coronavirus-could-reshape-global-order.

[2] “Timeline: China’s COVID-19 Outbreak and Lockdown of Wuhan,” AP NEWS, January 22, 2021, https://apnews.com/article/pandemics-wuhan-china-coronavirus-pandemic-e6147ec0ff88affb99c811149424239d.

[3] “China Has A Theory About Its New COVID-19 Cases. Many Scientists Are Skeptical,” NPR.org, accessed March 10, 2021, https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2020/12/16/946737184/china-has-a-theory-about-its-new-covid-cases-many-scientists-are-skeptical.; “China Coronavirus Updates: Latest Developments and Business Advisory,” accessed March 10, 2021, https://www.china-briefing.com/news/china-coronavirus-updates-latest-developments-business-advisory-part-2/.

[4] “China Rolls out Vaccine Passport, Aiming to Revive Foreign Travel,” Nikkei Asia, accessed March 10, 2021, https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/Coronavirus/China-rolls-out-vaccine-passport-aiming-to-revive-foreign-travel.

The Biden Administration, in February, purchased 600 million vaccine doses from Pfizer and Moderna, to be delivered by summer. Biden’s goal is to get 100 million shots into arms within the first 100 days of his administration.

[5] “COVAX Explained,” accessed March 10, 2021, https://www.gavi.org/vaccineswork/covax-explained.

[6] “172 Countries and Multiple Candidate Vaccines Engaged in COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility,” accessed March 10, 2021, https://www.who.int/news/item/24-08-2020-172-countries-and-multiple-candidate-vaccines-engaged-in-covid-19-vaccine-global-access-facility.

[7] Reuters Staff, “China to Provide 10 Million Vaccine Doses to COVAX Initiative,” Reuters, February 3, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-vaccine-china-idUSKBN2A30VZ.

[8] “Fact Sheet: President Biden to Take Action on Global Health through Support of COVAX and Calling for Health Security Financing,” The White House, February 18, 2021, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/02/18/fact-sheet-president-biden-to-take-action-on-global-health-through-support-of-covax-and-calling-for-health-security-financing/.

[9] “10 Facts About COVID-19 in Impoverished Nations,” The Borgen Project, December 12, 2020, https://borgenproject.org/covid-19-in-impoverished-nations/.

[10] “COVID-19 Pandemic Demonstrates Multilateral Cooperation Key to Overcoming Global Challenges, President Stresses as General Assembly Concludes Annual Debate | Meetings Coverage and Press Releases,” accessed March 10, 2021, https://www.un.org/press/en/2020/ga12273.doc.htm.

[11] David Dollar Bader Ryan Hass, and Jeffrey A., “Assessing U.S.-China Relations 2 Years into the Trump Presidency,” Brookings (blog), January 15, 2019, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2019/01/15/assessing-u-s-china-relations-2-years-into-the-trump-presidency/.

[12] “Trump’s Trade Policy Is Hampering the US Fight against COVID-19 | VOX, CEPR Policy Portal,” accessed March 14, 2021, https://voxeu.org/content/trumps-trade-policy-hampering-us-fight-against-covid-19.

[13] “Under Biden, China Faces Renewed Trade Pressure,” AP NEWS, January 26, 2021, https://apnews.com/article/joe-biden-donald-trump-technology-beijing-global-trade-22f525e41676d4e6abf96f3ca9255d15.

[14] Ana Swanson, “Biden on ‘Short Leash’ as Administration Rethinks China Relations,” The New York Times, February 17, 2021, sec. Business, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/17/business/economy/biden-china.html.

[15] “China Poses ‘Biggest Geopolitical Test’ for the U.S., Blinken Says,” NBC News, accessed March 14, 2021, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/china-poses-biggest-geopolitical-test-u-s-says-secretary-state-n1259489.

[16] James Haynes and Cheng Li, “The US Cooperated with the Soviets on Smallpox – It Should Do the Same with China on COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution,” Brookings (blog), August 27, 2020, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2020/08/27/the-us-cooperated-with-the-soviets-on-smallpox-it-should-do-the-same-with-china-on-covid-19-vaccine-distribution/.

Author

  • The U.S.-China Perception Monitor (中美印象) is an online publication that explores perception and misperception in U.S.-China relations through insightful commentaries, interviews with experts, and profiles on key figures in the bilateral relationship.