Last week, China joined Covax, after some initial hesitation.
While the devil will no doubt be in the detail, this is still great news. While I won’t deny there’s (more than) a bit of geopolitics involved in this decision, as Adam Kamradt-Scott and others have argued, and I’m anything but a fan of Xi Jinping, a ruthless leader who indeed is playing the long-term geopolitical game in many areas and settings, there are also other ways to look at this.
1. It’s just “common sense”, for China to do so, in the current situation. With the current “black hole” administration in the US, Xi would be stupid not to do so. And Xi is many things, but not stupid, as far as I can tell.
2. It’s even more common sense, if China anticipates a looming Biden victory. A Biden administration will no doubt join WHO again, as well as join Covax sooner rather than later. Better to be there too, then. Even more so if the ACT-Accelerator turns out indeed a governance format for future health emergencies, as Tedros seemed to hint at last week.
3. Most importantly, if a future Biden administration takes such a decision, you will hear a lot more about the US ‘joining the multilateralism camp’ again, and a lot less about the US ‘playing geopolitics’.
4. The same goes for ‘Team Europe’, by the way. Its support for WHO and Covax is not often framed in ‘geopolitical terms’, even if the European Commission shows the same mix of ‘global citizenship’, ‘vaccine nationalism’ (or regionalism, in the words of Katri Bertram), support for its own vaccine makers and pharmaceutical companies, and engaging in geopolitics as Xi Jinping in the current situation. But no, you hear a lot more about how much Ursula et al believe in ‘multilateralism’ and are great ‘global citizens’. Another, more neutral, term often used is Europe’s “global health policy”.
Finally, and I hate to admit it, but you can also see the Chinese decision as one step closer to a ‘cosmopolitan moment’ (if I put my ‘half full glasses’ on for a moment). The world coming together, given the exceptional circumstances.
A lot more is needed still, though, for such a cosmopolitan moment:
· Biden has to win (and then let the US again ‘join the multilateral’ camp (incl WHO & Covax)).
· The billions have to be found to finance the ACT-Accelerator, urgently. My personal preference: I would just tax billionaires. But there are many other ways to ‘identify’ the billions needed, there really is a lot of money in this world, if you dare to look where it can be found. In the direction of the ‘strongest shoulders’, that is.
· C-TAP and other initiatives to share COVID-19 health technology related knowledge, intellectual property and data need to get much more prominence. That won’t happen though, as long as civil society is not systematically included in the governance of Covax and other global health stakeholders (WHO being no exception, unfortunately), as it’s only through their pressure that some steps (Moderna) have already been taken. It won’t come from philantrocapitalism or industry, I’m afraid, now all over the Vaccines pillar of Covax.
In sum, it’s a bit of both. Geopolitics and a step towards a potential cosmopolitan moment.
Next stop: November 3.