Commentary: Indonesia’s Sinovac rollout sets high stakes for China’s vaccine diplomacy

CAMBRIDGE, England: Indonesia’s mass procurement of Chinese vaccines hints that Beijing and Jakarta could use the general public well being disaster to strengthen ties.

Indonesia’s vaccine rollout can have crucial penalties for its intensifying financial and well being disaster, and for China’s international repute.

Indonesia has recorded the very best variety of COVID-19 instances in Southeast Asia with over 1.1 million infections and a dying toll over 30,000 individuals.

READ: China approves Sinovac Biotech COVID-19 vaccine for general public use

Indonesia can also be the first importer of Chinese vaccines. It obtained 1.2 million doses of the Sinovac vaccine on Dec 6 final yr. In complete the nation has ordered 50 million doses of Sinovac and 60 million doses of China’s Sinopharm vaccine.

The nation spent 637.3 billion rupiah (US$45 million) on Chinese vaccines, 277.5 billion rupiah (US$19.7 million) on syringes, security packing containers and swab alcohol, and an extra 190 billion rupiah (US$13.5 million) on vaccine fridges and carriers.

The final-stage scientific trial outcomes of Sinovac in Indonesia — anticipated to be revealed mid-January 2021 — are but to be launched. China’s reluctance to totally disclose the outcomes casts doubt on the transparency and credibility of the vaccines.


Despite public scepticism concerning the effectiveness of China’s vaccines, Jakarta and Beijing have already signed an settlement that grants Indonesian state-owned vaccine producer PT Bio Farma the suitable to supply 50 million doses of Sinovac.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo can also be the primary main world chief to publicly obtain a shot of a Chinese COVID-19 vaccine.

If Sinovac doesn’t produce promising outcomes, or critical side-effects or flaws are revealed, Indonesia faces big monetary losses from the variety of pre-ordered vaccines. The nation may also have to allocate further monetary assets to acquire Western COVID-19 vaccines.

FILE PHOTO: A medical worker holds a dose of the Sinovac's vaccine at a district health facili

FILE PHOTO: A medical employee holds a dose of the Sinovac’s vaccine at a district well being facility as Indonesia begins mass vaccination for the coronavirus illness (COVID-19), beginning with its healthcare staff, in Jakarta, Indonesia January 14, 2021. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan

Bali, Jakarta and different main powerhouse areas of Indonesia have recorded substantial financial contractions as a result of pandemic’s influence. Indonesia’s economic system will endure additional if Sinovac isn’t dependable.

In early 2020, Beijing’s “mask diplomacy” noticed it sending medical specialists and gear abroad. China additionally joined COVAX, an initiative run by the World Health Organization aiming for truthful international vaccine distribution.

READ: COVID-19: Hurdles ahead for Indonesia as it aims to vaccinate 180 million people in 15 months

These strikes mirror Beijing’s try to restore its repute and be seen as a worldwide power in containing the pandemic.

Compared to Chinese vaccines, main Western vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna are dearer and have to be saved at low temperatures, rising distribution prices. China’s Sinovac vaccine will be distributed far more affordably throughout Indonesia.

This doesn’t essentially indicate that Indonesia is unilaterally depending on China. It is probably going that China has extra to lose as a result of the failure of Sinovac in Indonesia can be disastrous for the worldwide promotion of China’s vaccine.

A profitable Sinovac rollout would open the door to Chinese vaccine markets throughout Southeast Asia — particularly given Indonesia’s affect within the area.

This partnership is mutually helpful so long as Sinovac reveals promising scientific leads to Indonesia, permitting China to strengthen its international well being governance and serving to Indonesia fight the well being and financial disaster.


If Sinovac is efficient, China could possibly shift its position within the COVID-19 narrative, from being the origin of the pandemic to serving to the world get well from it. 

At the very least, a dependable vaccine would assist China alleviate its diplomatic pressures and develop its affect abroad.

READ: China to send 10 million COVID-19 vaccine doses abroad

China’s requests for public applause from amongst its help recipients will probably be nothing new. When China employed its masks diplomacy in early 2020, Beijing required recipient nations to reward China’s public well being transparency and humanitarian measures.

Beijing continues to make use of this technique in its vaccine diplomacy, conditionally sending Chinese vaccines and healthcare merchandise to Indonesia and different creating nations. In the long run, Indonesia will proceed to owe China these diplomatic favours.

An Indonesian healthcare worker receives a dose of Sinovac's vaccine for coronavirus disease (

FILE PHOTO: An Indonesian healthcare employee receives a dose of Sinovac’s vaccine for coronavirus illness (COVID-19) in Sleman, Yogyakarta, Indonesia, January 28, 2021 on this photograph taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Andreas Fitri Atmoko/through REUTERS

Amid the determined well being and financial disaster, Indonesia’s most suitable choice is to pre-order Chinese vaccines within the hope that mass inoculation will save the nation.

China’s preliminary cover-up of the viral outbreak and failed diplomacy have lowered international belief in Beijing. Even if the ultimate trial outcomes will not be promising, it’s crucial for China to publish the info in famend journals for scientific evaluation and critique of the scientific course of.

READ: Commentary: Could Indonesia be Southeast Asian hub for Chinese COVID-19 vaccine?

Transparent and sincere disclosure of all Sinovac and Sinopharm scientific trial information may also be a useful reference for different Chinese pharmaceutical companies within the manufacturing of their very own COVID-19 vaccines.

Another cowl up of scientific information will solely additional injury Beijing’s credibility. China should keep authenticity and transparency whether it is sincerely seeking to develop more healthy diplomatic, financial and public well being relations.

Changing the narrative of the pandemic can not occur in a single day. To steadily earn the world’s belief, China should keep the very best degree of integrity.

Jason Hung is a PhD candidate in Sociology on the University of Cambridge. This commentary first appeared in East Asia Forum.

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