China on Monday said the issue of supplying Covid-19 vaccines to countries that need the jabs should not be marred by “malign competition” or “rivalry” but its tightly controlled state media is simultaneously running a smear campaign against both Indian and western vaccines.
Not only are Chinese official media outlets questioning the efficacy of western vaccines and safety records, but the Chinese foreign ministry is also – like its diplomats did last year – plugging conspiracy theories about the origin of the coronavirus.
A statement from foreign ministry spokesperson to state media recently implied the coronavirus could have emerged from a laboratory at the Fort Detrick Army Medical Command in the US state of Maryland.
“If America respects the truth, then please open up Fort Detrick and make public more information about the 200 or more bio-labs outside of the US, and please allow the WHO expert group to go to the US to investigate the origins,” foreign ministry spokesperson, Hua Chunying told The Global Times.
Hua’s statement comes in the backdrop of a World Health Organization (WHO) team currently stationed in China to investigate the origins of the coronavirus, which first emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019.
The article and Hua’s statement were well-timed. The hashtag “American’s Ft. Detrick”, started by the Communist Youth League, had been viewed more than a billion times on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform.
The WHO team’s presence in China is particularly sensitive for China as it continues attempts to deflect criticism about the authorities’ slow response to the Covid-19 outbreak at the beginning.
A flurry of articles in Chinese state media in the past weeks have also promoted Chinese vaccines while criticising western and Indian ones.
India’s efforts to make and supply vaccines to neighbouring countries have not been spared by Chinese media.
The Global Times has published stories critical of the vaccines made in India and whether India has the capacity to supply the shots globally.
A recent article in the nationalist tabloid not only raised questions about India’s capacity to manufacture vaccines after the fire at the Serum Institute, but also claimed that Indians in China were “embracing” Chinese vaccines.
Last week, Reuters news agency calculated that Global Times, the official newspaper of China’s ruling Communist Party, “had published more than ten reports in the past week critical of vaccines and inoculation schemes in the West”.
About half of those reports referred to reported deaths of some frail, elderly patients in Norway after being inoculated with the Covid-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, the Reuters report said.
The Global Times ran a report quoting Chinese experts as saying Australia should not use western vaccines and opt for Chinese ones.
The state-run China Daily newspaper on Monday ran a report extolling China’s vaccines and the country’s efforts to supply doses to developing countries.
“While western countries invest enormous capital in developing vaccines to fight the increasing number of confirmed Covid-19 cases, China is fulfilling its promise to make vaccines a global public good,” the article said.
There have been questions about the lack of clinical data related to Chinese vaccines.
Business and political news website, Caixin, quoted a leading Chinese vaccine expert as saying that China’s needs to share more data on the vaccines — a rare instance of a Chinese media outlet taking a critical look at the developing story on vaccines.
“Ding Sheng, dean of Tsinghua University’s School of Pharmaceutical Sciences and director of the Global Health Drug Discovery Institute (GHDDI), called for the original clinical trial data from Chinese experimental vaccines to be made public so that experts can better assess their efficacy and eliminate lingering safety concerns which have emerged in China and abroad,” the website reported.
“The clinical data (of our vaccines) need to be further disclosed,” Ding said.