The focus is to collaborate to strengthen equitable vaccine access for the Indo-Pacific

The recent meeting of the Quad countries - the US, Japan, India, and Australia - on March 12 focused on the Covid-19 pandemic, climate change, and broadly on cyber-security, emerging technologies, and adherence to a rules-based order.

The meeting put special emphasis on the vaccine plan the countries announced.

According to a report in Bangkok Post, besides contributing to eradicate the global pandemic, the initiative also intends to counter China’s influence and ambitions in the region.

The Covid-19 vaccine initiative has been taken to ensure the production and distribution of one billion doses of vaccines across the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) countries, the Indo-Pacific, and beyond, by the end of 2022.

The focus is to “collaborate to strengthen equitable vaccine access for the Indo-Pacific, with close coordination with multilateral organisations, including the World Health Organization (WHO) and COVAX,” the report adds.

Going by the vaccine plan, the US, through its Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and Japan, mainly through its Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), will provide the financial means to Biological E, an Indian biopharmaceutical company, to increase its production to a billion vaccines. These vaccines will then be made accessible in Southeast Asian countries and in the Pacific via Australia.

This will enable poorer countries have an easy access to the vaccine further helping them fight the virus more quickly.

The move is also expected to counter Chinese influence in the region.

The Bangkok Post report points out that Chinese presence in Southeast Asia has been daunting during the pandemic and now countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines have signed deals with China for vaccines.

As of March 4, China had donated one million doses of Sinovac’s vaccine to the Philippines, while Laos received 300,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine in February. Cambodia was to receive one million doses of the Sinovac vaccine, of which 600,000 were to arrive by Feb 7, according to the report.

However, countries like Cambodia have said no to the Chinese vaccine saying that the country would only be using vaccines approved by the WHO.

According to the Bangkok Post, the lack of transparency with the Chinese jabs is one of the main reasons why countries are snubbing it. In such a situation, the Quad initiative is indeed a much-needed plan.

Since it is associated with the Covax scheme, the Quad initiative will have vaccine transparency. It will encourage countries in the region to become part of the WHO’s vaccine programme. Overall, the Quad initiative is expected to benefit Southeast Asia's people and diversify their options, and counter China in its immediate neighbourhood.

What should actually be taken care of is the implementation of the plan and functioning of the diplomacy according to its stipulated timeline, so that the objectives are met and there is no room for complaints from the Southeast Asian countries, the report notes.

Read the full report in Bangkok Post