By Genc Mlloja
The annual pioneering World Economic Forum of the Davos Agenda which was held from 25 to 29 January 2021 amidst intense deliberations with key speeches of more than 25 heads of state and government in an impressive audience of around 2,000 prestigious participants in the fields of politics, economics, finance, trade, civil society and media circles has become a point of reference in the international political discourse due to its sensitive broad agenda. Its major topic – the Covid 19 pandemic, its challenges to humankind and the joint front to really defeat the coronavirus – was the key issue touched upon at length by all participants in an exchange of views to shape a global anti- virus agenda during the deliberations held in the conditions of the peak of this plague which made impossible the physical attendance in this authoritative world event because of health safety.
Recalling last year’s Forum in her virtual speech, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen drew the attention to a fragment of her impressions of the time when the vast majority of leaders of European countries, but generally of almost the entire world, did not show the least attention to what was happening in China, and very few doubted that almost all the globe would be affected by COVID- 19 virus in a few weeks. But, according to Ms. von der Leyen there were few authorities as former White House pandemic adviser Richard Hatchett who warned: “This is not a Chinese problem. This is a problem for the whole world.” And unfortunately the course of events became soon witness to this confession: the virus furiously crossed every frontier, invading the entire planet earth, which it continues to hold hostage even today with tragic consequences in the loss of people’s life and devastating repercussions in economy and other fields everywhere to various extent.
Therefore, among other things, it attracted a lot of attention, and was probably expected, according to many political and economic analysts, what the Chinese President, Xi Jinping declared on this dramatic challenge, its consequences and alternatives to defeat it as the first speaker at the Forum. “There is only one earth, and one shared future for humanity. As we cope with the current crisis, and endeavor to make a better day for everyone, we need to unite and work together. We have been shown time and again that to beggar thy neighbor, to go it alone, and to slip into arrogant isolation, will always fail. Let us all join hands and let multilateralism light our way towards a community with a shared future that mankind,” declared Xi in his speech which touched upon every aspect starting with the current challenging situation to the ‘recipe’ for overcoming this global health crisis.
Seeing things like they really are as billions of people are experiencing them without vain embellishments he declared to the world that the pandemic is far from over, and the recent resurgence of epidemic cases is a reminder that the fight must be carried on. But apparently given the Chinese triumph over the virus, which managed to bring this unprecedented plague under control at the end of last spring by returning the country to full normalcy within 10 weeks, the Chinese leader’s speech conveyed hope by supporting his optimism for the possibilities of triumph over evil in the following ardent expression: “Yet we remain convinced that winter cannot stop the arrival of spring and darkness can never shroud the light of dawn. There is no doubt that humanity will prevail over the virus and emerge even stronger from this disaster.” In parentheses, it should be noted that President Xi has been a passionate journalist and analyst in previous positions in various parts of China since his early youth, and many of his writings are summarized in the book entitled “Century Wisdom and Governance” published in Albanian in Tirana in 2015.
Triumph but how …
Having the Chinese experience as a concrete example and the solidarity shown by many countries and peoples in the world towards China when it became the first country to be hit by COVID – 19, Xi adhered to the position that no world problem can be solved by a single country alone, therefore, according to him, there should be global action, reaction and cooperation. He stressed in Davos’ speech that the history and reality have made it clear time and again that the misguided approach of antagonism and confrontation, be it in the form of the Cold War, hot war, trade war, or tech war, would eventually hurt all countries’ interests and undermine everyone’s well-being. “We should reject the outdated Cold War, zero sum game mentality, adhere to mutual respect and accommodation, and enhance political trust through strategic communications.”
In this context, speech after speech of the leaders of all participating countries, representatives of international organizations whether from the United Nations system or others, political strategists and prominent medical experts, civil society activists and other contributors echoed the common concern about the fatal crisis and the urge for unity and international cooperation, among which was the resounding call of German Chancellor Merkel on January 26: “This is the hour of multilateralism. We see that in such an existential case the attempt to isolate fails long term – at least in relation to this pandemic it failed.”
Commenting on the position of Chancellor Merkel, the well-known Albanian analyst, Armand Plaka said the following: “As a matter of fact multilateralism is in line with the old and new objectives of the EU which makes Chancellor Merkel explicitly appear once again as an outstanding supporter of the fundamental values of the European endeavor.” Plaka, who is also a prominent researcher of German affairs, added further that with the change of administration in the US the words of Mrs. Merkel are a clear message to Washington that Germany stands by its commitments as before, indirectly calling on the United States to return to international cooperation, abandon unilateralism implying a relaxation of relations with important political and economic actors of the world like China.
The voice of Chancellor Merkel was joined along with many others by the French President, Macron, who declared that multilateralism “has been blocked by the US administration (under the presidency of former President Donald Trump), which did not believe in it.” But Macron had high expectations for a US return under Biden’s presidency. “We must build an efficient multilateral system that will allow for a new consensus,” said Macron.
Russian President Vladimir Putin called for more multilateralism, dialogue and international cooperation to deal with the current challenges.
For his part, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reiterated his call for “a revitalized, inclusive and common multilateralism… We need a global economy that has universal respect for international law; a multipolar world with strong multilateral institutions.”
Anti-Covid vaccine a global public product
I do not want to say that China was the country that ‘invented’ multilateralism. But no one can deny the consistency of the Beijing leadership and especially President Xi’s tireless effort to raise awareness around the world about this alternative, developing it year after year with new ideas and contemporary offers at international forums or meetings with various leaders inside and outside the country, and implementing it in China’s foreign policy. In this perspective Xi looks at and deals with the fight against the Covidian pandemic and the epic attempt to provide the vaccine against it for all of humanity.
And here we are at the beginning of February 2021 when it can be said that few or no one any longer opposes the necessity of cooperative relations between states in these extraordinary times of the fight between life and death against the pandemic, especially in the concrete aspect of the production and administration of anti-Covid vaccines under the motto ‘Now and for all’! What is being aimed at proves that it is not utopia the idea of creating the community of common destinies of humanity because concretely worldwide vaccination is among the most effective ways of salvation of all humankind against the deadliest plague since many decades.
A question arises for being more concrete: what has China achieved in this regard? Internally, it has administered a total of 22.77 million doses of Covid 19 vaccine, according to the National Health Commission on January 27, 2021. China approved the use of the Sinopharm vaccine at the end of last year, which meets all the required international medical parameters. The commission’s deputy chairman, Zeng Yixin, made this announcement at a press conference held by the joint Council of State mechanism for the prevention and control of Covid 19. Health authorities are strengthening vaccination management and using an information system on vaccination planning to find each dose, according to Zeng. Health workers at vaccination sites were also asked to closely monitor and report any possible adverse reactions in accordance with appropriate procedures. To address the epidemic in rural areas there was training of medical grassroots staff at all levels, especially rural doctors so that they can identify suspicious symptoms.
Meanwhile more than 50 million doses of coronavirus vaccines have been administered in over 50 countries and regions since January 20, according to data from the Nikkei and the Financial Times. The Ministry of Commerce announced that more than 40 countries have requested vaccines from China. The invention of the new coronavirus vaccine is undoubtedly good news, but there is a gap between rich and poor in getting this “antidote” the China Media Group (CMG) noted in a comment. Specifically, Secretary-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has recently said that more than 39 million doses of vaccine have been made in 49 rich countries, while there are less developed countries where only 25 vaccines have been made!!! According to media reports, only 25 people have been vaccinated in Guinea, including the president.
“Not 25 million, not 25,000, but 25! I mean the world is on the verge of the catastrophic moral decline,” said the head of the WHO. Mr. Ghebreyesus expressed great concern that if vaccination in low-income countries lasts indefinitely, it will delay humanity’s triumph over the virus.
So functional and true multilateralism becomes more urgent when we look sadly at what is happening in the context of what is already being called ‘vaccine diplomacy’. Some western countries continue to rush to buy and stockpile large amounts of vaccines. Some profit-making vaccine manufacturers in the West bypass COVAX and give preference to rich countries to secure a higher price for vaccines, blocking the WHO purchasing process.
Rich and poor are all in this together
The well known US columnist, Fareed Zakaria noted in an opinion in Washington Post on January 28 this year that with vaccinations ramping up in the United States and Britain, and with Israel and the United Arab Emirates racing toward herd immunity, it is easy to imagine that a return to normalcy is on the horizon. “But we might be seeing a false dawn. Despite the amazing progress we’ve made with vaccines, the truth is that our current trajectory virtually guarantees that we will never really defeat the coronavirus. It will stay alive and keep mutating and surging across the globe. Years from now, countries could be facing new outbreaks that will force hard choices between new lockdowns or new waves of disease and death.”
What he raises as a ‘basic problem’ is in how the vaccine is being distributed around the world – not based on where there is the most need, but the most money. “The richest countries have paid for hundreds of millions of doses, often far in excess of what they need. Canada, for example, has pre ordered enough to cover its 38 million residents five times over. Meanwhile, Nigeria’s 200 million people have not received a single dose of the vaccine,” said Zakaria, who seems furious over what has happened in several African countries which have been used for vaccine trials without receiving any single dose of the vaccine after the trials. “Almost no sub-Saharan nation has received vaccines in any significant quantity, while 40 million doses have already been administered in rich countries,” revealed the US columnist.
Concretely speaking, it is apparent an ongoing disorientation regarding the vaccines within the EU, which groups the most developed countries in Europe and the world, and in light of this promises to help other countries such as the Western Balkans have remained on paper. This has created concern and nervousness in some countries such as Albania where Prime Minister Edi Rama has repeatedly leveled harsh criticism on Brussels regarding this problem. Therefore, some of his statements about the possibility of looking at other alternatives for vaccines in the east have not been well received by EU circles of bureaucracy. Albania resumed vaccination on February 1, but the amount of doses is very small, according to official reports, which put the figure at about 2000 units. Naturally there is great concern among the population when the average daily number of fatalities and infections continues to rise sharply, ranging between 10-15 deaths and 1000-1100 coronavirus cases.
However, not all WB countries have serious vaccine shortages. Serbia has become the first country which has launched the mass vaccination campaign against coronavirus, using almost 4 different vaccines manufactured by Pfizer, Moderna, Sputnik V, Sinopharm and being part of COVAX platform. “This is the only way to return to normal life,” said Serbian Health Minister Zlatibor Lloncar on January 19, who was also the first person to receive the Chinese vaccine on television. “These are all very safe vaccines,” said Lloncar of the Institute of Virology in Belgrade. Serbian Defense Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic has said he and more than 700 members of the army have been vaccinated with the Chinese vaccine. Serbia has announced that among others it has ordered 1 million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine.
In the meantime, Hungary has become the first EU country to approve the use of the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine. Hungarian Foreign and Trade Minister Peter Szijjarto told Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in a telephone conversation that Hungary thanks China for its strong support in vaccine cooperation and hopes that it will speed up the approval process to facilitate the purchase of vaccines from Chinese manufacturing companies. On the other hand, Turkey, an EU candidate country and a veteran NATO member, received another 6.5 million Chinese vaccines a few days ago, while Turkish Ambassador to China Abdulkadir Eminennen told the Global Times on January 27 in an interview that an agreement with Sinovac anticipates the supply of 50 million doses. According to the ambassador, President Erdogan and the health minister have been vaccinated with Sinovac vaccines.
In face of the aggravation of the situation worldwide there is already an expression of desire for cooperation between China and the US on anti-Covid medical supplies now that the Biden administration has turned the fight against the virus into the spotlight. A letter from Bill Gates and Melinda Gates on the pandemic in 2020 and the future states that cooperation between the US and China to combat the pandemic is essential, as quoted by the Global Times on 27 January. For her part Roberta Lipson, founder of United Family Healthcare in the United States, said: “The whole world is suffering now and global coordination is needed to bring under control the pandemic that can and should start with the United States and China.”
The great worry and panic over the impact of the pandemic, which continues to cause frightening human and economic damage worldwide, has understandably overwhelmed all peoples who expect from their government leaders solutions beyond propaganda and politicization as after all life is in danger. Those who have followed what was said at the Davos Forum expect and hope for more solidarity and cooperation of the international community and see the need for realism in treating the anti-Covid vaccine as a ‘global public product’. It is worthy to mention that President Xi solemnly declared China’s commitment in Davos to actively engage in international cooperation on Covid vaccines because, according to him, peoples and their lives should always be at the forefront of everything. Now is the time for the front against the deadly virus to strengthen and expand further to include the entire globe because there is no other way to triumph over the plague. Like it or not, all the world, rich and poor, are all in this together, and the time and facts will be the most irrefutable judges, but hopefully not when it will be too late!
*Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Argumentum