SEATTLE, Washington — Countries across the world are suffering from the effects of COVID-19. In conjunction with the socio-political impacts of the pandemic, it has been harrowing economies with little exception. Indonesia is one such country that has suffered immensely from the economic impacts of COVID. However, Indonesia and China have agreed to work together to develop a vaccine in an effort some are calling vaccine diplomacy.
Indonesia’s Economic Woes
In August, nearly 10 million Indonesians were left unemployed due to the pandemic. Around five million people are projected to fall into poverty. Additionally, COVID-19 has infected a total of nearly 900,000 people and killed more than 25,000, the highest statistics of any Southeast Asian country.
Indonesia’s economy, predictably, has suffered from closures due to the pandemic. Their GDP in the second quarter of 2020 was 5% lower than it was the year before. That is the lowest it has been since the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s. When the government tried to reopen the economy, positive cases surged, prompting shutdowns.
Furthermore, the extent of the virus is hard to measure since Indonesia has tested the smallest amount of its population of any major economy. The country has particularly suffered from relaxed restrictions. However, even when tightened, many do not sufficiently follow the restrictions. Subsequently, there have been incredibly high transmission rates, especially to doctors and nurses.
Healthcare Workers in Jeopardy
As of October, more than 110 doctors and 82 nurses had died from COVID. Thousands more had contracted the virus. That rate stands as the fourth-highest rate in the world. Indonesia already had one of the lowest rates of practitioners and nurses per citizen of any Southeast Asian country. The lack of healthcare workers already stretched healthcare infrastructure thin. Their vastly underfunded healthcare system has not managed to sufficiently test for the virus and has struggled with overburdened hospitals, despite generous donations from countries such as China, Australia and New Zealand.
As countries begin preliminary roll-outs of vaccines and others continue expedited development, it presents an opportunity for countries to work together. China and Indonesia, two of the four most populous nations in the world, have engaged in “vaccine diplomacy.” In other words, they are working together to ensure the proper distribution of current vaccines and to ensure future vaccines are more effective. The move symbolically commemorates 2020 as the 70th year of diplomatic relations between China and Indonesia. Both countries reiterated their desire to cooperate and support each other’s economies and interests.
China is also using vaccine diplomacy with African and Southeast Asian countries, to which it has promised access to their vaccine. Additionally, China promised to loan $1 billion to Latin America and Caribbean nations. China stated that such generosity is its responsibility as a rich nation, not a strategy to expand its influence.
The agreement made between China’s foreign minister Wang Yi and Indonesian officials involves Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinovac Biotech and Indonesia’s Bio Farma. The companies plan to provide 40 million vaccines to Indonesia by March 2021. Since China claims to have gotten rid of the majority of its COVID-19 transmission, the partnership with Indonesia is essential to providing them access to infected patients for large vaccine trials.
The results of vaccine diplomacy and the Chinese-Indonesian joint effort remain to be seen. However, such cooperation is a welcome sight for international relations and the fight against COVID-19.
– Adrian Rufo