China’s ‘Free’ Coronavirus Vaccine Offer Follows Years of Scandals

Chinese President Xi Jinping meets with South Korea's national security director Chung Eui-yong at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing Monday, March 12, 2018. (Etienne Oliveau/Pool Photo via AP)
Etienne Oliveau/Photo via AP

Chinese dictator Xi Jinping promised the world free Chinese coronavirus vaccines, paid for by Beijing, during Monday’s World Health Assembly session. Xi made this vow after years of scandals at home fueled by the corrupt and incompetent manufacturing of much simpler vaccines for diseases such as polio.

China’s vaccines are so notorious that state-owned media outlets openly admit Chinese parents prefer foreign-made products. Xi’s regime claims to have cracked down on manufacturers intentionally developing watered-down vaccines that do not produce inoculation after one such company, Changsheng Biotechnology, produced close to one million substandard vaccines, distributed to hundreds of thousands of children in the country. The Changsheng scandal, which resulted in widespread protests, preceded a number of similar cases with other pharmaceutical companies in the country, and evidence suggests Xi directed more potent efforts towards silencing outraged parents than getting faulty vaccines out of Chinese clinics.

China’s recent history producing watered-down, dangerous vaccines did not factor into any discussion of a future vaccine for the Chinese coronavirus during the World Health Assembly, conducted virtually this year as a result of the pandemic. The World Health Organization (W.H.O.) instead offered Xi Jinping one of the first available speaking positions on Monday to make his statement unchallenged.

“In China, after making painstaking efforts and enormous sacrifice, we have turned the tide on the virus and protected the life and health of our people,” Xi told the W.H.O. audience, failing to mention mounting reports of surges in cases in multiple provinces of China, including Hubei, where the pandemic began.

“All along, we have acted with openness, transparency, and responsibility. We have provided information to the W.H.O. and the relevant countries in the most timely fashion,” Xi continued – another statement that did not address the fact that Beijing admitted to destroying early samples of the virus and has launched a campaign to promote the conspiracy theory that the virus originated in America.

Xi then announced a Chinese Communist Party healthcare giveaway.

“COVID-19 [Chinese coronavirus] vaccine development and deployment in China, when available, will be made a global public good. This will be China’s contribution to ensuring vaccine accessibility and affordability in developing countries,” Xi said. “China will provide US$2 billion over two years to help with COVID-19 response and with economic and social development in affected countries, especially developing countries.

The W.H.O. said on May 15 that 118 potential Chinese coronavirus vaccines exist around the world and eight have entered clinical trials. Half are in China, where at least one firm openly stated it preferred to experiment with its vaccine on foreigners rather than Chinese nationals. China has an advantage in developing the vaccine in that officials destroyed early samples of the vaccine, not offering the rest of the world a chance to study them and observe the natural evolution of the virus as it spread through humanity.

Despite this advantage, reports indicate that Washington has found evidence indicating Chinese hackers are trying to steal key research on a vaccine from American scientists, a claim Beijing’s state media outlets have denied.

Chinese state media outlets began immediately heralding the move as a sign of “China’s resolution and generosity in serving the international community.” American outlets like Politico, which is in a content partnership deal with the Alibaba-owned South China Morning Post, contrasted the “hope” Xi brought to the table with the allegation that his giveaway offers at the World Health Assembly left President Donald Trump “increasingly isolated.” Few have highlighted the poor development history of Chinese vaccines, and those who did identified the pandemic as a shot a “redemption.”

Xi Jinping’s regime would be seeking redemption from multiple scandals, the largest beginning in 2018. That year, adverse effects in children revealed that Changsheng Biotechnology and the state-run Wuhan Institute of Biological Products had sold nearly a million doses of substandard vaccines throughout the country. The vaccines in question were several varieties typically used to inoculate infants and young children and almost all of them were administered to children, Chinese officials said.

The vaccines prompted nationwide criticism and protests from infuriated parents, which triggered a censorship action much more formidable than the law enforcement response to the damaged vaccines. The most vocal activists began to disappear in late 2018 and police began shutting down social media groups for parents of affected children.

Xi Jinping himself said little of the scandal, merely dismissing it as “vile and shocking” and vowing an “investigation.” Many of Changsheng’s senior officials were, indeed, imprisoned, and the company went bankrupt in November 2019.

Long before then, however – in January 2019 – parents in Jiangsu province uncovered another set of faulty vaccines. Unlike the Changsheng scandal, where government officials confirmed that the vaccines were substandard, officials in Jiangsu said the polio vaccines in question were safe after parents of the affected children, who fell ill, independently discovered that the vaccines had expired.

Anger at the government at a boiling point, a mob of hundreds of parents in Jiangsu convened at a government health facility and surrounded government officials, beating at least one of them. The incident was caught on video.

China’s reputation on vaccines in its geopolitical neighborhood has suffered tremendously. In 2018, amid the Changsheng scandal, reports began surfacing that North Koreans, stuck in a country with a barely functional healthcare system, were actively avoiding Chinese-made medications. Reporting sympathetically on a new series of vaccine laws in China in January 2020, Sixth Tone, a state-owned outlet, noted that the laws had sent parents scampering to semi-illicit clinics as the supply had reduced dramatically. Many of these parents went to the clinics looking for foreign vaccines.

A month later, Chinese Communist Party officials admitted that 29 children in Shijiazhuang, northern China, had received watered-down vaccines at a local health center. The officials blamed not any manufacturer, but a local nurse accused of watering down the vaccines to make them cheaper and keep the difference in price between the functional vaccine and the diluted ones.

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