In this webinar, Dr Ardhitya Eduard Yeremia seeks to throw some light on the problems and prospects of China’s vaccine diplomacy in Indonesia and how it could shape Indonesia-China relations in the short- and long run.
REGIONAL SOCIAL AND CULTURAL STUDIES PROGRAMME
China’s Vaccine Diplomacy in Southeast Asia and Its Impacts Webinar Series
Monday, 16 July 2021 – The ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute held the first session of the three-part webinar series on “China’s Vaccine Diplomacy in Southeast Asia and Its Impacts”. The first instalment in this series focused on China’s vaccine diplomacy in Indonesia as the COVID-19 pandemic has arguably added a new dimension in Indonesia-China bilateral relations through the two countries’ cooperation on vaccine development, procurement, and production. Moderated by Dr Siwage Dharma Negara (Senior Fellow, ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute), the webinar featured the insights of Dr Ardhitya Eduard Yeremia (Universitas Indonesia). Professor Leo Suryadinata (Visiting Senior Fellow, ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute) joined the webinar as a discussant. This webinar series is supported by Konrad Adenauer Stiftung Political Dialogue Asia; Mr Christain Echle gave the welcome remarks at the start of the webinar.
First, Dr Yeremia shared with the audience about Indonesia’s current state of affairs with regards to the pandemic. He observed that the country was in the midst of dealing with the second wave of the outbreak and that the narrative being pushed by the Health Minister is that “a good vaccine is one that is available”. Following this preamble, Dr Yeremia suggested that vaccine diplomacy gives too much attention to the major powers and more attention should be given to the recipient country and their efforts to procure vaccines.
Dr Yeremia pointed out that in the first phase, four vaccine manufacturers support the country’s mass vaccination program—Sinovac, Sinopharm, AstraZeneca and Moderna—and that Chinese manufacturers have predominated the supply of COVID-19 vaccines for Indonesia. Indonesia also receives vaccines from the Covax facility. As of July 2021, Indonesia entered the second phase, and has started receiving vaccine donations from Japan and there are plans for Indonesia to receive vaccine donations from US, UAE, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Australia in the near future. As the number of these non-Chinese vaccines continue to increase, this would affect China’s vaccine diplomacy.
Dr Yeremia went on to present Indonesia’s timeline of vaccine search to provide evidence of the country’s organic efforts and initiatives in making sure there is diversity in its vaccine sources. Furthermore, Dr Yeremia pointed out that the measures taken to ensure that the vaccine is halal certified shows China’s contribution to promoting China-made vaccine in Indonesia.
He then expanded on factors that shape the prospect of China’s vaccine diplomacy in Indonesia. They were (1) Indonesia’s degree of commitment to diversify its vaccine sources to mitigate the power imbalance between the two countries (2) the accessibility of non-Chinese vaccine manufacturers as their response was lukewarm in the beginning compared to the fast and reliable response from Sinovac (3) Indonesian efforts at developing a home-grown vaccine as surveys showed that citizens trusted this over a foreign alternative (4) the effectiveness of Chinese vaccines and (5) other dynamics between the two countries such as China’s aggressiveness in the South China Sea issue.
Dr Yeremia ended his presentation with his final thoughts on how Indonesia-China relations has moved beyond the vaccine to stronger and more open bilateral cooperation. This is because China has offered support for Indonesia’s desire to be the vaccine hub in the Southeast Asian region. However, the question remains on how the relations will take shape in the long-term as non-Chinese vaccines supply may become larger than the China-made vaccine, defeating China-made vaccines and Indonesians may have its own home-grown vaccines. This would make China’s vaccine diplomacy less significant. In addition, Indonesia appears to be firm on its stance on the South China Sea dispute as of now. On the impact on ethnic and community relations in Indonesia, Dr Yeremia raised the alarming issue of populist narratives used to mobilize anti-China/Chinese sentiments.
Discussant Prof Leo Suryadinata added to this discourse by highlighting that the masses are affected by negative narratives about China on social media and that the Indonesian elite were not unified in the sentiments towards China. He also questioned the substance of Indonesia-China joint vaccine cooperation and the prospect of success for the Indonesian home-grown vaccines. Prof Leo argued that, so far, China’s vaccines are still dominant and if the West failed to provide Indonesia with vaccines, and Indonesian home-grown vaccine is not a success, Indonesia has no choice but to remain dependant on China’s vaccines. The webinar concluded with an engaging Question and Answer session. Audience members posed several questions to Dr Yeremia on a range of topics: they include the shifting power dynamics between Indonesia, US and China given that Sinovac is not as effective against the Delta variant and the US government’s recent donation of 4 million Moderna vaccines; the reluctance of the Indonesian public to vaccinate or take vaccines originating from China; and the influence of Xinjiang on public perception of China. 116 people attended this webinar.