According to an initiative tracking vaccine pre-orders at Duke University, Chile has signed up for 60 million doses of Sinovac’s CoronaVac, its biggest order of any of the vaccines in development globally. Indonesia has placed 50 million orders for that vaccine—as well as 60 million doses of one of the vaccines developed by Sinopharm—and Brazil has ordered a similar number of the Sinovac candidate. Turkey said it has ordered 50 million doses and expects the first batch to arrive in coming days.

Meanwhile, most western countries, such as the UK, are purchasing vaccines from non-Chinese pharma firms like Pfizer and Moderna, whose late-stage trials suggest the shots are quite effective. On Tuesday, the US Food and Drug Administration said its analysis of Pfizer trial data showed it conferred protection soon after the first shot. Chinese vaccines have yet to release any data from their final trials, though a top official on China’s vaccine task force signaled an announcement could come in weeks, and the country is gearing up to mass-produce doses. Some countries in which the testing has taken place, such as Brazil, could also release some trial data themselves.

Potential backlash

China’s efforts to build ties abroad sometimes face criticism at home, from citizens who say the country is spending overseas at the expense of its own people. Already, China’s promise to give priority access to the nationals of other countries is drawing discontent among some at home.

“Foreigners first, such is the style of a great country,” said a sarcastic comment voted to the top (link in Chinese) under an article from state-run Global Times.

On Weibo, many also complained about Sinovac’s decision to send the vaccines to a country that has long been hostile toward those of Chinese-origin.

“Why do we want to give the vaccines to Indonesia? Have we forgotten about the pain inflicted by the murdering of Chinese people in the country?” asked a user. In 1998, over 1,000 Indonesian Chinese were killed and thousands saw their shops smashed when riots targeted them during the Asian financial crisis.

Another layer of risk for Beijing’s vaccine diplomacy could, ironically, come if the shots are widely adopted and complaints arise linking it to side effects.

For example, earlier in the year some European governments rejected testing kits and medical masks sourced from China for the products’ failure to meet the authorities’ quality standards. And in November, a Brazilian trial of the Sinovac vaccine was briefly suspended.

“If China faces any of the same problems with its vaccines as it did with its faulty PPE [personal protective equipment], it could suffer serious reputational harm. Even if the vaccines perform well, unscrupulous Chinese individuals and companies might work in countries with poor institutional oversight to undermine the China brand,” wrote Mardell. “Beijing might also find itself exposed to an expectations gap between its rhetoric and what it can actually deliver.”

📬 Sign up for the Daily Brief

Our free, fast, and fun briefing on the global economy, delivered every weekday morning.