A high-degree equationPARK HYUN-YOUNG
The author is a Washington correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
On April 26, a high-level U.S. official held a background briefing on the Covid-19 situation in India. When a reporter asked whether the Indian government specifically asked for vaccines that the United States owned and could be used immediately at any point during the discussion with India, the official answered “No.”
India is facing the worst Covid-19 crisis but did not ask the U.S. for vaccines. Shortly after U.S. President Joe Biden had a phone conversation with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the U.S. announced a plan to send 60 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine to foreign countries. India will get 20 million doses. India got vaccines even without asking for them.
Korean government’s moves are just the opposite. After it proposed a vaccine swap deal to Washington, it did not get a good response. Though Korea argued that true friends help each other in difficult times, America doesn’t seem to agree. Foreign Minister Chung Ui-yong said on April 21 that the United States did not have a vaccine reserve. Five days later, the U.S. decided to release the reserve.
It is known that the decision was made suddenly at the top level after a discussion which lasted over a month. The White House opposes releasing vaccines while the State Department, Health Department and the USAID advocate sharing. Politico reported that high-level White House officials turned down the suggestions by the State Department to share vaccines with other countries to end the pandemic and stop the spread of variants.
The Biden administration witnessed the failures of the preceding Trump administration on Covid-19 disease control. People are haunted by the memories of medical staff wearing trash bags instead of protective gear when dead bodies were piling up in New York around this time last year. Some of the swing voters that will decide the next presidential election may miss Trump’s America First.
It is the innate limitation on the Biden administration that aspires to return as an international leader, but cannot lose the voters that fell in love with “America First.” The United States did not budge despite internal and external pressure, but when 370,000 positive cases a day were confirmed in India — the core of the Indo-Pacific strategy to check on China — Washington was forced to make the decision.
Getting vaccines from America is a high-degree equation. It cannot simply be portrayed as the selfishness of the vaccine developer or the hoarding of a superpower.