ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia: A cavernous new airport cargo terminal in Ethiopia’s capital is the center of a vast supply network that China is assembling to accelerate delivery of its coronavirus vaccines and deepen its influence around the world in developing.
At one end is a soccer field-sized freezer for storing vials from Chinese state-controlled pharmaceutical companies. In the other there is a control room with a wall of computer monitors where Chinese and Ethiopian technicians will track the temperatures of each batch.
This week, more than a million doses of China’s new Covid-19 vaccines will pass through here, according to Ethiopian Airlines officials. Thousands of doses have already passed, they and Ugandan officials said. More deliveries are expected to come through a partnership between Chinese tech giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and Ethiopian Airlines, officials with the state airline said.
A potential prize of soft power is at stake: the goodwill of politicians and individuals across the developing world in need of low-cost Covid vaccines, and the prestige of being seen as a nation with the ability to act as a guardian of global public health.
For months, the Chinese government, state-owned companies and private companies have laid the foundation for a vaccination push from Africa to the Middle East and Latin America. They have assembled a supply chain that would maintain temperature controls from the point of manufacture to every step of distribution, and would promote the “Health Silk Road,” as Beijing has called it.