Raab von Exclusive-UK: Some countries use vaccines as a geopolitical tool

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© Reuters. British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab gesticulates during an interview with Reuters on the sidelines of the G7 summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall, Great Britain, June 11, 2021. REUTERS / Toby Melville

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By William James

CARBIS BAY, England (Reuters) – UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Friday there was no doubt that some countries are using vaccines as a diplomatic tool to gain influence, but the UK does not support what is known as vaccine diplomacy.

Raab spoke to Reuters on the sidelines of a G7 summit in Cornwall, southwest England, which would likely be dominated by attempts by the West to regain its influence as the world tries to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Western diplomats fear that Russia and China will gain influence around the world with their vaccines, especially in poorer countries that neither have their own production nor the means to buy vaccines on the international market.

When asked if he was concerned that China and Russia might use vaccines against influence, Raab said, “There is no doubt that something is happening, and we do not support vaccine diplomacy, let alone extortion.

“We think we have a moral duty, but also a strong interest in getting the world vaccinated,” he said.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson expects the G7 to agree to donate 1 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine to poorer countries during its summit and vaccinate the world by the end of next year.

Raab said the UK’s contribution would be unconditional, with at least 80% being distributed by the international vaccine initiative COVAX. The rest would be made available to “strategically close countries where we have a special relationship and no, we do not insist on conditionalities,” he added.

‘TEAMWORK’

The United States has promised to donate 500 million cans – what US President Biden stressed would be unconditional.

“We would only hold it responsible to promote vaccines whose distribution the WHO has approved as safe,” said Raab.

“But it’s a team effort. And we want countries like China and Russia to come together to tackle the problems of the pandemic, but also climate change, and also to respect the basic principles of international law.”

China currently has two WHO-approved COVID-19 vaccines, while a vaccine developed in Russia is awaiting approval. Russia said last week it expects this approval in the next few months.

Raab also said he would speak to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov shortly without giving a specific date. He declined to comment on any issues that he would address at the meeting.

Nevertheless, Raab criticized Russia as the leading protagonist of cyber attacks and called on the G7 to take a common stance on all these incidents, be they state or non-state actors.

“These activities are against international law, many of them, and they are very harmful, some of them being done out of sheer theft or for profit, others just to wreak havoc,” he said.

“As an international community, it should be clear to us that cyber attacks on hospitals, schools and critical national infrastructures are wrong. That cannot be justified, it is incredible.”

When asked about the recent emergency landing of a civil aircraft in Belarus, Raab said the country had “slipped into the status of a pariah”.

“We need Belarus to strengthen itself and to comply with the fundamental, fundamental rules of international law,” he said.

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