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COVID vaccines

APEC leaders vow to boost vaccine output as delta variant rages

Xi and Biden tout contributions of jabs and aid for post-pandemic recovery

Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Joe Biden are to meet online on July 16. (Source photos by AP, Reuters and Getty Images) 

SYDNEY -- Leaders of Asia-Pacific nations on Friday pledged to increase coronavirus vaccine output and distribution against a COVID-19 resurgence that has again made the region a front line in the pandemic.

While coronavirus testing remains important, "we will only overcome this health emergency by accelerating equitable access to safe, effective, quality-assured, and affordable COVID-19 vaccines," the leaders said in a statement after an informal online meeting.

Both Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Joe Biden joined the meeting, which was chaired by New Zealand as the delta variant of the coronavirus drives a surge of new infections in hard-hit Indonesia and other countries in the region. 

APEC leaders vowed to "redouble our efforts to expand vaccine manufacture and supply, support global vaccine sharing efforts, and encourage the voluntary transfer of vaccine production technologies on mutually agreed terms."

Xi said China has provided more than 500 million doses of coronavirus vaccine to developing countries so far, in remarks reported by the Xinhua News Agency.

Biden touted a similar level of contributions, saying the U.S. "is donating more than half a billion safe and effective vaccines to more than 100 countries in need around the world," according to a White House readout of the president's APEC remarks. Biden also "underscored the importance of not attaching any political or economic conditions to the provision of vaccines."

Both Xi and Biden pledged to support the post-pandemic recovery. Over the next three years China will contribute $3 billion in international aid as developing countries repair the damage to their economies and societies, Xi said, adding that his country opposes divisions on trade and other flows.

"The pandemic proves once again that we live in one global village, where countries stand to rise and fall together," Xi said, adding "We must stick to solidarity and cooperation."

Biden "discussed ways to unleash the economic power of the region and to deepen U.S. economic engagement throughout the Indo-Pacific," including the provision of "high-standard, climate-aligned, and transparently financed infrastructure."

The meeting was called for by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand, which holds the APEC chair this year and had sought an informal meeting ahead of a summit scheduled for November. Russian President Vladimir Putin, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and Indonesian President Joko Widodo were among the others taking part.

On Thursday, Biden talked with Ardern by phone ahead of the summit. According to the White House, the two leaders agreed on the importance of multilateral international frameworks and economic cooperation. Biden expressed his appreciation for the meeting and praised Ardern's leadership in dealing with the pandemic.

Biden's "participation demonstrates U.S. leadership in the Indo-Pacific region and his commitment -- the United States' commitment to multilateral institutions," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Wednesday.

U.S. leaders are eyeing China, which is providing vaccines to emerging Asian countries. On Wednesday, just ahead of the APEC meeting, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken held an online meeting with foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, stressing that the U.S. would work with ASEAN in the fight against COVID-19. 

The various countries and regions participating in APEC are at different stages of their vaccination rollouts. As of July 14, 69% of people in Singapore and 55% of people in the U.S. have received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to Our World in Data. But in Indonesia and Thailand, where the delta variant is spreading, that figure is only 13% to 14%, and just 4% to 5% of people are fully vaccinated. Taiwan, which is considered to have done well in initially containing the virus, has fewer than 1% of its population fully vaccinated.

With no end in sight to the outbreaks, some appreciate that the leaders of the U.S. and China are joining the discussions to increase the supply of vaccines. It is one of the few good signs that the U.S. and China have put aside their differences to cooperate in the fight against the new coronavirus, said APEC Executive Director Rebecca Fatima Sta Maria.

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