NEW YORK -- The U.S. on Thursday detailed plans to donate at least 80 million coronavirus vaccine doses globally by the end of June, including 7 million for India and other parts of Asia, as Washington aims to close the gap with Beijing in vaccine diplomacy.
"The sharing of millions of U.S. vaccines with other countries signals a major commitment by the U.S. government," the White House said in a fact sheet that called the plans "a vital component of our overall global strategy to lead the world in the fight to defeat COVID-19."
Among the first tranche of 25 million doses, about 7 million are allocated to Asia via the World Health Organization-led COVAX vaccine access program, the White House said. India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, the Maldives, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Laos, Papua New Guinea, Taiwan and the Pacific Islands are listed as recipients.
At least three-quarters of all donated doses will be distributed through COVAX -- prioritizing South Asia, Southeast Asia and certain other regions -- while up to 25% will go directly to such places as countries in need and their neighbors.
Recipients of the direct donations will include South Korea, where Washington pledged to provide vaccinations for 500,000-plus service members as part of a May agreement between U.S. President Joe Biden and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
With slightly more than half of its own population at least partly vaccinated, America is now rushing to share surplus supplies abroad with Beijing's vaccine diplomacy in mind.
In an apparent swipe at China on Thursday, Biden's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, emphasized that "the United States is not asking anything of any country to whom we're giving doses."
"We're not seeking to extract concessions," Sullivan told reporters via videoconference. "We're not extorting. We're not imposing conditions, the way that other countries who are providing doses are doing."
Secretary of State Antony Blinken criticized Chinese vaccine policy as "strings attached" in a March interview with Nikkei and other Japanese media outlets.
"Various countries including China have been engaged in so-called vaccine diplomacy," Blinken said at the time. "We shouldn't tie the distribution or access to vaccines to politics or to geopolitics," he said.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the same month that "we reject any 'vaccine divide' or any attempt to politicize vaccine cooperation."
China has donated almost 22 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines worldwide, including nearly 14 million to the Asia-Pacific region and about 6 million to Africa, according to a tracker by Bridge Consulting (Beijing). It has also sold many more: 732 million doses in all, including almost 291 million to the Asia-Pacific and slightly more than 281 million to Latin America.
Biden pledged in April to send 60 million AstraZeneca vaccine doses abroad and doubled down the following month by announcing plans to share at least an additional 20 million U.S.-authorized shots.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke with U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris by phone Thursday, thanking her for Washington's assistance.
They discussed ongoing efforts to strengthen the health supply chain between the two countries, including in vaccine manufacturing, and the potential of the India-U.S. partnership as well as the Quad vaccine initiative in addressing the pandemic's long-term health impact, according to a readout from Modi's office.
India is still struggling with a massive wave of COVID-19, with daily new cases still well above 100,000.
The country has been in talks with drugmakers including Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna on possibly manufacturing COVID-19 vaccines locally.
In South Korea, Samsung Biologics will produce hundreds of millions of Moderna vaccine doses under an agreement announced the day after last month's Biden-Moon summit.