Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) is unwilling to accept Western vaccines despite the challenges China is facing with COVID-19, and recent protests could affect his personal standing in the Chinese Communist Party, US Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said on Saturday.
Although China’s daily COVID-19 cases are near all-time highs, some cities are taking steps to loosen testing and quarantine rules after Xi’s “zero COVID” policy triggered a sharp economic slowdown and public unrest.
Despite the social and economic impact of the virus, Xi “is unwilling to take a better vaccine from the West, and is instead relying on a vaccine in China that’s just not nearly as effective against Omicron,” Haines said at the annual Reagan National Defense Forum in California.
“Seeing protests and the response to it is countering the narrative that he likes to put forward, which is that China is so much more effective at government,” Haines said.
“It’s, again, not something we see as being a threat to stability at this moment, or regime change or anything like that,” she said, adding that “how it develops will be important to Xi’s standing.”
China has not approved any foreign COVID-19 vaccines, opting for those produced domestically, which some studies have shown are not as effective as some foreign ones. That means easing virus prevention measures could come with big risks, experts said.
China had not asked the US for vaccines, the White House said earlier in the week.
One US official said there was “no expectation at present” that China would approve Western vaccines.
“It seems fairly far-fetched that China would green-light Western vaccines at this point. It’s a matter of national pride, and they’d have to swallow quite a bit of it if they went this route,” the official said.
Haines said that North Korea recognized that China was less likely to hold it accountable for what she said was Pyongyang’s “extraordinary” number of weapons tests this year.
Amid a record year for missile tests, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said last week his country intends to have the world’s most powerful nuclear force.
China has no motivation to restrain any country, including North Korea, that generates problems for the US, US Indo-Pacific Command Commander Admiral John Aquilino said on a panel.
“I’d argue quite differently that it’s in their strategy to drive those problems,” Aquilino said.
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