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