“I will take this visit as an opportunity to strengthen cooperation with the United States and make Korea a global hub of vaccine production,” said South Korean President Moon Jae-in about the summit meeting between Seoul and Washington scheduled on Friday. This is the first time that President Moon has pointed out Covid-19 vaccine cooperation as one of the main agenda of the upcoming summit meeting with the U.S.
During a meeting with his senior aides on Monday, President Moon said he will do his best to advance the time for normalization through watertight quarantine measures and seamless vaccinations. Pundits say the president’s remarks reflect his will to dispel worries over the procurement of Covid-19 vaccines in South Korea to set up a solid political footing.
Regarding his plan to turn Seoul into a global vaccine hub, it has been reported that Seoul and Washington are under discussion to strengthen their bilateral partnership either by letting American pharmaceutical companies produce vaccines in Korea on a consignment basis or by transferring technology to Korea for direct production. Some experts say this might be a “win-win” for the two allies as America can tap into Korea’s bio-production capacity, second biggest in the world, while the Korean government can guarantee long-term supplies for its people. In terms of national security, in particular, the U.S. can enjoy the benefit of keeping China’s growing influence in Asia through “vaccine diplomacy” in check by making South Korea, one of the key Asian allies, a vaccine hub in the East Asian region.
Some say announcements will be made before or after the summit meeting on Moderna’s establishment of a local subsidiary and a plan for consignment production in South Korea. Samsung Biologics is having talks with Moderna over consignment production, and SK Bioscience has signed a contract for technology transfer with Novavax. The CEOs of the two local bio companies are also visiting the U.S. during President Moon’s state visit.
The Korean government is not entirely excluding the possibility of striking a deal on a vaccine swap through this summit with Washington thereby procuring vaccines from the U.S. in advance to fill the holes of vaccine supplies in Korea. “The government is making a multi-faceted effort for the upcoming summit, but there is no telling what outcomes are waiting for us,” said a government official. “It’s too early to pin high hopes on it.”
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