China will join a world health organization initiative aimed at ensuring fair distribution of covid-19 vaccines around the world as part of beijings latest effort to steal a public relations march on the us in the global battle against the pandemic.

Hua chunying, a foreign ministry spokesperson, said on twitter on friday that the move was evidence of chinas commitment to to turn covid-19 vaccines into a global public good.

China continues to focus on ensuring that developing countries have equal access to appropriate, safe and effective vaccines, she added.

The covax initiative, which is also steered by the international vaccine group gavi and the coalition for epidemic preparedness innovations, is aiming to provide 2bn covid-19 vaccinations by the end of next year.

It had initially struggled to attract members, especially developed countries that agree to purchase vaccines at prices that subsidise low-income countries access to them.

Gavi has described the programme as a lifeline and the only way in which [low-income nations] will get access to covid-19 vaccines.

In contrast to the us, where the pandemic is still spreading and president donald trump has said he would withdraw american funding for the who, china has successfully contained the virus and is attempting to bolster its international image by increasing support for global health initiatives.

Shortly after mr trump said in april that the us would withdraw from the who, chinese president xi jinping pledged to contribute $2bn over two years to international efforts to combat the pandemic. for the whos 2018-19 budget cycle, china contributed $85m compared with $900m from the us.

The us has not joined the covax initiative, which had extended an august 31 joining deadline to friday to attract more members. many developed countries preferred to strike their own exclusive arrangements with vaccine providers, which gavi has argued would leave the majority of the global population vulnerable and allow the virus and its impact to continue unabated.

Chinese companies led by sinovac, sinopharm and cansino biologics are racing to develop vaccines to combat the pandemic, which has resulted in more than 36m infections and more than 1m deaths.

Controversially, however, many of chinas leading vaccine candidates have been given to hundreds of thousands of people before completing final-stage phase 3 clinical trials, which ensure that they are safe and effective.

The chinese government did not specify how it would support covax, but ms hua said china was doing so despite being well positioned in the vaccine race.

Even when china is leading the world with several vaccines in advanced stages of r&d and with ample production capacity, it still decided to join covax, she said.

Chinas image continues to suffer from its association with the pandemic, which began in the central chinese city of wuhan last year, as well as mr xis hardline policies in hong kong and xinjiang.

According to a pew research center survey of people in 14 countries released this week, unfavourable views of china increased dramatically over the past year.