China said Friday that it has joined an international framework designed to guarantee equitable global access to potential vaccines for the new coronavirus, becoming the biggest economy to support the initiative to date.

The COVAX Facility channels funds provided by middle- to high-income nations involved in the program toward a number of pharmaceutical companies that are working to develop vaccines, which will also be supplied to low-income countries.

China's Sinovac Biotech Ltd. shows a COVID-19 vaccine candidate in Beijing on Sept. 4, 2020. (Kyodo)

By taking part in the initiative, China, seen as a front-runner in the intensifying race to develop vaccines, is apparently aiming to brush aside criticism that it has been trying to boost its clout among advancing nations through its "vaccine diplomacy."

China is taking a "concrete step to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines, especially to developing countries," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said.

Japan pledged Thursday to contribute more than $130 million to COVAX as part of the roughly $300 million in financial support Japan offered in June to the global vaccine alliance Gavi, which co-leads the facility, for five years from 2021.