Monday, January 17, 2022

China’s Synopharm launches vaccination program in South Pacific

China’s Sinopharm began launching its COVID-19 vaccination program in the Solomon Islands this week, amid growing concerns over Beijing’s vaccination diplomacy efforts and efforts to expand its hegemony in the South Pacific region.

Deputy Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands, Manasseh Maelanga, received the first stab on May 21 during a ceremony at Central Field Hospital in the capital Honiara.

He said the islands were the first among the Pacific countries to receive the Chinese vaccines and “express gratitude” to Chinese authorities. According to Chinese state-run media Xinhua, Maelanga’s vaccination was carried out to demonstrate the ‘safety and efficacy’ of the vaccine.

The efficacy of vaccines from Sinopharm, and another Chinese state-owned company, Sinovac, has been questioned, with different success rates in different countries.

In April, Beijing donated 50,000 vaccines to the country, with Chinese Ambassador Li Ming saying, “Solomon Islands is actually the first Pacific country to receive our support for COVID-19 vaccines.”

Solomon Islands Premier Manasseh Sogavare (R) and Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang inspect honor guards during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on October 9, 2019. (Wang Zhao / AFP via Getty Images)

Li, who was present at the Honiara ceremony, said the roll-out was an example of the ‘mutual trust’ shared by Beijing and the Solomon Islands.

Sinopharm and Sinovac have delivered vaccines to more than 80 countries around the world, according to the Chinese director’s mouthpiece The Global Times. Beijing has also undertaken to supply 200,000 vaccines to Papua New Guinea, another Pacific country struggling to prevent an outbreak of the virus.

Australia, in turn, delivered 60,000 doses of its locally produced AstraZeneca vaccine to the Solomons and more than 8,000 doses to Papua New Guinea.

Beijing’s pressure to help developing countries with vaccination efforts has drawn criticism, with French President Emmanuel Macron raising concerns about the lack of transparency behind the development of its vaccines.

The low success rates with the Chinese vaccine have also raised safety concerns; for example, Sinovac’s last clinical trial in Brazil had a reported efficacy of 50.4 percent, just above the 50 percent threshold set by the World Health Organization.

Epoch Times Photo
A health worker is preparing to vaccinate the Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine on April 6, 2021, to Chinese citizens living in Colombo, Sri Lanka. (Ishara S. Kodikara / AFP via Getty Images)

Gabriel Moens, an emeritus professor of law at the University of Queensland and an expert in international law, says the vaccine push is a complement to Beijing’s billion-dollar infrastructure financing scheme, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), also known as One Belt, One Road).

“Even a judicious synovial diplomacy and the BRI indicate that China is motivated by its desire to expand its geopolitical footprint around the world,” he wrote in a headline for The Epoch Times.

Meanwhile, Beijing-backed vaccination campaigns in the South Pacific as democratic allies continue to push back against the ongoing influence of government in the region.

The response from the Pacific countries has varied.

The incoming Prime Minister of Samoa, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, last week promised to cancel a $ 100 million port development near the capital Apia, saying the project was excessive for a country of Samoa’s size and economy.

Epoch Times Photo
Fishing boats moored near the Apia fish market in Apia, Samoa, on September 13, 2015. (Mark Kolbe / Getty Images)

Her attitude was a complete reversal of incumbent Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, who has maintained friendly relations with Beijing for his nearly two decades in power.

Daniel Suidani, provincial leader of Malaita in the Solomon Islands, has had ongoing disputes with the country’s federal leaders over his opposition to Beijing and criticism of the BRI.

‘China is targeting overwhelmingly needy countries such as the Solomon Islands who are unable to pay their debts and loans. “China has seized parts or whole ports from countries that cannot pay their debts,” Suidani said. tell a crowd at the provincial meeting in 2019.

In the same year, leaders of the Solomon Islands and Kiribati decided to abandon Taiwan’s diplomatic recognition in favor of Beijing. It was Beijing’s latest move to gain Taiwan’s international prestige.

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