Australia should stop obstructing PNG’s vaccinations
Published: Aug 02, 2021 08:52 PM
Illustration: Xia Qing/GT

Illustration: Xia Qing/GT

Despite a troubled vaccination progress at home, Australia has not spared any effort to interfere in the vaccination rollout in other countries, such as hyping up a vaccine rivalry between China and Australia, for instance, which has put Papua New Guinea (PNG) in between of the two nations. 

PNG, which detected its first case of the highly contagious Delta variant recently, has agreed to vaccine offerings from a number of suppliers, including China, Australia, New Zealand and COVAX. "But vaccines have become a loaded political issue lately," the Australian ABC reported on Monday, noting that PNG has been caught between China and Australia.

First of all, it is crucial for PNG to acquire sufficient vaccines based on its need and choices, both for the health of its citizens and to protect its fragile economy. It is more than welcome to see Australia to offer help in South Pacific Islands; meanwhile, cooperation between PNG and China should be determined by the two countries, leaving no room for Australia to have a say.

However, it seems Canberra is not used to take a respectful attitude toward China-PNG cooperation, due to its long-standing arrogant attitude toward the region and its skewed anti-China mindset. The Global Times in early July learned exclusively from sources that Australia had been racking its brains to undermine China's vaccine cooperation with Pacific Island countries, including PNG.

Obviously, PNG's real interests are not included in Australia's top considerations in the region. What's behind Canberra's schemes is its fear over the "growing influence" of China in the region.

The so-called "growing influence" was China, as the world's largest developing country, offering its vaccines as global public goods to facilitate other countries combating the heath crisis. China has offered over 700 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to countries across the world, especially the developing nations. Western countries, holding a cold war mindset, have been trying to vilify such cooperation between China and others; but it's not hard to imagine where the pandemic prevention situation would be without the massive scale of vaccine distribution provided by China. 

It is expected that rich countries could join the campaign to help the developing countries. Regrettably, the US is busy hoarding its own stockpile while Australia itself has been lagging behind in its domestic vaccination rate, ranking 36 among 38 OECD countries, according to the Guardian.

From the perspective of PNG, promoting inoculation is not only a key step to contain the virus spread, but also extremely important for it to boost economic recovery as soon as possible, especially since tourism has played an important role in its growth.

In fact, the enhancing economic and trade cooperation with China has been bringing about tangible benefit to South Pacific Islands over recent years. In the region, PNG is the largest trading partner and largest investment destination of China, as well as the first country to join the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), according to China's Ministry of Commerce.

Trade between China and PNG grew to $3.83 billion in 2019, up 6 percent year-on-year. China was the largest importer and the second largest trading partner of PNG. The first meeting of the China-PNG Joint Economic and Trade Commission was held in last August amid the pandemic, during which the two vowed to strengthen international cooperation in the fight against the epidemic, deepen integration of BRI with PNG's major strategies, and accelerate the joint feasibility study of a free trade zone between the two countries, among others.

Australia, though has been offering aid across the region for years, failed to effectively boost the growth of the countries. The declining "influence" of Australia in the South Pacific Island countries appears inevitable; and Canberra should focus on seeking mutual-beneficial cooperation with the region, rather than fixating on its paranoid fear over China.

The article was compiled based on an interview with Zhou Fangyin, director of Center for Pacific Island Countries Studies of Guangdong University of Foreign Studies.