Beijing attempts to force Sri Lanka to approve vaccine

China has allegedly pushed the Sri Lankan Government to approve Covid-19 vaccines manufactured by Chinese state-owned Sinopharm, a development that comes close on the heels of India’s gift of 500,000 doses of the locally manufactured Covishield jab to the island nation, the Economic Times reported.

China has decided to gift 300,000 doses of the vaccines to Sri Lanka, one of its key partners in the Belt and Road Initiative in the Indian Ocean Region.

The Chinese Embassy in Colombo pushed the Rajapaksa Government to approve Sinopharm vaccines by citing their efficacy and approval by some other countries, said people aware of the matter.

They said China was put on the back foot by India’s “vaccine diplomacy” or the decision to gift doses of made-in-India coronavirus vaccines to friendly nations, the Economic Times reported.

A Chinese statement even named a few leaders who have taken a shot of Chinese vaccines to point to their efficacy.

China’s move came shortly after India announced gifting of Covishield vaccines to Sri Lanka, a Colombo-based person said on condition of anonymity. Covishield, the local name for the Oxford University-Astrazeneca vaccine being manufactured by the Pune-based Serum Institute of India, has been approved for emergency use by Sri Lanka.

On Thursday, 500,000 doses of the jab were transported in tailor-made boxes in a special Air India flight to Colombo.

The gift from India was in keeping with India’s continued support to Sri Lanka in fighting pandemic, said officials. Four consignments of medical supplies weighing about 25 tonnes were donated by India, which also organised online experience-sharing programmes for Sri Lankan medical professionals. India and Sri Lanka are the largest contributors to the Covid-19 Emergency Fund for SAARC.

A number of countries in the subcontinent including Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Maldives, where China has substantial investments, caught China by by surprise by opting for made-in-India vaccines.

So far, India has sent consignments of coronavirus vaccines under grant assistance to Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, Seychelles, Myanmar and Mauritius.

India is one of the world’s biggest drug-makers and an increasing number of countries have approached it for procuring the coronavirus vaccines. It is also undertaking commercial supplies of the doses to a number of countries, including Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Brazil, Morocco and West Asian countries, the Economic Times reported.

India rushed two million doses of Covishield vaccine to Brazil on the request of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

Millions of doses of made-in-India Covid vaccines will continue to reach those in the Caribbean and the Pacific too. Two North African countries — Egypt and Algeria, are expected to receive vaccines from India in the near future.