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EU left behind as US pushes ‘vaccine diplomacy’ in Southeast Asia

By David Hutt

EU members “have their geo-strategic calculations in mind, and will likely favor countries that are friendly or important to European interests,” says one ASEAN skilled in response to the bloc’s world vaccine drive.

The European Union’s worldwide vaccine drive runs the chance of falling behind different main worldwide powers, particularly in Southeast Asia, the place the United States is ramping up their vaccine-donation packages to compete with China’s contributions.

US President Joe Biden pledged in May to donate 80 million vaccines worldwide from America’s domestic-supply, of which roughly 75% shall be shared by way of the worldwide COVAX program — which goals to supply free vaccines to low and middle-income nations.

The different 25% shall be immediately donated by the US and “targeted to help deal with surges around the world,” the White House mentioned in May. Although it added that the “United States will not use its vaccines to secure favors from other countries.”

The 30 nations listed by the White House for direct donations are principally US-friendly nations. In Southeast Asia, these nations embody the Philippines, a US treaty ally; Vietnam, which has grow to be one in every of US’ most necessary geopolitical allies in the area in latest years; and the historically pro-US Indonesia.

On July 10, Vietnam obtained the primary tranche of two million vaccines pledged by the US, which have been shipped by way of the COVAX program.

EU’s COVAX function

The EU, in the meantime, has supplied round €3 billion ($3.5 billion) for the COVAX effort, in keeping with public feedback made this week by Jutta Urpilainen, the European Commissioner for International Partnerships.

Around 106 million vaccines have been shipped to 135 nations underneath COVAX, and the Asia Pacific area has obtained greater than a 3rd of those, with Indonesia being among the many prime beneficiaries.

Commission sources say that EU member states have already pledged 11 million doses for donation internationally, of which round 9 million shall be despatched by way of COVAX.

“The EU considers that vaccination is not a race against countries, but a race against time,” mentioned Peter Stano, the European Commission’s lead spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

“We believe that assistance should not be politicized and vaccines should not be used as a bargaining chip for political gains,” Stano added.

Member states can resolve to donate vaccines to decrease and middle-income nations or to redirect it to different European nations, as outlined by the EU Vaccines Strategy.

“The decision regarding the details of the donations, such as vaccine types, number of doses and timeframes is individual for each member state, with donations being done on a voluntary basis,” Stano mentioned.

Confusion over EU contributions

EU member states, working by way of their branded “Team Europe,” are one the biggest monetary donors to the COVAX facility.

But EU help in Southeast Asia’s vaccination packages have usually fallen underneath the radar as a result of it has been mainly pursued by way of the COVAX facility.

Vaccines that arrive by way of the COVAX facility bear the logos of the UN and different facility companions, as an alternative of the nations that donated the cash.

But not like monetary donations to the COVAX facility which can be collectively supplied by Team Europe, precise vaccines shall be donated by member states themselves, not by way of the EU.

A Malaysian authorities official with information of the nationwide vaccination program, and who didn’t need to be named, mentioned the complete course of was complicated.

“Do we ask EU officials or diplomats from EU member states for vaccines? Do we thank the EU for COVAX-donated vaccines or European countries?” she queried.

China overtakes COVAX in ASEAN

By late June, China had donated or offered round 120 million vaccines to Southeast Asian states, an estimated 4.8 occasions as many as was donated to the area by the COVAX facility.

Cambodia, which now has the second-highest vaccination price in the area and one of many highest in the world, with 23% of the inhabitants absolutely vaccinated, has relied virtually solely on Chinese-made vaccines.

Less than 10% of all Cambodia’s vaccines have come by way of the COVAX facility, in keeping with native media stories.

A supply in Cambodia with information of the nationwide vaccination marketing campaign mentioned that there’s virtually no speak amongst authorities circles of future European vaccine donations, whereas vaccine donations made by way of the COVAX facility, have attracted virtually no public recognition.

“COVAX is a sideshow,” the supply commented.

Asia not a vaccine ‘priority’ for EU

Le Hong Hiep, a senior fellow on the Vietnam Studies Program on the ISEAS–Yusof Ishak institute in Singapore, says the EU “may prioritize Africa over Asia in its vaccine diplomacy.”

Hiep says “historical ties” and “the fact that Africa is lagging behind other areas in vaccine access” are the primary driving elements.

In late April, France pledged to donate 30 million vaccines internationally by the tip of 2021. The first tranche of round 100,000 arrived in Mauritania by way of the COVAX facility, making France the primary nation in the world to immediately contribute a few of its personal domestic-supply of vaccines to the worldwide facility.

In late June, Denmark donated 350,000 vaccines to Kenya.

Is the EU influenced by geopolitics?

In early July, Germany introduced that each one of its remaining AstraZeneca vaccines shall be donated after August, of which a reported 80% will go to the COVAX facility and the rest shall be immediately donated by Berlin to the Western Balkans and non-EU Eastern European states, as nicely as Namibia, a former German colony.

Germany’s pledge to donate vaccines to the Western Balkans — a area that has readily accepted Chinese and Russian vaccines — has been seen by critics as a geopolitical transfer.

Spain, in the meantime, has mentioned that it could ship its vaccines to Latin American states, additionally former colonial territories.

In late June, the Lithuanian authorities, which has taken a staunchly anti-Beijing flip in latest months, donated 200,000 doses to Taiwan.

Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis commented on the time that “freedom-loving people should look out for each other,” a comment thought-about a jibe on the Chinese communist authorities.

“EU members will also have their geo-strategic calculations in mind, and it will likely favor countries that are friendly or important to European interests. Vietnam will therefore have a good chance of getting some vaccines donated by the EU,” mentioned Hiep.

Staff on the EU Delegation to the ASEAN bloc declined to touch upon the matter.

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