Australia denies meddling in PNG rollout of Chinese jab

·2-min read
Australian officials carry boxes containing 8,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine following their arrival in Port Moresby in March

Australia rejected Friday China's accusations of meddling in the rollout of Chinese-made Covid-19 vaccines in Papua New Guinea, saying it accepted countries' decisions over their choice of jab.

Relations between Canberra and Beijing have deteriorated sharply in recent years, with disputes over everything from telecoms giant Huawei to the origins of the coronavirus.

The latest spat was sparked by Chinese state media, with the Global Times tabloid accusing "Australian consultants" planted in Papua New Guinea of "obstructing" the emergency use authorisation of Chinese vaccines.

Australia's Minister for International Development and the Pacific Zed Seselja rejected the accusations on Friday.

"It's simply not true," Seselja told AFP during a visit to the Philippines.

"We accept countries' sovereign decisions about their vaccines."

China's foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin had on Monday expressed concern over what he called "irresponsible behaviour" in Papua New Guinea.

He urged Australia to "stop disrupting and undermining vaccine cooperation between China and Pacific island countries".

Papua New Guinea has started rolling out 200,000 doses of China's Sinopharm vaccine that arrived in the country last month.

The Global Times article published July 2 accused Australia of "threatening" senior Papua New Guinean officials with the loss of investment in road projects if they went to the airport to welcome the arrival of the jabs.

"With Australia working in the shadows, Papua New Guinea's epidemic prevention centre did not approve the emergency use of Chinese vaccines until the end of May, when Australia-provided vaccines had already arrived in the country," it said.

Seselja said Australia was providing "comprehensive support" to its neighbour Papua New Guinea, which included the delivery so far of 28,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

While Papua New Guinea was also getting doses "from other sources", including the Covax programme, Seselja said Australia was ready to provide enough shots to inoculate its "entire adult population".

Papua New Guinea began a nationwide vaccine rollout in May as it sought to contain an outbreak that has taken the country's caseload to more than 17,000 infections, including 177 deaths.

Vaccine misinformation is widespread and there is concern about the safety of the AstraZeneca product after a small number of widely reported health scares overseas.

Australia has pledged to share 15 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines with Pacific nations by mid-2022.

"Obviously our first priority is to make sure Australians have access to doses, but given we have got that capacity, given we've got other sources of vaccines in Australia, there will be that capacity to continue to up our effort when it comes to sharing vaccines in the region," Seselja said.