Vaccine diplomacy brings China and Cambodia closer


ALMOST one in every five Cambodians has already received a dose of anti-coronavirus vaccine, catapulting the country well past its wealthier, bigger South-East Asian neighbours.

Like the doses, the success story is labelled “Made in China”.

Already one of China’s closest allies, Cambodia kickstarted inoculations with a bigger donation of vaccines from China than any other country in the region, in addition to Chinese vaccines it had already bought itself.

Cambodia’s early progress reflects Beijing’s vaccine diplomacy in a region where competition with US influence is intense.

“The question is asked whether Cambodia is too dependent on China,” Prime Minister Hun Sen said in a recent speech.

“If I don’t rely on China, whom should I rely on? Without the donations and sales of vaccines from China, we would not have vaccinated the Cambodian people.”

Only the wealthy city state of Singapore has made more rapid progress in South-East Asia relative to population.

Some 16% of Cambodia’s 16 million people have had at least one vaccine dose, according to official numbers.

Close behind are tiny Brunei and then Laos, another state with very close links to Beijing.

Much bigger Malaysia and Indonesia had only managed 7.6% and 6.6% respectively, with Thailand on 4.6% and the Philippines 4.2%, according to the latest official data.

Meanwhile, Vietnam approved a Chinese vaccine for emergency use on June 4.

“The Cambodian vaccination campaign depends on the use of Chinese vaccines,” said Nguyen Khac Giang, a PhD candidate at Victoria University of Wellington.

As Cambodia faced its worst surge of the coronavirus last month, China pledged full support “which not only embodies the two sides’ special friendship but China’s responsibility for the China-Cambodia community of a shared future”, China’s Global Times quoted foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian as saying.

Over 90% of the vaccines Cambodia has used so far are Chinese – from donations totalling 1.7 million doses as of late April, and purchases of four million doses from Chinese drugmaker Sinovac.

The only other vaccines used have been from the global Covax programme, which was set up to assist inoculation in less wealthy countries.

“China was the first country to give aid to Cambodia, they let Cambodians get vaccinated and the quality is good,” said 19-year-old Sinopharm-vaccinated waiter Song Sok Putheara. — Reuters

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