The Chinese government, it seems, is once again trying to checkmate the Sri Lankan government into submitting to China's agenda - this time through the Covid-19 vaccine.
With India’s gift of 500,000 COVISHIELD vaccines manufactured in the country scheduled to arrive in Sri Lanka on Thursday (28) morning under the Indian government’s #VaccineMaitri initiative, the government of China on Wednesday (27) announced that the Chinese government would provide 300,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccines manufactured by Sinopharm to Sri Lanka.
The consignment of vaccines from India will be transported in a special Air India flight on Thursday and packed in tailor-made boxes for the purpose.
“This will be ceremonially handed over by High Commissioner Gopal Baglay at the Bandaranaike International Airport,” the Indian High Commission stated.
It is in this backdrop that China made a sudden announcement of its decision to provide Sri Lanka with Covid-19 vaccine doses.
China will donate 300,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by Sinopharm to Sri Lanka, the Chinese Embassy in Colombo said.
China and Sri Lanka enjoy historical friendship and have always been strongly supporting each other including the joint fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, the statement said.
Responding to recent requests by the Sri Lankan government, China has decided to donate 300,000 coronavirus vaccine doses to Sri Lanka to jointly fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, although the production capacity of the vaccine is still limited compared with the huge domestic and international demand.
The Sinopharm vaccine is yet to receive the necessary approval from the National Medicine Regulatory Authority (NMRA) to allow it being imported to Sri Lanka.
State Minister for Production, Supply and Regulation of Pharmaceuticals Channa Jayasumana recently told reporters that the Sinopharm vaccine has been listed under Covid-19 vaccines to get NMRA approval.
NMRA has so far granted permission to use the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVISHIELD vaccine in Sri Lanka.
“This is the first time permission was given to a vaccine that was made for Covid-19 to use in Sri Lanka,” Jayasumana told the media.
It is now evident that with India's gift of 500,000 vaccine doses receiving approval and on its way to Sri Lanka, China is determined not to be on the sidelines.
The announcement by China has now pushed the Sri Lankan government in to granting the necessary approval to the Chinese vaccine to allow its importation to the island.
However, in the event China delays sending the vaccine doses to Sri Lanka, it would place the Sri Lankan government in a precarious position while hampering the country's immunisation programme.
The Chinese announcement on the vaccine seems more of a reaction to India's gift to Sri Lanka, a senior Sri Lankan diplomat opined.
India’s Oxford-Astrazeneca’s COVISHIELD vaccine is manufactured by Serum Institute of India and has been approved for emergency use by the Government of Sri Lanka.
“The gift from India is keeping in line with India’s continued support to Sri Lanka in fighting the COVID pandemic," the Indian High Commission said.
Four consignments of medical supplies weighing around 25 tonnes were donated by India, which also organised online experience-sharing programmes for Sri Lankan medical professionals.
The two partners have also put up a joint front in the COVID-19 battle with India and Sri Lanka being the largest contributors to the COVID-19 Emergency Fund for SAARC.
Prime Minister Modi had complimented Sri Lanka’s leadership on containing the pandemic,” the Indian High Commission noted.