China's Pacific coronavirus aid brings millions of masks

COVID-19 assistance from China to Pacific Island governments including Samoa now equates to over a million face masks, 100,000 protective suits and 23,000 protective face shields and goggles.

This is in addition to China’s contribution to COVAX, which is a global initiative led by the World Health Organisation (W.H.O.) to ensure rapid and equitable access to coronavirus vaccines for all nations, regardless of income levels.

Apia-based Chinese Embassy spokesperson Zhang Muyue, in response to questions sent by the Samoa Observer, said China continues to place an emphasis on ongoing cooperation with the region despite recent commentary by international media and think tanks that Australia’s influence is growing at China’s expense.

She then highlighted a number of events last year which she says demonstrates the growing China–Pacific Island relationship.

“Our relations have sustained a momentum of rapid development in 2020 despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Ms. Zhang said. “Speaking of China's support to Pacific island countries amid the pandemic, China initiated video conferences of health experts with 10 Pacific island countries in March, 2020 to share its experience in epidemic prevention and control and diagnosis and treatment to help them deal with the pandemic. 

“China has set up the China–Pacific Island Countries COVID-19 Response Fund and later provided additional funding three times.”

Support has also been forthcoming from China’s Central Government as well as local governments like the Guangdong province government and non-government organisations, who the Chinese Embassy’s spokesperson says have donated “substantial anti-epidemic supplies” to island nations.

She added that the overall assistance from China towards the efforts of Pacific Island governments to contain the COVID-19 pandemic is extensive, when looking at specific supplies including vaccines.

“According to available data, the Chinese government and society have so far donated over one million masks, 100,000 protective suits and 23,000 protective face shields and goggles, which plays an important role in assisting in Pacific island countries' response to the pandemic. 

“China also contributes to the accessibility and affordability of vaccines in the Pacific island countries by joining COVAX.”

Debt relief has also been on the agenda with Ms. Zhang pointing to the G20 Debt Servicing Suspension Initiative, which China has signed with eligible countries such as Samoa as well as the secondment of medical experts to national hospitals and infrastructure projects.

“The Fifth Phase of Samoa-China Agricultural Technical Aid Project was started from June 1st , making a seamless transition from the last phase,” she added. “The new Chinese Medical Team arrived in October to enhance local medical capacity. 

“The construction of China-aid Samoa Art and Cultural Center as well as Friendship Park was in steady progress. 

“The Embassy expects engineers of the three Primary School Projects and the Police Academy Project could be able to arrive with normal flight connection.”

Ms. Zhang denied that there are strings attached to China’s COVID-19 assistance to Samoa and emphasised that her country is sincere as a development partner,

“Nothing we do to help Samoa’s COVID-19 response and social development is out of geopolitical calculation or in pursuit of economic gains, or with any political strings attached. 

“In providing assistance, we try to be a friend in need, a sincere partner to be counted on in times of difficulty.”

This year it is the intention of China to uphold the vision of a community with a shared future for mankind, according to Ms. Zhang and her country will continue to work with Samoa and other Pacific island countries to fight the virus and deepen comprehensive strategic partnerships.

“For China, we always approach the international community's cooperation with the Pacific Island Countries with an open attitude,” she emphasised. “We welcome greater inputs from all members of the international community to support Pacific Island Countries' development on the basis of respecting the Pacific Island countries' needs.

“China simply believes in doing our very best and has no intention to compete with anyone and we would surely be glad to see development partners providing more assistance to Samoa.”

A commentary recently published by American wire service Bloomberg titled “Australia’s influence in Pacific Islands grows as China’s wanes” argued that Australia is moving to boost ties with small island nations off its eastern coastline, pushing back against China’s growing influence in the Pacific.

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