China has promised Caribbean nations more help and vaccines to fight Covid-19 as it seeks to expand its influence in the region.
President Xi Jinping spoke to his Guyanese counterpart Irfaan Ali on Tuesday to offer support – a month after the South American country abruptly terminated an agreement allowing Taiwan to open a trade office following a warning by China to “correct their mistake”.
Guyana was offered 20,000 doses of coronavirus vaccines from China following the U-turn.
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“China stands ready to strengthen cooperation with Guyana on Covid-19 vaccines and continue to provide assistance and support within its capacity for Guyana‘s economic and social development”, Xi said during the call, according to state media reports.
Xi also said both countries should respect each other’s core interests and hoped Guyana would help boost cooperation between Beijing and the wider Caribbean region.
China’s offer to supply friendly countries has prompted claims it is engaging in “vaccine diplomacy” – a label Beijing rejects, saying it sees vaccines as a global public good.
China has been one of the biggest suppliers of vaccines in South America and the Caribbean and last month it emerged that Paraguay, one of Taiwan’s last major allies in the region, has been in contact with Beijing about securing vaccines.
Taiwan has been one of the most successful places in the world in dealing with coronavirus and has never had to go into lockdown.
Unlike mainland China, it does not produce its own vaccines but Taiwan foreign ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou said on Tuesday that Taiwan would help Paraguay to obtain vaccines through different channels.
Beijing regards Taiwan as a breakaway province and is fiercely opposed to other countries having any diplomatic relations with the island.
Xi also promised similar support to Trinidad and Tobago, one of Beijing’s strongest supporters in the Caribbean, a region where Taiwan still has four official allies.
“Trinidad and Tobago was one of the first countries to donate health supplies to China during the pandemic. China has also offered supplies and technological assistance related to the pandemic. China wishes to boost cooperation over vaccines and support Trinidad and Tobago in fighting the pandemic,” Xi said in a phone call with Prime Minister Keith Rowley on Tuesday.
Xi added that China would like to strengthen cooperation on energy, the digital economy, telecommunications and infrastructure.
Yu Nanping, a professor of international relations with East China Normal University, said developing countries were increasingly looking to China to help secure vaccines.
China has become an option for developing countries which are under pressure to secure vaccines.
He said countries like Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana were not the priority when it came to supplies from Western countries, but the United States would regard any move by China in the region as a geopolitical strategic choice and “even a deliberate threat to the US interests”.
“The US is definitely vigilant about this, as it has always regarded Latin America and the Caribbean as an affiliated place. The economic and trade cooperation and exchanges between China and the region in the past has also aroused the vigilance of the US.”
This article Chinese President Xi Jinping offers more vaccine support to Caribbean countries first appeared on South China Morning Post