European Countries Are Donating Covid-19 Vaccines To Vietnam: Friendly Gesture Or Commercial, Political Interest?

by Bhaswati Guha Majumder - Sep 4, 2021 04:53 PM
European Countries Are Donating Covid-19 Vaccines To Vietnam: Friendly Gesture Or Commercial, Political Interest?Covid-19 vaccine

European countries like Poland, Hungary, France, the Czech Republic, Romania and Italy have donated Covid-19 vaccines to Vietnam in the past few weeks. It has been estimated that as of now, Vietnam, which is a prominent player in Asian affairs, has received or guaranteed a total of 2.6 million vaccine doses from EU member states.

The COVAX scheme, which has received nearly a third of its overall funding from EU states through their "Team Europe" project, has a considerable number of vaccine recipients in Vietnam.

Carl Thayer, an emeritus professor from the University of New South Wales in Australia said: "European states likely have a different mix of motivations that combine national interest and altruism. Providing donations of COVID vaccines to Vietnam is a logical response to these drivers."

According to Reuters vaccine tracker, around 18 per cent of Vietnam’s population has received at least one dose of vaccines. In 2021, the country aims to receive 100 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines which includes, 38.9 million from COVAX, 30 million Oxford-AstraZeneca and 31 million from Pfizer-BioNTech.

The Asian country approved the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab in early 2021, later in March, the Russian Sputnik V vaccine was approved for emergency use. In June, the officials also announced that China’s Sinopharm jab had been approved for emergency use, with 500,000 doses of the Vero Cell arriving in Hanoi on 20 June. These will mostly be utilised by Chinese citizens in Vietnam, Vietnamese citizens going to China to study or work, and individuals residing near China's borders.

However, on 13 June, it was revealed that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been licenced for emergency use in Vietnam as well. The Moderna vaccine was the most recent jab to be authorised, on 29 June. Accord6ing to Vietnamese health officials, the Moderna vaccine that will be delivered to Vietnam can be produced in either France or Spain. Finally, the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine was approved for emergency use in Vietnam on 15 July.

In recent months, the pandemic has ravaged the country, exacerbated by the spread of the more infectious Delta variant. Currently, Vietnam is witnessing a spike in Covid-19 cases, while just 2.6 per cent of the population is completely vaccinated against novel coronavirus as of 30 August—it is the lowest rate in Southeast Asia.

Early this year, the Vietnamese government decided to concentrate on creating its own local vaccines, with variable degrees of success. These domestically made vaccines are expected to be accessible by early 2022, according to the administration. However, experts have blamed the government for arrogance for not rushing to obtain vaccines when they became available. In 2020, Vietnam had only 1,465 infections and 35 deaths, while its economy was one of the few in Asia to grow last year.

Why EU Is Helping

According to Le Hong Hiep, a senior fellow at the ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute's Vietnam Studies Program, Vietnamese officials have been particularly active in campaigning for vaccine donations both at home and overseas.

As reported by DW, he said: "Over the past few months, in every meeting with foreign counterparts, Vietnamese leaders all asked them to help Vietnam deal with the pandemic, especially by sharing vaccines."

Ambassador Giorgio Aliberti, leader of the EU envoy to Vietnam, reportedly vowed to assist in getting vaccine supplies from European governments during a meeting with Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc on 1 June. Aliberti said: "Recent donations by a number of EU member states reflect, of course, the difficult situation of the pandemic [in Vietnam] in recent months and the request of support by the Vietnamese government."

It is also possible that Europeans are now reciprocating Vietnam's generosity during the pandemic that ravaged the region in 2020. For example, more than 550,000 face masks were supplied by Vietnam to France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom. When the pandemic spread over Europe, several Vietnamese friendship associations and diaspora groups in Europe were instrumental in sending protective equipment, as well as raising funds for local relief operations.

Additionally, Vietnamese organisations were notably active in nations with the largest Vietnamese diaspora communities in Europe, such as the Czech Republic, France, Germany and Poland. Now, all four of these countries have sent vaccines to their Asian friend.

Another Possible Motive

But repaying the charity may not be the only reason. According to analysts, they suspect that the EU has a financial interest in Vietnam recovering as rapidly as possible from the pandemic, which necessitates widespread vaccination. Vietnam is currently the EU's 15th-biggest commercial partner and its largest in Southeast Asia, a region in which Brussels is keen to strengthen economic and geopolitical ties.

The EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement went into force in mid-2020, making it Brussels' second trade accord with a Southeast Asian country after an earlier free trade agreement with Singapore.

According to Le Thu of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, American firms such as Nike, Adidas and Apple have pressured the United States government to give vaccines to Vietnam since their supply chains in the country have been disrupted by the increase in infections. As a result, the United States has provided millions of doses to the Asian country.

However, Vietnam is also an important geopolitical player in the Indo-Pacific region, where European powers are desperately seeking a footing. Tuan Le Anh, deputy CIO and head of research at Dragon Capital told DW that the vaccine donation is a part of a bigger geopolitical campaign by European countries to win influence and goodwill with the Vietnamese leadership.

In the South China Sea, where China and Vietnam both claim the same disputed region, Hanoi has been the most vociferous opponent of China's aggressive behaviour. Germany and France have just conducted marine freedom of navigation drills, and Brussels is scheduled to present its Indo-Pacific strategy document later this month. So, the EU's aspirations in the region require a strong and durable friendship with Vietnam.

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