NOOSA - China has made the extraordinary claim that Australia has planted political operatives in Papua New Guinea to undermine China's vaccine cooperation with Pacific Island countries.
The English-language Global Times newspaper, published in Beijing, accuses Australian ‘consultants’ of manipulating PNG’s Covid prevention policies.
It said they had obstructed the emergency use of Chinese vaccines and threatened senior PNG officials who wanted to utilise them.
In February, China announced it would offer vaccines to PNG after effectively controlling the Covid pandemic amongst its own 1.4 billion people.
“Australia has been found sabotaging and disturbing Pacific Island nations' cooperation with China on vaccines and anti-virus measures,” the newspaper said, quoting Australian sources.
“It has planted several ‘consultants’ in the national epidemic prevention centre and manipulated the country's policies in the fight against Covid-19.
“With Australia working in the shadows, PNG's epidemic prevention centre did not approve the emergency use of Chinese vaccines until the end of May, when Australian-provided vaccines had already arrived in the country,” the Global Times said.
It had also been told that, when the Chinese vaccines arrived in PNG, Australia had “blocked” prime minister James Marape from welcoming them at the airport as had been planned.
PNG officials had been warned by Australia that if they welcomed the Chinese vaccines, they must bear the consequence of Australia ceasing investment in the country's road projects.
The newspaper also claimed that, “under Australia's colonial-style dominance” PNG's new Covid prevention policies were deliberately targeting Chinese workers in PNG.
“Out of a pure Cold War mentality, Australia closely followed the US and a small group of Western countries to hype the issue of tracing virus origins, attacking and smearing China's vaccines and groundlessly accusing China of expanding its influence by donating vaccines to developing nations.
“But the reality is that Australia is actually pushing for political influence in the name of anti-virus cooperation … and showcasing its influence in the area.”
The newspaper quoted Australian think tank, the Lowy Institute, of stating that if Pacific Island states chose China's vaccines in the fight against the virus their economic recovery would be boosted and Australia's reputation and influence in the area demeaned.
“Regarding the South Pacific as its own backyard and sphere of influence, Australia has taken a hostile attitude against China, although China has expressed its willingness to also work with Australia,” the article said.
Chen Hong, a professor and director of the Australian Studies Center at East China Normal University, criticised Australia for its ‘colonialism mentality’.
Australia has a clear Cold War mentality and is sabotaging China's cooperation with Pacific Island countries at the cost of the people's health, Chen said, adding that weaponising the anti-virus fight for political purposes is shameful.
He said that, instead of increasing its influence in the area, Australia's moves would damage its reputation.
Chen noted that the vaccine that Australia has offered to PNG is restricted to be used only among citizens above 60 years of age and its safety for other groups is questioned by scientists.
“Australia is dumping its stockpiled, unsafe vaccines in other counties in its Pacific playground,” he said.
The Global Times, which frequently refers to Australia as a ‘paper cat’, has been widely criticised around the world for its disinformation and conspiracy theories.