Getting The Vaccines, O2: Bangladesh joins China initiative
Bangladesh has joined the China-led initiative with five other South Asian countries in the spirit of partnership and multilateralism to have vaccine and oxygen supplies during the critical period of coronavirus pandemic.
"We can see moves of unilateralism. We don't want it. We want multilateralism, cooperation and partnership. This is important. We have stressed on it," Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen told reporters yesterday.
This was the first foreign minister-level meeting of the China-led initiative called "China-South Asia Platform for Covid-19 Consultation, Cooperation, and Post-pandemic Economic Recovery". Foreign ministers of Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Afghanistan and Pakistan attended the meeting, with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in the chair.
Asked if India was joining the initiative, Momen said China invited India to join it.
The minister said China proposed establishing Covid Emergency Medical Facility, Poverty Alleviation Centre and exploring E-commerce in rural areas. "We have agreed to the proposal in principle. We want welfare of the people."
He said the South Asian countries in March last year also launched Saarc Covid Fund and Bangladesh also joined it. The Bangladesh prime minister had proposed setting up a regional institution for emergency medical services, but it was not done.
Momen said ASEAN countries also established an emergency medical facility in the wake of the pandemic. He stressed the need for stronger cooperation and multilateralism.
Asked about the location of the medical facility, the foreign minister said it was not finalised yet, but Dhaka proposed setting it up close to the sea so that the member countries could access it during an emergency at the quickest possible time.
He said China wants to set up a Poverty Alleviation Centre and share its experiences on poverty reduction as millions of people may be pushed into poverty in South Asia due to the pandemic.
Also, China wants to explore e-commerce in the rural areas as there are restrictions on mobility during the Covid emergency, the minister said, adding that issues of financial assistance were not discussed in the meeting.
Momen said Bangladesh sought Covid-19 vaccine from China as soon as possible amid a shortage of jabs which could be exhausted in the middle of next month. India recently halted the export of Oxford-Astrazaneca vaccine amid a huge surge in coronavirus cases mostly in Delhi and Maharashtra.
"They [China] said they would work with us," the minister said, adding that China had earlier agreed to provide five lakh shots as gift. Besides, Bangladesh is also trying to buy vaccine doses from China.
He said the time of import has not been fixed yet. The Chinese vaccines are not yet approved by the WHO, the US, the UK, Germany or EU medical authorities and Bangladesh follows their approval.
However, Bangladesh will be using "emergency use authorisation" for importing vaccines from China and Russia, Momen added.
Bangladesh is also trying to import Astrazeneca vaccine from the US, which has some 60 million shots for export.
"I don't think any vaccine will be brought home in less than two weeks," said Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen at the foreign minister's residence from where the minister joined the virtual meeting.
He said Dhaka stressed on keeping a provision of storing medical grade oxygen and vaccine at the proposed medical facility though it is not specifically meant for that. Later, this facility can be used during other disasters.
Momen said Dhaka was requesting New Delhi to export vaccine. "We said we immediately need at least two to three million vaccine jabs. We have not received a response [from India]. They said 'keep your fingers crossed'."
Bangladesh also raised the Rohingya issue at the meeting. A tripartite mechanism involving Bangladesh, China and Myanmar was employed to start Rohingya repatriation but it was halted due to the military intervention in Myanmar.
He said China responded positively regarding the Rohingya issue.