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Why is Europe giving Vietnam so many COVID-19 vaccines?

Why is Europe giving Vietnam so many COVID-19 vaccines?

Last week, Italy and Romania became the latest European country to donate COVID-19 vaccines to Vietnam. In recent weeks, Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and France have offered Hanoi advantages. DW It is estimated that EU countries have so far donated or promised a total of 2.6 million vaccines to Vietnam, a major player in Asian politics.

In addition, Vietnam is the largest recipient of vaccines donated by the COVAX programme, which has received nearly a third of all EU funding through the “Team Europe” initiative. “European countries are likely to have a different set of forms that combine national interest with altruism,” said Carl Thayer, professor emeritus at the University of New South Wales in Australia. “Donating COVID vaccines to Vietnam is a logical response to these impulses.”

Pay for locally produced vaccines

As of August 30, only 2.6 percent of the total Vietnamese population has been vaccinated against COVID-19, the lowest rate in Southeast Asia. This is largely because the Vietnamese government decided earlier this year to focus on developing its own indigenous vaccines – an effort with mixed success. The Communist government in Hanoi expects that these locally produced vaccines will be available in early 2022.

Critics have also accused the Vietnamese government of arrogance after it appeared to be in a hurry to purchase vaccines as soon as they were available. Vietnam recorded only 1,465 infections and 35 deaths in 2020, while its economy was among the first in Asia to grow last year. However, the epidemic has spread across the country in recent months, exacerbating the spread of the most contagious delta region. After July 1, about 96 percent of the 470,000 total cases in Vietnam were reported.

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Invitations for foreign aid

Lee Hong Heep, head of the Vietnam Studies Program at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak, said Vietnamese officials at home and abroad have been very active in lobbying for vaccine donations. “Over the past few months, and in every meeting with their foreign counterparts, Vietnamese leaders have asked Vietnam for help in dealing with the epidemic, especially through the exchange of vaccines,” he said.

In a meeting with Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc on June 1, Ambassador Giorgio Aliberti, head of the European Union delegation to Vietnam, allegedly promised to help secure vaccine donations from European governments. freedom said DW “It is clear that the recent donations from a number of EU member states reflect the difficult situation of the epidemic [in Vietnam] In recent months, he requested support from the Vietnamese government. “

The European Union ‘pushes’ philanthropic philanthropy

There is also a sense that Europeans are now returning the charitable aid that Vietnam gave when the epidemic broke out in their countries last year. “At the beginning of the pandemic, when Europe was in a worse situation, Vietnam donated PPE and masks to many countries, including European countries,” said Huong Lei Tho, a senior analyst at the Australian Institute for Strategic Policy.

In April 2020, for example, Vietnam donated more than 550,000 face masks to France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Britain. As the epidemic spread to Europe, many Vietnamese friendship associations and diaspora groups in Europe also played a major role.

Vietnamese groups have been particularly active in countries such as the Czech Republic, France, Germany and Poland, which have the largest Vietnamese diaspora communities in Europe. All four of these countries have now donated vaccines to Vietnam.

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Economic motives in mind

But analysts believe European governments are not only motivated by altruism. The European Union has an economic interest in making Vietnam recover from the epidemic as quickly as possible, and this requires massive vaccination. Vietnam is now the 15th trading partner of the European Union and the largest in Southeast Asia, a region of the world where Brussels is interested in developing economic and geopolitical interests. The EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement – the second trade agreement Brussels has signed with Southeast Asian countries after the previous free trade agreement with Singapore – entered into force in mid-2020.

Le Thu of the Australian Institute for Strategic Policy noted that US companies, including Nike, Adidas and Apple, whose supply chains in Vietnam have been affected by the country’s rising infection, have been pushing the US government to donate vaccines to Vietnam. Then the United States supplied the country with millions of vaccines.

European effort to gain influence in the region

In addition to its economic importance, Vietnam is also one of the major players in the geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific region, where European countries are now desperately trying to get support. The donation of vaccines to Vietnam is “part of the larger geopolitical pressure from European countries to gain influence and the goodwill of the Vietnamese government,” said Tuan Lu Anh, vice president of media and head of research at Dragon Capital.

Vietnam is a staunch opponent of China’s aggressive activity in the South China Sea, with Hanoi and Beijing claiming the same disputed territory. Countries such as Germany and France recently took part in naval freedom exercises, while Brussels is due to release a strategy paper on the Indo-Pacific this month. A strong and lasting friendship with Vietnam is key to the EU’s ambitions in the region.

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