PNG Issues Warning to China Over COVID-19 Vaccine Trial

August 23, 2020 Updated: August 23, 2020

The small pacific nation of Papua New Guinea is demanding answers from Beijing after reports emerged that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was using PNG-posted workers as guinea pigs to test a Chinese-developed trial COVID-19 vaccine.

In a report on Aug. 20, The Australian newspaper revealed that Chinese state-owned Ramu Nickel Management Limited had informed the PNG government it had vaccinated its fly-in-fly-out (FIFO) workers with an experimental SARS-CoV-2 vaccine on Aug. 10.

In response, the PNG Facts reported on Aug. 21 that the country’s COVID-19 pandemic controller David Manning had blocked a flight carrying a further 180 Chinese workers bound for the PNG capital of Port Moresby.

Speaking at a briefing, Manning said: “In light of the lack of information of what these trials are and what possible risks or threats that they may cause our people if they were to come into the country, I had to cancel that flight yesterday just to ensure that we continue to act in the best interest of our people and our country.”

At present Papua New Guinea has reported 361 cases of COVID-19, with 196 people having recovered and three dying from the disease.

Manning went on to say that he had written to the PNG Chinese Ambassador Xue Bing asking him to provide information on the vaccination trials and enquiring if the Chinese nationals had only been approved to work in PNG after being subjected to these trials.

There is also concern that the CCP is doing this a requirement for their citizens travelling abroad.

The head of the pandemic response also noted that the Papuan government and its National Department of Health do not acknowledge this vaccination as a formal method of dealing with the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus.

Further reporting from The Australian on Aug. 21 revealed that the aborted flight was carrying FIFO workers from a number of China’s largest state-owned companies, including China Railway Inter­national, the China Harbour Engineering Group, Shenzhen Energy, and the Dongfang Electric Group.

The move by the PNG government comes after Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison promised on Aug. 19 to help provide Australia’s “Pacific family” with access to any successful COVID-19 vaccine.

“We have a regional role to play here,” Morrison said, noting that the rest of the world looks to Australia to provide support to Pacific countries.

China has been engaging heavily with PNG, which is Australia closest neighbour, after the Pacific nation signed up to the Belt and Road Initiative in 2018.

However, University of Queensland researcher and former Australian High Commissioner to Papua New Guinea Ian Kemish said that the CCP’s engagement with PNG has been hit and miss.

In an article in The Conversation, Kemish noted that PNG officials had become frustrated with a combination of Chinese bureaucratic stalling on development projects and their use of economic threats, which has pushed PNG to turn back to Australia for support.

In 2019, the PNG government had to ask China to refinance a $11.9 billion national debt—more than one-third of PNG’s GDP. However, after getting no relief from the communist superpower, PNG turned to Australia, which is now providing the country with a $440 million loan.

The PNG government was also threatened in April by Chinese state-owned company Zijin Mining Group after the PNG government decided not to renew its gold mining license.

According to a report published by the ABC in April, the chairman of the group, Jinghe Chen, wrote to PNG’s Prime Minister James Marape declaring that if Zijin’s investment was not protected by the PNG Government, “I am afraid there will be a significant negative impact on the bilateral relations between China and PNG.”