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A yawning gap in fighting COVID in PNG: where are the churches?

By Jeffrey Wall - posted Friday, 9 April 2021


It is impossible to disagree with the assertion in The Australian by Ben Packham that China is outmanoeuvring Australia, and New Zealand and the United States, when it comes to "managing" the Covid-19 pandemic in Papua New Guinea and increasingly in the South Pacific generally.

Australia's initial response was reasonable, but I worry that the process seems to have slowed – either due to bureaucratic issues in Canberra, or Waigani – or both!

Our response has not been helped at all by the utterly duplicitous attitude of the European Union towards an eminently reasonable request from Australia to assist Papua New Guinea in its time of real and growing need.

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Ever since PNG gained Independence in 1975 the European Community, in its various forms, has paraded itself as a strong supporter of PNG, and South Pacific countries as a whole.

While it is true that the region has benefited from EU support, through preferential trade arrangements, investment, and grants, the reasonable request from Australia that the EU release 1 million vaccines from what Australia has purchased on the condition that the 1 million will be made available to Papua New Guinea immediately.

Sadly, the real needs of PNG have become tied up in what is frankly an obscene campaign by the EU to limit the delivery of vaccines outside the EU, despite the legitimate and legal contracts that underpin them.

What Australia needs to do now is apply maximum pressure on the EU – and get the PNG Government, which has diplomatic representation in the EU structure, to release the 1 million vaccines immediately. And it needs to get other South Pacific countries, such as Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu to support the request as well.

Sadly, there is really only one beneficiary from the EU attitude, and that is the Peoples Republic of China.! China is running a deliberate and highly organised campaign to force PNG to take the 200,000 vaccines it has offered – at least.

There is real division within the Marape Government over whether to do so. I have no doubt the deliberate statement on the offer by the retiring PRC Ambassador last week was all about applying pressure on PNG to go with China's vaccines offer and not Australia's. That fact just makes agreement from the EU even more urgent.

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China knows that the longer mass vaccination funded and delivered by Australia is delayed the more its agenda is strengthened. That may seem cruel – but it's a reality!

In doing some checking on the status of vaccination and related virus management issues in PNG a glaring emission in the whole disorganised and shambolic process emerged.

The process in PNG would be much less disorganised and shambolic if the Christian churches were more directly involved in the whole process – from community education and information, right through to testing and hopefully vaccine delivery to as many PNG communities as possible.

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About the Author

Jeffrey Wall CSM CBE is a Brisbane Political Consultant and has served as Advisor to the PNG Foreign Minister, Sir Rabbie Namaliu Prime Minister 1988-1992 and Speaker 1994-1997.

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All articles by Jeffrey Wall

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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