China pledges to make Indonesia a regional Covid-19 vaccine production hub

Sinovac and Indonesia's Bio Farma have been working together since mid-August. PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA - China has pledged to work with Indonesia to make South-east Asia's most populous country a regional vaccine production hub and said continued trade and investment cooperation would fuel speedy economic recovery for both nations after the Covid-19 pandemic.

"China and Indonesia will work together to defeat this virus… China is prepared to continue (vaccine) production cooperation with Indonesia… and will support Indonesia to become a regional production hub of vaccines," Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi said in a joint press briefing with Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi in Jakarta.

Mr Wang added that China, working with the Asean countries, is also ready to increase crisis response capacity against Covid-19.

After the pandemic broke out, China and Indonesia have supported each other and engaged in effective anti-Covid-19 cooperation, the Chinese minister said. "We have supported each other with needed medical supplies."

Mr Wang's visit to Indonesia over Tuesday and Wednesday (Jan 13) is part of his trip to Asean countries between Jan 11 and Jan 16. The first leg of his trip took him to Myanmar and he is going on to Brunei Darussalam and the Philippines.

On Tuesday, Mr Wang met Coordinating Maritime Affairs and Investment Minister Luhut Pandjaitan and discussed further cooperation plans on trade and investment, including on tourism and electric vehicle battery projects.

"China is prepared to tap into the strength of our markets and domestic demand between our two countries. We look forward to expanding imports from Indonesia and Chinese investment in Indonesia so that we can bring about a more healthy and balanced growth of trade between our two countries," Mr Wang said.

He noted that trade and investment cooperation between the two countries grew despite the Covid-19 challenge and this would be the foundation for economic recovery after the pandemic.

After meeting Ms Retno, Mr Wang paid a courtesy call on President Joko Widodo, who had just received Chinese company Sinovac's CoronaVac Covid-19 vaccine shot.

Indonesia, the worst hit by the pandemic in South-east Asia, is beginning a vaccination drive in its 34 provinces as part of efforts to curb surging infections and deaths.

Indonesia is relying on Sinovac for the first tens of millions of vaccine shots before it receives more vaccines from Pfizer and AstraZeneca in the coming months. The world's fourth most populous nation received the first 3 million doses of CoronaVac in December and another 15 million on Tuesday.

"Despite a sharp increase in demand for vaccines, we overcame our difficulty and did not hesitate to respond to Indonesia's needs to provide vaccines (to its citizens). This shows brotherly relations between our two countries," Mr Wang told reporters after meeting Ms Retno.

Sinovac and Indonesia's state owned drug company Bio Farma have been working together since mid-August to conduct phase 3 clinical trials, the last stage before a vaccine can be distributed and administered to the public. Earlier this week, Indonesia's food and drug regulatory body BPOM issued emergency use approval for CoronaVac, indicating the vaccine was 65 per cent effective against Covid-19.

The two foreign ministers also witnessed the signing of a document that paves the way for China to do a feasibility study to build the Lambakan dam in East Kalimantan province, helping to irrigate local farmland and mitigate floods.

Ms Retno said that during the meeting she expressed appreciation for a 10 per cent increase in Indonesian exports to China last year and touched on other issues such as greater protection for Indonesian seafarers working for Chinese boats.

She also stressed the importance of keeping stability and peace in the region, including in the South China Sea. "To achieve this, it takes only one thing, that is all nations respect and comply with the international laws, including the Unclos (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) 1982," Ms Retno said at the joint press briefing.

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