China will donate three lakh COVID-19 vaccine doses to Sri Lanka, stepping up its vaccine diplomacy in South Asia as India rushed its domestically manufactured coronavirus vaccines to several countries in the subcontinent as well as across the globe.
Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Thursday thanked India for its generosity after he received five lakh doses of Covishield vaccine gifted by New Delhi under the "Neighbourhood First" policy.
"China will donate three lakh COVID-19 vaccine doses to Sri Lanka to jointly fight the COVID-19 pandemic," state-run Xinhua news agency reported on Wednesday, citing a statement from the Chinese embassy in Colombo.
China made the decision after a recent request by the Lankan government, it said.
The jabs manufactured by the China National Pharmaceutical Group Co Ltd (Sinopharm) are expected to be handed over to the Lankan side in mid-February.
A number of countries in the subcontinent including Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Maldives, where Beijing has substantial investments, caught China by surprise by opting for Indian vaccines.
So far, India has sent consignments of coronavirus vaccines under grant assistance to Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, Seychelles, Myanmar and Mauritius.
India is one of the world's biggest drug-makers and an increasing number of countries have already approached it for procuring the coronavirus vaccines.
It is also undertaking commercial supplies of the doses to a number of countries, including Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Brazil and Morocco. India has also rushed two million doses of Covishield vaccine to Brazil on the request of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.
Meanwhile, Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa's senior advisor Lalith Weeratunga told journalists in Colombo on Wednesday that the National Medicines Regulatory Authority (NMRA) was conducting tests on the Sinopharm vaccine and once clearance is obtained from them, the vaccine could be used under an emergency basis, the Xinhua report said.
Separately, China has offered to step-up cooperation to Maldives to control the pandemic.
On January 26, Vice Foreign Minister Luo Zhaohui co-hosted the 7th round of China-Maldives diplomatic consultations with Maldivian Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Ahmed Khaleel via video link.
Luo Zhaohui said China and Maldives supported each other, effectively contained the virus spread in their countries, and actively promoted economic recovery.
Both sides need to make continuous efforts to push forward their bilateral relations, a Chinese Foreign Ministry statement said.