Brazil senators say anti-China views hurt access to COVID-19 vaccines

Former Brazil's Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo attends a meeting of the Parliamentary Inquiry Committee (CPI) to investigate government actions and management during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, at the Federal Senate in Brasilia, Brazil May 18, 2021. REUTERS/Adriano Machado

BRASILIA, May 18 (Reuters) - Brazilian senators on Tuesday accused the country's former foreign minister of undermining efforts to obtain COVID-19 vaccines after he used anti-China rhetoric during the pandemic.

In a parliamentary inquiry into far-right President Jair Bolsonaro's handling of the world's second-deadliest outbreak of the novel coronavirus, senators blamed the president and his inner circle for delays in deliveries from China of active ingredients to make Sinovac Biotech Ltd (SVA.O)'s vaccine in Brazil.

Ernesto Araujo, who was replaced as foreign minister in March, told senators on Tuesday that Bolsonaro's disparagement of the Chinese vaccine did not impact relations with Brazil's largest trade partner or delay vaccine supplies.

Araujo last year published an article entitled "The Comunavirus Has Arrived" where he argued that the novel coronavirus was part of a plan for global domination.

In the hearing, he denied that the article disparaged China.

"It was not a reference to coronavirus but to an ideological virus, coined by another author, that creates the conditions for a global Communist society," he told the Senate commission.

Senator Katia Abreu, a farmer and former agriculture minister, said Araujo's views and those of the Bolsonaro government have hurt exports to China, where approval of dozens of Brazilian meatpacking plants has been held up in Beijing.

Araujo said his criticism of China's ambassador to Brazil last year was not an attack on the Asian nation but a complaint about the diplomat's "unacceptable" tweet, which said the Bolsonaro family was a "huge poison" for Sino-Brazil relations.

The diplomat's tweet, which he quickly deleted, was prompted by the president's son Eduardo Bolsonaro, then chair of the House foreign relations committee, blaming authoritarianism in China for preventing faster action against the pandemic.

Attacks on China by members of Bolsonaro's inner circle further soured diplomatic relations last year. The spat was laid to rest when Bolsonaro called President Xi Jinping and the two presidents agreed to work together to fight the coronavirus.

A surge of COVID-19 cases this year has raised Brazil's death toll to more than 435,000, and the country is short of vaccines. Just one in eight Brazilian adults have been fully vaccinated. Through April, 85% of the vaccines administered in Brazil were from China's Sinovac.

Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Aurora Ellis

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