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India’s Goodwill Gesture vs China’s Geopolitical Ambitions: Vaccine Diplomacy is Changing Equations in South Asia

Syringes and ice packs are seen inside a vaccination box during a nationwide trial run of COVID-19 vaccine delivery systems, at a temporary vaccination centre in Mumbai, India, January 8, 2021. REUTERS/Niharika Kulkarni

Syringes and ice packs are seen inside a vaccination box during a nationwide trial run of COVID-19 vaccine delivery systems, at a temporary vaccination centre in Mumbai, India, January 8, 2021. REUTERS/Niharika Kulkarni

India is sharing vaccines manufactured in the country as a goodwill gesture in the time of crisis and it will have good impact on India’s relationship with its neighbours.

India has already shipped vaccines to neighbouring countries like Bhutan, Maldives, Bangladesh and Nepal already. Myanmar and the Seychelles are the next in line.

India is sharing vaccines manufactured in the country as a goodwill gesture in the time of crisis and it is an initiative that will have a saluting impact on India’s relationship with its neighbours. All the top leaders of our neighbouring countries have thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the vaccines received.

India’s image of goodwill

Not only vaccines, but India has imparted training to their health workers. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as you know, during the pandemic, tried to activate the SAARC for Covid cooperation, and this will be welcomed by the leaders as well as the public. Essentially it presents a very good image of India as a caring and sharing country.

But of course, these initiatives need to be followed up. I think the supply of vaccines in this time of crisis addresses the very important healthcare issues in most countries. Healthcare is a much wider subject, and this, I hope, will lay the basis or foundation for further cooperation in health care. This can be expanded to not just the vaccines but other aspects of healthcare as well.

Also read: What Next After The First Coronavirus Vaccine Shot? Here's All You Need to Know

China’s reliability in question

While India has been sending millions of doses of free vaccines to its neighbours, Bangladesh too turned to India to get free vaccines after China asked it to share costs of clinical trials of Sinovac — the efficacy for which has also been contested.

China has tried to use this vaccine to refurbish its image. But the essential difference is China’s reliability all over the world is very low. Firstly, the “Wuhan virus” — many people call it “ wuhan virus” — originated from China. Also during the pandemic the equipment sent from China turned out to be defective. So I think China is using this opportunity for its political ambitions as well.

But in the case of India, the prime minister has always said, also with our past experience during the AIDS crisis, when we had supplied cheaper medicine to Africa, that we should take it as a global concern. It is a concern from humanity and not just about country A or country B, because as you know pandemics don’t know borders.

As they said in India, “bhavana uske peeche kaisi hai (what is the thought behind this initiative)? In Ramayan, it says it is really the bhavna or thought , or what is the attitude with which you send the vaccines. So India probably stands apart from China in this regard. But we don’t have to really compare. Everyone needs medicines. There is a shortage of vaccines and India will also have to ramp up production. So let the countries decide where they want to go.

Also read: India to Begin Export of Covid-19 Vaccines to 6 Neighbouring Nations Under Grant Assistance

China’ geopolitical ambitions

See China is using this for geo-political purposes. They have, apart from the Belt and Road initiative, they have also launched something called the Health Silk Road initiative. It is very clear the reason why China is doing this. They are going to supply this medicine to various countries in Africa and perhaps some other countries as well.

But we don’t know what is the efficacy of this medicine and what terms and conditions they will supply these on. It is still the initial days and the countries, with their experiences with various vaccines, will decide where they have to buy from. If a poor country from Africa gets it free, probably they will take it from China also because one needs the vaccines right now.

India had indicated that it would cooperate with all countries, even before the vaccine came in. There were some 150 countries to which some medicines like hydroxychloroquine, remdisivir, and other medicines , PPEs and other things were sent by India. It was very clear from the Indian actions that when the vaccine comes, we will be happy to share them and that’s exactly what has happened.

Arvind Gupta is the director Vivekananda International Foundation and the former Deputy National Security Adviser and Secretary, National Security Council

As told to News18.com

first published:January 24, 2021, 13:21 IST
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