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Zero-Covid: Why Xi’s China is Paranoid About Virus, While Modi’s India is Ready to Live With It

By: Priyam Gandhi-Mody

Last Updated: December 06, 2022, 13:02 IST

New Delhi, India

India's vaccines are the most effective in the world, safest and most affordable. However, this might be a very tough pill for the authoritarian Xi regime to swallow. (File Photo)

India's vaccines are the most effective in the world, safest and most affordable. However, this might be a very tough pill for the authoritarian Xi regime to swallow. (File Photo)

The tables have turned. It is time that China reaches out to India to purchase the made-in-India vaccines if it wants a shot at a quick recovery

For over a month, mass protests against the authoritarian Xi Jinping regime in China have left China’s much touted Zero-Covid policy exposed. Although public memory is said to be short, it may be prudent to recollect that for over two years WHO and the global media were lauding China’s pandemic handling efforts, their vaccines and their overall response. The report which WHO prepared after sending their first on-ground team to China basically stated that countries around the world must work up their responses taking inspiration from the Chinese approach.

When vaccination began, there was great regale in the international community and media for the Chinese vaccines — with barely any talk of their efficacy — which clearly remains questionable even today. Desperate to safeguard themselves, over 90 countries got carried away with this false propaganda and purchased the Chinese vaccines — only later to realise their ineffectiveness. For instance, the UAE inoculated its citizens with two doses of the Chinese vaccines but had to later change course and inoculate its citizens of another two doses of a more effective vaccine non-Chinese jab. However, at the time of Chinese vaccine purchase, these acts were lauded as great diplomatic efforts, global co-operation and recognition of China’s development, research and manufacturing prowess.

Preaching to India by building narratives which were exploited to pressurise were also very common. A sterling example is of one such global media giant that made a case in 2021 of “Why India should buy Chinese Vaccines”.

Another Indian media house argued that “India should ask China for surplus Covid vaccine supply.” The problem with these recommendations was the timing - India and China were in the aftermath of border tensions between the two nations after the Galwan standoff between the forces in June 2020. These narratives advised the Indian government to set-aside the border dispute and its fall-out, for Prime Minister Modi to “swallow his pride”, in order to secure the Chinese vaccines which many other countries seemed to be buying. PM Modi knowing very well that the made-in-India vaccines were far more superior, having spearheaded our vaccine manufacturing, supply and distribution refused to cave in to this pressure. He and team India, under his leadership, very well knew that India’s vaccine shortages were very short-lived and that production of the Indian vaccines was to shoot up significantly in the latter half of 2021.

As for the initial response, India did adopt the WHO recommendations on test, track, isolate and treat since the nature of the virus was unknown and we simply didn’t have the required tools for prevention and treatment such as masks, PPE kits, ventilators, vaccines and such. But in a very short period of time, India not only upgraded the production capability of these enough to suffice not only ourselves but also began to export them to other needy countries.

Fast-forward to today, the Chinese zero-Covid policy has brought the country to its knees, isolating it from the global resumption of ‘normalcy’. The world would have not known about it even, due to heavy media censorship if it wasn’t for mass public protests against the government and dissatisfaction amongst businesses which rely on the Chinese for supplies. Youth unemployment in China touched 20 percent, an all-time high due to the inflexible rules for the citizens to travel for work. Major business houses already have or are considering moving their production lines to other countries — India being a top-preferred destination.

Major economies around the world are on the brink of an economic recession due to mismanaged financial responses to the pandemic. India on the other hand, seems to have either escaped all major waves after the Delta variant or has succeeded in protecting its citizens. With restrained financial spending, India has managed to surpass all major economies in growth outlooks building confidence amongst global investors. India has been able to insulate itself from the global financial shocks.

New documents from the US Senate Committee investigation into the origins of the pandemic, clearly point to evidence of a lab-leak in the Wuhan Institute of Virology, completely eliminating the theory on zoological origins of the Covid-19 virus — which was much touted by the international intellectual and media community. Combined with sub-standard vaccines which it sold to many nations, dissatisfied business and mass-public uproar, the world is now looking at China with distrustful eyes.

The tables have turned. It is time that China reaches out to India to purchase the made-in-India vaccines if it wants a shot at a quick recovery. We do after all have the capability to manufacture over 5 billion doses annually.

Our vaccines are the most effective in the world, safest, most affordable and also come with our app for distribution logistics — COWIN. However, this might be a very tough pill for the authoritarian Xi regime to swallow. The question that still stands is: Will the experts and media houses who built narratives to pressurise India and safeguard Chinese interests admit they were wrong? Will the global media now build narratives about how China can use India’s help to emerge out of the pandemic? Doesn’t seem like it; for media which is supposed to be free and fair, it is partial and political.

The writer is a policy and communications strategist. A Nation to Protect: Leading India Through the Covid Crisis is her third book. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the stand of this publication.

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first published:December 06, 2022, 13:01 IST
last updated:December 06, 2022, 13:02 IST
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