Diplomacy of Covid: How the ‘Vaccine Maitri’ Jabs of India have put China on the Ropes
Rattled by the ‘Vaccine Maitri’ initiative of New Delhi, the mouthpiece of the Chinese government, the Global Times, has launched a smear campaign against India in a major way.
The newspaper has not only challenged India’s ability to manufacture a sufficient number of vaccine doses in a series of articles and opinion pieces, citing the fire at India’s Serum Institute campus in Pune last week, but also the “efficacy of India’s locally developed vaccines,” taking a potshot of Covaxin, India’s indigenous Covid-19 preventive, developed by Bharat Biotech in partnership with Covaxin (NIV).
The fear in Beijing stems from the fact that it is viewed internationally as the country where SARS-CoV-2 originated, contributing to more than two million deaths and about 100 million infections worldwide to date. The pandemic brought to a grinding halt the global economy. India, on the other hand, is seen as a benevolent friend, providing the world with whatever it has to give, especially to the weaker nations, with the much needed healing touch.
New Delhi has so far donated about five million vaccine doses to its neighbors, including 20 lakh doses to Bangladesh, and 10 lakh doses to Nepal, a nation that China is desperately trying to get into its circle of control, reaffirming the Indian philosophy of’ Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ (the world is one family). Maldives, a victim of Chinese debt diplomacy, Bhutan, a constant Chinese expansionism goal, etc., are other recipients.
Beijing has yet to donate vaccine doses to its most trusted partner, Pakistan, in comparison to India. According to the country’s foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, China’s promised 0.5 million doses of ‘gift’ to Pakistan is scheduled to arrive in Islamabad by 31 January.
Not only India, but a handful of other countries are also using the manufacture of vaccines as a way to increase their global presence. Nevertheless, helped by its vaccine manufacturing expertise, India was swift to reach out to its neighbors while launching the largest vaccination campaign in its own territory in the world, something China struggled to do despite being the world’s industrial development powerhouse.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO leader, took to Twitter to thank Prime Minister Narendra Modi for “continued support for the global COVID19 response.” The US State Department said, “India is a real friend using its pharma to help the global community.” Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, invoking Lord Hanuman, thanked India for providing Brazil with two million vaccine doses, akin to ‘Sanjeevani Booti.’
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih of the Maldives, and Prime Minister Sharma Oli of Nepal also hailed India’s gesture. Thanks to Vaccine Maitri, India’s global reputation and credibility have earned a significant boost. On the other side, China has only acquired brickbats.
According to a New York Times study, Chinese companies have already signed vaccine supply deals with at least 24 countries. Chinese coronavirus vaccines were intended to offer a geopolitical victory that showcased the scientific ingenuity and generosity of the country. “Instead, they have set off a backlash in some places,” the NYT wrote, citing problems with Chinese vaccinations in countries such as Brazil, Turkey, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Singapore.
In addition, due to opaque evidence, several countries are worried about the effectiveness and side effects of the Chinese vaccine. Sinovac had “four wildly different efficacy rates” ranging from a little over 50 percent to 91.25 percent, according to a Bloomberg study.
The Global Times also reported that, as a form of aid, India’s vaccines are primarily supplied to South Asian countries and “not many countries have actually bought Indian vaccines because of quality concerns.” Contrary to the assertion, according to a survey, a total of 92 countries, including Brazil, Indonesia, Cambodia and Bolivia, approached India for the commercial supply of vaccines.
In view of the backlash over the “Wuhan Virus,” China hoped to shore up its picture. However, when it came to virus-fighting efforts, it was India which led from the front. PM Modi held a meeting with SAARC leaders in March last year and proposed the development of a Covid-19 emergency fund with India making an initial USD 10 million bid. India later led the world in supplying HCQ (Hydroxychloroquine) to over 55 countries, many of them free of charge, after it was recognized by the US FDA as a potential Covid-19 medication.
New Delhi supplied masks, head-covers and even ICU ventilators to neighboring countries as a loving neighbor and in line with its long-stated ‘neighborhood first’ policy. China’s efforts, on the other hand, were strictly commercial, aimed at selling its costly vaccines, according to a survey, with a two-dose regimen costing anywhere from $60 to $150. Not surprisingly, the Dragon was shaken by India’s cheaper and powerful alternative.
Though criticizing India’s vaccine efforts, China has forgotten that an estimated 65% of the world’s children receive at least one vaccine provided by India’s Serum Institute. In addition, according to IMARC, an internationally recognized leading market research company, it “only accounts for around 60 percent of the total vaccines supplied to UNICEF.”