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The newest diplomatic currency: Covid-19 vaccines | India News


NEW DELHI: India, the unrivaled vaccine-making powerhouse, is giving away millions of doses to friendly and estranged neighbors. It is trying to counter China, which has made shooting a central element of its foreign relations. And the UAE, leveraging its oil wealth, is buying coups on behalf of its allies.
The coronavirus vaccine, one of the world’s most in-demand commodities, has become a new currency for international diplomacy.
Countries with the means or know-how are using the gunfire to win favor or unfreeze icy relationships. India sent them to Nepal, a country that has increasingly come under the influence of China. Sri Lanka, amid a diplomatic tug of war between New Delhi and Beijing, is getting doses of both.
Strategy carries risks. India and China, which are making vaccines for the rest of the world, have large populations of their own that they need to inoculate. Although there are few signs of complaints in both countries, that could change as the public sees how the doses are sold or donated abroad.
“The Indians are dying. Indians still get the disease, ”said Manoj Joshi, a distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, a think tank in New Delhi. “I could understand if our needs had been met and then you gave things away. But I think there is a false moral superiority that he is trying to convey when he says that we are giving away our things even before we use them ourselves. ”
Donor countries are making offerings at a time when the United States and other wealthy nations are collecting the world’s supplies. The poorest countries are frantically trying to get theirs, a disparity that the World Health Organization recently warned has put the world “on the brink of catastrophic moral failure.”
With their health systems tested like never before, many countries are eager to accept what is offered, and donors could reap political goodwill as a reward.
“Instead of securing a country by sending troops, you can protect the country by saving lives, saving its economy, helping with its vaccination,” said Dania Thafer, executive director of the International Gulf Forum, a Washington-based think tank. .
China was one of the first countries to make a diplomatic effort on vaccines, promising to help developing countries last year even before the nation mass-produced a vaccine that proved effective. This week, he said he would donate 300,000 doses of vaccines to Egypt.
But some of China’s vaccine diplomacy efforts have run into late supplies, a lack of disclosure about the efficacy of its vaccines and other problems. Chinese government officials have cited unexpectedly strong needs at home amid isolated outbreaks, a move that could mitigate any internal backlash.
Even as vaccines made in China spread, India saw an opportunity to reinforce its own image.
The Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine factory, produces the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine at a daily rate of around 2.5 million doses. That pace has allowed India to begin distributing doses free of charge to its neighbors. With much fanfare, loaded planes have arrived in Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Seychelles and Afghanistan.
Acting in the East. Acting fast, ”said S. Jaishankar, Indian Foreign Minister, announcing the arrival of 1.5 million doses to Myanmar, on Twitter.
The Indian government has tried to add advertising points for the doses sent to places like Brazil and Morocco, although those countries bought theirs. The Serum Institute has also promised 200 million doses to a global WHO group called Covax that would go to the poorest nations, while China recently promised 10 million.
For now, the Indian government has room to donate abroad, even after months in which cases skyrocketed and the economy weakened, and even as it has only vaccinated a small percentage of its 1.3 billion people. Part of the reason for the lack of backlash: The Serum Institute is producing at a faster rate than India’s inoculation program can currently handle, leaving extras for donations and exports.
And some Indians are in no rush to get vaccinated due to skepticism about a homegrown vaccine called Covaxin. The Indian government approved its emergency use without revealing much data about it, leading some to doubt its effectiveness. While the AstraZeneca-Oxford coup has faced less skepticism, those who get vaccinated don’t have the option of choosing which vaccine to receive.
For India, its soft power vaccine campaign has given China a backlash, after years of watching the Chinese make political breakthroughs in their own backyard – in Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Nepal and elsewhere. Beijing offered deep pockets and quick answers when it came to big investments that India, with a stratified bureaucracy and a slowing economy, has struggled to match.
“India’s neighborhood has become busier, more competitive,” said Constantino Xavier, who studies India’s relations with its neighbors at the Center for Social and Economic Progress, a think tank in New Delhi. “The momentum of the vaccine reinforces India’s credibility as a trusted provider of crisis response and solutions to these neighboring countries.”
One of the largest donations from India has been to Nepal, where India’s relationship has been at an all-time low. Sandwiched between India and China, the small country is strategically significant to both.
In the past five years, following border disputes and what some in Nepal criticize as a master and servant relationship with India, the government of KP Sharma Oli, the prime minister, began to reach out to China. Oli held workshops on “Xi Jinping Thought”, based on the strategies of China’s top leader, and signed contracts for various projects as part of the Belt and Road Initiative, Beijing’s development and infrastructure push.
But the prime minister began to lose control of power last year. As delegations from China and India arrived in Kathmandu to lead Nepal’s internal political maneuvers, the Nepalese leader appears to have cooled down with India.
After Oli sent his foreign minister for talks in New Delhi, India donated 1 million doses. China’s Sinopharm has also applied for Nepal’s approval of its vaccine, but the pharmaceutical authorities have not given the go-ahead.
“The vaccine came up as an opportunity to normalize ties” between Nepal and India, said Tanka Karki, a former Nepal envoy to China.
Still, the strategy of using vaccines to win hearts and minds is not always successful.
The UAE, which is launching vaccines faster than any country except Israel, has started donating the China-made Sinopharm vaccines it purchased to countries where it has strategic or commercial interests, including 50,000 doses each to the island nation Seychelles. from the country. Indian Ocean and Egypt, one of its Arab allies.
But in Egypt, some doctors refused to use them, saying they did not trust the data that the United Arab Emirates and the Chinese manufacturer of the vaccine had published about the trials. The government of Malaysia, one of the Emirates’ biggest trading partners, declined an offer of 500,000 doses and said regulators would have to independently approve the Sinopharm vaccine. After regulatory approval, Malaysia purchased vaccines from Pfizer in the United States, the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine and one manufactured by another Chinese company, Sinovac.
Even accepted goodwill can be short-lived. Witness Sri Lanka, where India and China are in a battle for influence.
Since Gotabaya Rajapaksa assumed the presidency in 2019, New Delhi has struggled to get its government to commit to an agreement its predecessor signed to complete a terminal project at the Colombo port that will be developed in part by India. While the big Chinese projects continued, Rajapaksa opened the deal with India for review.
Hoping to emphasize the importance of the project, Jaishankar, India’s foreign minister, visited last month. That same month, 500,000 doses of vaccines arrived from India. Rajapaksa was at the airport to meet them. Sri Lanka has also placed a purchase order for 18 million doses from the Serum Institute, the Colombo health ministry confirmed.
The Indian media treated both as a diplomatic victory, and it seems clear that Sri Lanka will rely heavily on India for vaccines. But on January 27, Rajapaksa received another gift from China: a pledge to donate 300,000 doses.
Dueling donations are just part of a much larger diplomatic dance. Still, a week later, Rajapaksa’s cabinet decided Sri Lanka was developing the Colombo terminal on its own, pushing India out of the project.

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