China offers to help India tackle Covid-19 outbreak after US vaccine snub

A funeral service is held in New Delhi as the number of cases in the country continues to rise.
PHOTO: Photo: Reuters

CHINA - China has offered to help India battle its Covid-19 outbreak after the United States declined a request to lift a ban on exporting vaccine raw materials.

The olive branch from the Chinese foreign ministry comes as tensions between the two nations continue to run high along their disputed border .

“The Chinese government and people firmly support the Indian government and people in fighting the coronavirus. China is ready to provide support and help according to India’s needs, and is in communication with the Indian side on this,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Friday.

India is currently battling the world’s highest number of cases , with a record 346,786 new cases reported on Saturday, and its hospital system is on the edge of collapse due to shortages of intensive care beds, medical supplies and oxygen.

India is also running low on vaccines and has asked the US to lift an export ban on the raw materials needed to make them, but Washington declined saying it had a responsibility to look after the American people first.

“It is, of course, not only in our interest to see Americans vaccinated, it’s in the interests of the rest of the world to see Americans vaccinated,” said the US State Department spokesman Ned Price on Thursday.

But the Chinese offer to help comes despite the ongoing tensions along their disputed border following a deadly clash last summer and with little apparent progress in the most recent round of talks between the two countries’ militaries.

“India’s supplies of raw materials for vaccine production from the US and Europe are currently restricted. It desperately needs other countries’ help with the pandemic,” said Niu Haibin, deputy director of the Institute for Foreign Policy Studies at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies.

“This is also an opportunity for both sides to mend bilateral relations”.

China has consistently denied that it is using offers to supply other countries with vaccines to extend its geopolitical influence.

However, the United States, India, Australia and Japan – the so-called Quad – recently promised to deliver a billion doses of Covid-19 throughout the Indo-Pacific by the end of next year in a move that was widely seen as an effort to counter Chinese in the region.

Niu said China is not deliberately using the pandemic for diplomatic purposes, but cooperation with other nations would increase its influence.

Raj Verma, an associate professor of international relations at Huaqiao University in Fujian, said that because Chinese vaccines have not been approved for use in India, people there would be reluctant to receive them.

But he said there were other ways China could help.

“India is making efforts to garner oxygen cylinders from across the globe,” he said. “However, the overall bilateral relationship will still be tense and the prevailing mistrust on both sides will continue”.

Li Hongmei, a research fellow at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies, said: “China’s statement shows that it does not link the border issue closely with overall relations with India, and that China expects bilateral relations can be improved.

“I think China is willing to help India by substantial actions, rather than making empty gestures.”

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.