India’s China Dilemma: Why New Delhi Is Not Part Of Beijing’s South Asia Covid-19 Emergency Plan

Call it India’s China dilemma, New Delhi does not figure in the list of the South Asian nations with whom Beijing has reportedly joined hands to set up COVID-19 emergency supply reserves.

India and China are currently locked in a border dispute in the Ladakh region with successive rounds of talks failing to end the impasse.  

China has pledged to extend support to five South Asian neighbors — Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka and discussed ways to “strengthen consensus on solidarity against Covid-19”, according to the South China Morning Post.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on April 27, “China and South Asia will set up an emergency material reserve” without adding any further details. Ironically, despite the highest number of daily COVID-19 cases in the world, India does not figure in the list.

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Interestingly, China had on April 22 said it was willing to help India to combat the rising number of coronavirus cases. However, the exact reason for India’s exclusion in its latest plan is not yet known.

China, Australia, France are among many countries that have offered help to India in the past few days. Chinese ambassador to India Sun Weidong tweeted on April 28 that medical suppliers in his country “are working overtime on orders from India, at least 25000 orders for oxygen concentrators in recent days”. But there has been no official statement from New Delhi on this matter as yet.

Earlier this year, India kicked off its vaccine diplomacy on a high note to counter China’s global outreach, but a massive second wave of coronavirus cases caught the country unawares, putting a heavy burden on the country’s health infrastructure.

From issues related to vaccine raw materials to an acute shortage of oxygen as well hospital beds, India has been battling multiple challenges simultaneously. The international media has blamed the government’s complacency and India’s ill-equipped healthcare system for this unprecedented health crisis.

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The Modi government also launched a counter-attack, calling such claims “completely baseless, malicious and slanderous”.   

India’s China Dilemma

On April 22, China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian said Beijing “firmly” supported the Indian people in the ongoing fight against the deadly pandemic.

“The Chinese government and the Chinese people firmly support the Indian government and people in fighting the pandemic and are willing to provide support and assistance in accordance with the needs of the Indian side. The Chinese side is maintaining communication with the Indian side on this,” he said.

But India’s dilemma is understandable given that the country is yet to come to terms with the killing of 20 Indian soldiers in the Galwan Valley clash with the Chinese PLA last year.

New Delhi, which had taken drastic steps like banning Chinese mobile apps and putting curbs on the Chinese investment in the country following this border incident, would not officially ask China for any help. Neither would it want to be part of any Beijing-led initiative.   

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Some experts have pointed out that India must overcome its so-called nationalistic sentiments and receive aid from China in these testing times.

“Why can’t India overcome its nationalism and extend an urgent appeal for help? China has always been transparent and shown its willingness to come to a rapprochement through mutual understanding during a crisis,” Stephen Ndegwa is a Nairobi-based communication expert writes in an article for China’s state-owned CGTN portal.

India’s active cases as of April 28, 2021, stood at 2.9 million and 201,187 deaths, according to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.