India’s vaccine diplomacy has upset China with the latter accusing New Delhi of “meddling” in its Sinovac deal with Bangladesh.
On Monday, Bangladesh received the first consignment of the 5 million doses of Covishield vaccines from India. Last week, New Delhi had gifted 2 million doses of the vaccine to Dhaka as part of the Modi government’s ‘Vaccine Maitri’ (vaccine friendship) initiative.
Reports suggest Bangladesh has so far purchased 30 million doses from the Pune-based Serum Institute of India through private Beximco pharmaceuticals under a tripartite agreement.
The country’s health minister Zahid Maleque had said earlier that Bangladesh is expected to get 50 lakh vaccines every month from India in the coming months. These developments have irked China, which is now engaged in, what many see, as “smear campaigns” against India.
Earlier Bangladesh was supposed to undertake clinical trials of the Chinese-made Sinovac in July-August 2020. Dhaka did not need to share the cost of clinical trials back then, but later the trials were delayed till October.
Chinese state-owned Global Times has reported that as per the sources, “the clinical trials were delayed until October due to the Indian government allegedly meddling in the two sides’ cooperation during the period”.
— Pravind Kumar Jugnauth (@JugnauthKumar) January 22, 2021
Indian media reports suggest that Bangladesh turned to India for help as Chinese vaccine producer Sinovac asked Dhaka to share the cost of clinical trials. Global Times clarified by saying Sinovac had begun clinical trials in some other countries, such as Brazil and Turkey as of October.
The report says it could not find external financial support for the clinical trials in Bangladesh; hence the company had to negotiate with the Bangladeshi government about sharing the cost to launch the clinical trials.
The Global Times report mentions the company had promised to provide free vaccines to Bangladesh as compensation but was refused. Now, Chinese experts have started accusing India of “smearing China’s cooperation with countries in South Asia”, and attempting to “monopolize the vaccine market in South Asia”.
The Chinese state media has itself come out with several reports allegedly discrediting India’s effort to supply Covid-19 vaccines to several countries including its neighbors. Analysts say Beijing has difficulty accepting that India, which had begun producing vaccines much later than China, has now earned the tag of the world’s largest vaccine maker.
— Dr. S. Jaishankar (@DrSJaishankar) January 22, 2021
The state-owned media boasts how the Chinese vaccine has been hailed by the Turkish President Recep Erdogan, Seychelles President Ram Karawang, Jordanian Prime Minister Khasawneh, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, and Bahrain Crown Prince and Prime Minister Salman.
While China aims for a geopolitical edge with its coronavirus vaccines, its campaign has not been very smooth so far. Brazil and Turkey have complained of the slow shipment of doses. Questions have also been raised over the effectiveness of the Chinese vaccine.
Lawmakers in the Philippines have criticized the government’s decision to purchase the Chinese vaccine. Similarly, a former official at Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said: “Right now, I would not take any Chinese vaccine because there’s insufficient data.”
He said he would consider it only with “a proper report.”
About 24 countries, mostly low and middle-income groups, have signed deals with Chinese companies because most of the doses by Pfizer and Moderna have been claimed by the richer nations.
In comparison, India has begun supplying its vaccines to as many as 12 countries in the past few days and more countries are likely to sign deals for the same in the coming days. Reports suggest India has been approached by 92 countries for Covid-19 vaccines.