Battle for vaccine diplomacy

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The coronavirus has given rise to a war for diplomacy between India and China. China in the past has strategically indebted Asian nations, particularly India’s neighbouring countries. Through its Belt and Road initiative, China has entrapped many Asian nations under its debt. However, the coronavirus changed the equation in the race to diplomacy in Asia. With the virus affecting the world and disrupting normal life, mass vaccination seems to be the only way out currently. For the same, a humongous number of vaccines are required. USA and China are the leading manufacturers of the vaccine in the world. But wait, according to a survey by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), India is also in the group with USA and China being the biggest manufacturers of the vaccine. They are closely followed by the EU, Australia and Brazil. This has given rise to a battle for vaccine diplomacy in Asia.

India is leaving no stones unturned to grow its diplomatic influence over the Asian nations. And for the same has even exported, no-strings-attached vaccine shipments to many of its neighbours. On the other hand, China’s loaning through Belt and Road Initiative, to exert its political and economic influences in developing and poor nations in South East Asia has become dormant given the lockdowns and Covid scenario.

During the Covid-19 period that has economically affected the world, India has managed to set an example for other nations by being reckoned as the ‘pharmacy of the world’. India is playing a lead role as a major source of vaccine, being both manufacturer and exporter. This has also given India an edge over its rival China to further strengthen its diplomatic hold over South East Asia. The West, however, has opted out from vaccine diplomacy and many countries there have also restricted export of vaccines as part of nationalisation of their vaccines manufacturing.

On the other hand, India launched the ‘Vaccine Maitri’ (Vaccine Friendly) initiative in early 2021 and had supplied vaccines to 74 countries as well as United Nations health workers upto March 2021. It also supplied vaccines to poor and developing neighbours as grants on priority basis. Many have applauded India for this gesture and also believe that finally China is getting a dose of its own medicine in the diplomacy game. Notably, the Indian pharmaceutical industry is the 3 rd largest by volume and 11th largest in value in the world. Its annual revenue is USD 38 billion comprising
3,000 companies and 10,500 manufacturing facilities. It produces drugs at a third of US cost and half of European cost, according to a Deloitte survey.
But given the fact that the country itself is now reeling under a major crisis.

Despite the tall claims of political leaders, the ground reality remains grim. Shortage of oxygen, essential medicines, hospital beds are being reported from most of the major cities. The transaction between the state and the Union governments also seems to be fractured in many instances. Delhi recently in a live video meeting with the Prime Minister clearly mentioned the non-receipt of oxygen as claimed by the
Union government. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. With the country grasping for oxygen and life, isn’t it the prerogative of the government to put the nation first at least during such critical times? The vaccines can now do more good ‘IN’ the country than ‘OUT’, for total vaccination seems the only way out.


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