India is being lavishly praised in the international media for its vaccine diplomacy and helping other countries in time of need.
“India has emerged the surprise leader of the global vaccine diplomacy race. It has exported three times more doses than it’s given its own citizens and can spare even more without hurting its own rollout”, Eric Bellman of Wall Street Journal said in a tweet.
Yaroslav Trofimov and Bellman wrote a piece for Wall Street journal titled, “In Covid-19 Diplomacy, India Emerges as a Vaccine Superpower”.
The WSJ report said when an Indian Navy aircraft landed in the archipelago nation of Seychelles last month, the country’s foreign minister and other senior officials lined up on the tarmac to welcome its precious cargo: 50,000 doses of Indian made AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine.
The report said two weeks earlier, the Indian Ocean island nation-total population, 98,000-received a separate shipment of 50,000 doses of the Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine manufactured in China, which is seeking to make strategic inroads in a region long seen by India as part of its sphere of influence.
“Covid-19 vaccines are becoming an important form of diplomatic currency around the world, as nations jockey for soft-power gains. China and Russia are touting their own vaccines, as are Western drug companies”, the WSJ said.
“Now India, a pharmaceutical giant that manufactured some 60% of global vaccines before the pandemic, is joining the fray, seeking to strengthen ties and expand its influence in its neighbourhood and beyond”, it said.
The New York Times said in a report, “India, the unmatched vaccine manufacturing power, is giving away millions of doses to neighbours friendly and estranged”.
“It is trying to counter China, which has made doling out shots a central plank of its foreign relations. And the United Arab Emirates, drawing on its oil riches, is buying jabs on behalf of its allies”, NYT said in a report.
The coronavirus vaccine – one of the world’s most in-demand commodities – has become a new currency for international diplomacy, it said.
NYT said countries with the means or the know-how are using the shots to find favour or thaw frosty relations. India sent them to Nepal, a country that has fallen increasingly under China’s influence. Sri Lanka, in the midst of a diplomatic tug of war between New Delhi and Beijing, is getting doses from both.
“The strategy carries risks. India and China, both of which are making vaccines for the rest of the world, have vast populations of their own that they need to inoculate. Though there are few signs of grumbling in either country, that could change as the public watches doses get sold or donated abroad”, the report added.
Even as Chinese-made vaccines spread, India saw a chance to bolster its own image.
The Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine factory, churns out the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine at a daily rate of about 2.5 million doses. That pace has allowed India to begin to dole out doses free of charge to neighbours. To much fanfare, planeloads have arrived in Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, the Seychelles and Afghanistan, NYT said.
“Acting East. Acting fast,” said S. Jaishankar, India’s foreign minister, announcing the arrival of 1.5 million doses in Myanmar in a tweet.
The report said for now, the Indian government has room to donate abroad, even after months when cases soared and the economy was hobbled, and even as it has vaccinated just a tiny per cent of its 1.3 billion people. Part of the reason for a lack of backlash: the Serum Institute is producing at a faster rate than Indias’s inoculation programme can currently handle, leaving extras for donations and exports, it added.
“For India, its soft-power vaccine drive has given it a rejoinder to China, after years of watching the Chinese make political gains in its own backyard – in Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Nepal and elsewhere. Beijing offered deep pockets and swift answers when it came to big investments that India, with a layered bureaucracy and slowing economy, has struggled to match”, NYT said.
“India’s neighbourhood has become more crowded, more competitive,” said Constantino Xavier, who studies India’s relations with its neighbours at the Centre for Social and Economic Progress, a New Delhi think tank. “The vaccine push bolsters India’s credibility as a reliable crisis-responder and solutions provider to these neighbouring countries”, NYT quoted him as saying.