India, China reach out to Gulf countries in combating COVID-19

File photo of medical supplies to fight the coronavirus pandemic. Photo used for representation purpose only.   | Photo Credit: AP

India has reinforced its extended neighbourhood doctrine by flying emergency medical supplies and personnel to Kuwait on Saturday — a move driven by a decision to extend Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) to the Gulf countries.

“We are now prepared to provide whatever is available within our capacity that the Gulf countries may require to combat COVID-19. We have opened our warehouses for them,” a highly placed official source said.

The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) statement on Saturday noted that India’s outreach to Kuwait was part of New Delhi’s engagement with its “extended neighbourhood”.

“It is heartening that India is reaching out to the Gulf countries. Given our deep strategic interests in the region, which has a 10.5 lakh Indian population, short geographic distance and reliance on the region for energy security, the Gulf should be called our neighbourood and not extended neighbourhood,” Talmiz Ahmad, former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and Oman, told The Hindu.

Apart from Kuwait where India’s 15-member “rapid response” medical team will stay for around two weeks to assist in testing, treating and training Kuwaiti healthcare professionals, India has also reached out to Bahrain and the rest of the GCC grouping, following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s telephonic conversation with the heads of all the six countries.

India has already cleared export to Bahrain of Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) — a key medicine to treat COVID-19. Besides, in a MEA readout of the Prime Minister’s conversation with the Sultan of Oman, both countries agreed to “extend all possible support to each other in dealing with the crisis”.

The HCQ has emerged as a strategic asset, which has mainstreamed India in the global fight against the pandemic. Apart from its neighbourhood, extended neighbourhood as well as the Indian Ocean Rim countries, India is exporting it and paracetamol to several other nations, including the U.S., the U.K., Spain, Brazil and Israel.

In the health diplomacy that has followed the pandemic — India and China, the two leading emerging economies of the globe — have stood out for their support in the region, in sharp contrast to the response of many established western powers.

As India reinforces its engagement with the GCC, China has done substantial heavy lifting in Iran, one of the worst affected countries by the pandemic.

By mid-March alone, China had provided Iran approximately 3,50,000 various types of diagnostic test kits, around 24,00,000 masks, 1,30,000 isolation gowns and 120 medical ventilators and aspirators, according to Seyed Abbas Mousavi, spokesperson of the Iranian Foreign Ministry.

Unsurprisingly, India and China have emerged as leading responders in a HADR emergency arising out of COVID-19, in South Asia as well, echoing a pattern that had emerged during the 2015 Nepal earthquake, when New Delhi and Beijing, had quickly responded to the disaster.

The Nepali daily Kathmandu Post has reported that while China is willing to provide protective gear and reagents to test the cases , India is the mainstay for providing medicines such as hydroxychloroquine sulphate. During his conversation on April 10 with his Nepal counterpart KP Sharma Oli, Prime Minister Modi had offered “all possible support” in its efforts in fighting the pandemic. But towards the end of March, the Nepal Airlines had also sent a plane to China’s industrial hub Guangzhou to ferry more than 1,00,000 personal protective equipment sets, around 1,00,000 test kits, and a few thousands infrared thermometers, Xinhua reported.

India and China are also playing a leading role in combating the virus in Sri Lanka, with New Delhi sending a plane load of medical supplies to Colombo on Tuesday. But Beijing headquartered China Development Bank, last month, had also provided a $500-million concessional loan to help Colombo to tide over its financial difficulties and counter the fallout of the pandemic.

Some analysts point out that instead of engaging in power-play, India and China need to coordinate their response to the common threat in the region. “If the safety and security of South Asian and other people in the broader region is in their common interest, then New Delhi and Beijing must coordinate and assist their neighbours during this global crisis,” says Zorawar Daulet Singh, Adjunct Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies.

Signalling that collaboration rather than competition is likely on their radar in combating the pandemic, China’s State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi told External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar on March 25 that Beijing was ready to enhance cooperation with India to “safeguard the global and regional public health security,” a Chinese Foreign Ministry statement said.

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Printable version | Jun 13, 2021 10:11:04 PM |

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