China ‘Ready’ to Help India Amid US Vaccine Materials Ban
Offers to export precursors its Quad partner refuses to
China has offered to help India fight its worsening COVID-19 crisis as the United States continues to ban exports of vaccines for the coronavirus disease.
India marked a world record surge Thursday of more than 300,000 new COVID-19 cases in a single day as the nation of some 1.3 billion people scrambled to curb the spread of the illness and treat those already infected despite dwindling resources. The situation has prompted international concern, including from neighboring China.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is a common enemy of all mankind that necessitates international solidarity and mutual assistance,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told reporters on Thursday. “China takes note of the recent grave situation in India with a temporary shortage of anti-epidemic medical supplies.”
With Beijing having largely reined in the disease, one first detected in the Chinese province of Hubei in late 2019, he said his country was prepared to offer its support.
“We stand ready to provide India with necessary support and assistance to get the epidemic under control,” Wang said.
The offer comes despite lingering frictions between the world’s two largest populations, whose long-running border dispute turned deadly last year when skirmishes saw the deaths of at least 20 Indian troops and four Chinese soldiers. Successive rounds of military and political talks led to disengagement, but tensions remain.
Having long remained non-aligned throughout the Cold War, though close with the former Soviet Union, India has begun to foster warmer ties with the West, and especially the United States. The trend comes at a time when Washington sought to shore up its ties in Asia to counter Beijing’s rise.
Growing U.S.-India relations have been reinforced by a number of joint agreements in recent years, as well as their shared commitment to the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, which also includes Australia and Japan. The foursome seeks to ensure a “free and open Indo-Pacific” and each member has often criticized China’s behavior in the region.
And while Washington and New Delhi’s ties have been on an upswing, some hiccups have emerged, such as a recent U.S. Navy “freedom of navigation” operation that challenged India’s requirement for countries to seek prior permission to conduct military activities off the coast of the Lakshadweep Islands in the Indian Ocean. The Indian External Ministry expressed “concerns” over the incident.
As the rapid COVID-19 spike tops national priorities, however, a potential new hurdle has emerged for the two partners as the U.S. maintains a ban on exporting key materials used to manufacture vaccines for the disease. The restrictions come in line with the Korean War-era Defense Production Act, invoked by the U.S. in a bid to prioritize domestic vaccine manufacturing.
Adar Poonawalla, CEO and owner of vaccine maker Serum Institute of India, recently issued a personal appeal to Biden on social media.
Respected @POTUS, if we are to truly unite in beating this virus, on behalf of the vaccine industry outside the U.S., I humbly request you to lift the embargo of raw material exports out of the U.S. so that vaccine production can ramp up. Your administration has the details. 🙏🙏
— Adar Poonawalla (@adarpoonawalla) April 16, 2021
“Respected @POTUS, if we are to truly unite in beating this virus, on behalf of the vaccine industry outside the U.S., I humbly request you to lift the embargo of raw material exports out of the U.S. so that vaccine production can ramp up,” Poonawalla tweeted last Wednesday. “Your administration has the details.”
Asked Tuesday about these details, State Department spokesperson Ned Price declined to discuss the specifics of the matter but spoke broadly as to the U.S. point of view, which has been expressed by President Joe Biden and Secretary Antony Blinken.
“President Biden, Secretary Blinken, they’re deeply focused on the issue of expanding global vaccination, manufacturing, and delivery – all of which will be critical to ending the pandemic,” Price said. “Secretary Blinken consistently makes the point that as long as the virus is out of control, is uncontained anywhere around the world, whether that is here in the United States, whether that is elsewhere, it continues to present a risk to the American people.”
This meant putting the homeland first.
“Of course, first and foremost, our priority is ensuring the distribution of a safe and effective vaccine to millions of Americans, to all Americans who are able to take advantage of it,” Price said.
He said the administration recognized, however, the “need to continue to demonstrate that leadership when it comes to countries beyond our borders,” and highlighted U.S. reengagement with the World Health Organization, multibillion-dollar contributions to the United Nations COVAX global vaccination program and discussions regarding vaccines with neighboring allies Canada and Mexico as well as the Quad.
Price echoed these remarks during Thursday’s daily press conference when the issue of India’s soaring COVID-19 rates again came up.
“As we are more comfortable in our position here at home, as we are confident that we are able to address any contingencies as they may arise, I expect we’ll be able to do more,” Price said. “And we will, of course, always do as much as we can, consistent with our first obligation.”
Health cooperation between the two countries was also discussed earlier this week in a phone call between Blinken and Indian External Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.
The U.S. remains by far the worst hit by the pandemic, with nearly 32 million cases—roughly one in 10 among the population—and 570,000 deaths. India comes in second with 16 million cases and roughly 184,000 fatalities.
India was also the world’s second-largest exporter of COVID-19 vaccines before halting such measures last month in order to address increasingly pressing needs at home.
China, on the other hand, has expanded its vaccine exports across the globe and has called for the vaccine to become a “public good.”
In their most recent estimate, Chinese officials have said their country was providing vaccine assistance to 80 countries and three international organizations, exporting to 40-plus countries and has entered into vaccine research, development and production cooperation with more than 10 countries.
Both Beijing and New Delhi believe drug makers should not be permitted to patent vaccines. A bid by India and fellow BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) group member South Africa to introduce a ban on such restrictions at the World Trade Organization was rejected by wealthy Western countries such as the U.S. and the United Kingdom, as well as the European Union, which have argued the move might disrupt production at home.