China starts smear campaign against India’s vaccine diplomacy

(This story originally appeared in on Jan 25, 2021)

NEW DELHI: As India’s vaccine diplomacy puts China on the back foot in South Asia, Chinese government mouthpiece Global Times has sought to mount a smear campaign to try and discredit the Indian initiative.

India has already gifted the Covishield vaccine manufactured locally by Serum Institute of India to all Saarc countries except Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

While India will donate 500,000 doses of the vaccine to Sri Lanka on January 27, the government has assured Kabul that Afghanistan will figure high on India’s priority list for Covid-19 vaccine once the local regulator grants approval for its use.

Not surprisingly, Global Times has reacted with a propaganda campaign against India’s ‘Vaccine Maitri’ initiative, raising questions about India’s capacity to manufacture vaccines after the fire at the Serum Institute and also claiming that Indians in China were “embracing” Chinese vaccines.

GT quoted a BBC report to claim that the All India Drug Action Network, a patients’ rights group, said the approval of SII-produced Covishield was rushed as the manufacturer had not completed a “bridging study” for the vaccine. It claimed “the company has said it will try to conduct the bridging trial of the vaccine in India in February, according to the BBC”.

In contrast to the Indian effort, China has had little to offer to countries in a region where it continues to otherwise rapidly expand its influence, both economically and politically. While Nepal’s drug regulator is yet to approve the use of Chinese vaccines, sources in the Maldives government said there was no indication of any delivery of Covid-19 vaccines by China so far. In fact, even China’s close ally Cambodia recently requested India for vaccines despite having received a million doses of Chinese vaccines. A Reuters report last week said China has been in a vaccine deadlock with Bangladesh since the latter refused to contribute towards development cost of the vaccine.

GT quoted anonymous “netizens” and analysts in an article to say that the SII fire “may affect people’s confidence in high-quality vaccine production” and that India’s vaccine production capacity was unlikely to keep up with the Indian government’s ambitions.

The article also quoted an expert as saying that India’s vaccines were being mainly supplied to South Asian countries as a form of aid and that not many countries were actually purchasing Indian vaccines due to “quality concerns”. India, however, is also supplying vaccines on contractual or commercial basis to Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Brazil, Morocco, Bangladesh and Myanmar.

In another article, Global Times quoted Indian restaurant workers as saying that they were prepared to be inoculated by Chinese vaccines as they had no doubt about the quality of these vaccines. It also highlighted Indian media reports saying healthcare workers in India were reluctant to accept Indian vaccine Covaxin.

India had said last week that there was interest in many countries in accessing vaccines from India which was the global hub for vaccine production. The government also said India would continue to supply vaccines to partner countries in a phased manner, while ensuring that domestic manufacturers had adequate stocks to meet domestic requirements.





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