Can India outshine China with Covid-19 vaccine diplomacy?

Can India outshine China with Covid-19 vaccine diplomacy?

As India last week announced it would send its neighbours 10 to 20 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines for free, a headline splashed on the Republic, a nationalist and right-wing television channel: “Some Spread Disease, Some Offer Cure”.

It was a reference to the first reports of Covid-19 emerging from the central Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019 and how more than a year later, New Delhi is using its position as one of the world’s top producers of drugs to match Beijing’s offer of doses to developing countries as a “global public good”.

India’s Serum Institute, the world’s largest producer of vaccines, is producing millions of doses of the shot developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca. Shipments of free doses under the Vaccine Maitri programme have begun arriving in the Maldives, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Mauritius and the Seychelles, while Sri Lanka is next in line for the free shots, branded as Covishield, on January 27, and Cambodia will receive doses next month.

Meanwhile, China has offered free Covid-19 vaccines to Myanmar and the Philippines, and while Bangladesh was supposed to get 110,000 doses of vaccine free from Chinese firm Sinovac Biotech, Dhaka’s refusal to contribute to the vaccine’s development cost led to a deadlock. Authorities in Nepal are still assessing Sinovac’s CoronaVac and have yet to approve its use.