US slammed for ‘selfish,’ ‘indifferent’ response to India’s call for help amid devastating COVID-19 crisis
Anti-US sentiment triggered online by Washington’s indifferent response
Published: Apr 26, 2021 12:51 AM
A partially deserted road is seen during the Sunday lockdown imposed as a preventive measure against the spread of the COVID-19 in Chennai, India, on Sunday. Photo: AFP

A partially deserted road is seen during the Sunday lockdown imposed as a preventive measure against the spread of the COVID-19 in Chennai, India, on Sunday. Photo: AFP

 "Selfish and indifferent" - the US' refusal to supply more vaccine to India or lift the embargo on the export of raw material needed to ramp up vaccine production in India has sparked anti-US sentiment in India and triggered global criticism in recent days amid India's deadly surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths. 

Pictures of mass outdoor cremations of patients who died of COVID-19 in India have gripped the hearts of people all around the world over the severity of the epidemic in the country. Many Chinese netizens said the pictures are "shocking" and wondered why the situation in India has gone wild. While the more shocking news to them is the US' indifference and selfishness when asked to help Indian people who are suffering. 

Analysts said that after making nearly zero contribution to the global fight against the pandemic, the US has fully exposed its selfishness in refusing to offer substantial help to India and is obstructing global efforts in vaccine distribution to developing and needy countries. 

The world is deeply concerned over the COVID-19 situation in India in recent days as the number of cases surged by a record daily rise of 349,691 on Sunday, with a total of 16.96 million cases. The death toll has reached to 192,311, the Indian health ministry said. 

International experts have called for help globally as 1.3 billion people in India are on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe, and some urged the US to lift the embargo on the export of raw materials needed to ramp up vaccine production in India. 

However, the US refused to lift the export ban and insisted the priority is ensuring the distribution of vaccines to millions of Americans. The US' indifferent response ignited a wave of anti-US sentiment on social media in and out of India, with netizens criticizing that by making zero contribution and even obstructing the global fight against the pandemic, the US is not a world leader as it claims but a selfish, irresponsible and unreliable country that plays geopolitics to serve its own interests. 

Severe situation 

The COVID-19 situation in India has escalated in the past few days where infections have continued to soar. However, those who are infected and are developing serious symptoms are finding it extremely difficult to procure a hospital bed, compounded by shortages of oxygen, ventilators and supplies of life-saving drugs such as Remdesivir, Neil Shah, a local resident in Mumbai, the most affected city and capital of the most affected state Maharashtra, told the Global Times.

"The hospitals are overflowing with patients and the entire infra[structure] is crumbling as common or rich people all are facing the same challenges," Shah said. 

The real situation in the country may worsen as many media reported that official statistics are seriously underestimating the scale of the tragedy and the current epidemic is not just a second wave but a "tsunami," as hospitals run out of both beds and oxygen. 

Somil Nagpal, a senior health specialist at the World Bank, told a public health panel on Sunday held by Peking University, that despite being a major manufacturer, India does not yet have adequate vaccines for its domestic needs and this is compounded by a shortage of raw materials needed from overseas suppliers. India's limitations are also affecting the global availability of vaccines.

Many countries, including China and Pakistan, have offered help to India in fighting its surge of COVID-19 infections. However, the US that has worked hard to drag India into its gang to contain China, gave no help. The US State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Tuesday asserted that the US was "first and foremost" in the effort to "vaccinate the American people." 

Facing growing pressure in and outside the US, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a tweet on Saturday night that "Our hearts go out to the Indian people in the midst of the horrific COVID-19 outbreak," and added that the US will rapidly deploy additional support to India. 

No detail on how to aid India has been disclosed by Blinken, nor on lifting the embargo of vaccine raw materials export. 

However, many Indian netizens did not buy Blinken's sweet talk and they commented that his remarks were "hypocrisy." One Indian Twitter user in a comment under Blinken's tweet read: when former US president Donald Trump requested hydroxychloroquine, India provided it, though not enough for its own population and nice words will do nothing to help India. 1.3 billion Indians will remember who stood by them when they needed it.

While China expressed its willingness to help India with oxygen, face masks and other medical supplies, a senior official from China's top health authority who asked for anonymity acknowledged the seriousness of the epidemic situation in India right now, saying "the situation is really bad." He told the Global Times that he has no information yet concerning whether China would dispatch a medical team to support India in fighting the epidemic.

Although China expressed its willingness to offer help to India, it is up to India to take the initiative of accepting it, but so far, there is no sign of that. For India, it is a question of saving face whether to take the initiative to improve the India-China relationship, Zheng Zhijie, a professor and chair of the department of global health at Peking University, told the Global Times on Sunday. 

The epidemic in India hasn't seen an inflection point, and because of surging cases and virus variants, the ongoing waves would be catastrophic and deliver a heavy blow to India, Zheng said.

Selfish, unreliable partner

Since the Trump administration, "America First" has been placed in the center of US foreign policy, and although Biden has never openly said "America First," he is practicing it. And it has become a bipartisan policy especially on vaccines, Jin Canrong, associate dean of the School of International Studies at the Renmin University of China, told the Global Times on Friday. 

Lü Xiang, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, said that "India has become the victim of US empty promises." 

The Indian government has held great hope for producing US-developed COVID-19 vaccines as US President Biden proposed the plan during the first Quad summit in March. Maybe encouraged by this lip-service, the Modi government relaxed epidemic controls and with the loopholes of local governance, "the epidemic situation in India has gone wild," Lü told the Global Times. 

Chinese analysts warned previously that Biden's vaccine plan is more like a strategy to contain China and may end with little progress.

So far, very few people in the developing countries have access to US-developed vaccines. Instead of paying attention to human life and making contributions to the global fight against the pandemic, the US is playing geopolitics to serve its national interests. Its selfishness not only disappoints Indians but also the international community, Lü said.

According to a Forbes report in April, more than 40 percent of adults and 75 percent of seniors in the US are at least partially inoculated. In comparison, more than 85 poor countries will not have widespread access to the vaccines before 2023, the Economist said. 

India has been stuck in a predicament as the US would not help it settle vaccine patents issue, and pressured by nationalism, it is embarrassed to receive help from China, Lü said.

The current situation India is facing is another reminder to the international community on how an unreliable and selfish partner the US is. It has lost the moral high ground to interfere with other countries, Lü said. 

Instead of sharing vaccines with more developing countries, the US has not only implemented "America First" policy, but also smeared China and Russia for helping more countries to get access to vaccines as "vaccine diplomacy," which hinders the global fight against the pandemic, analysts said.