US makes U-turn on aiding India, motivation questioned
Published: Apr 27, 2021 12:33 AM
A patient breathes with the help of oxygen provided by a Gurdwara, a place of worship for Sikhs, inside an auto rickshaw parked under a tent along the roadside amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic in Ghaziabad on Monday. Photo: VCG

A patient breathes with the help of oxygen provided by a Gurdwara, a place of worship for Sikhs, inside an auto rickshaw parked under a tent along the roadside amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic in Ghaziabad on Monday. Photo: VCG

 Under tremendous pressure, the US, which has remained silent in face of the unprecedented humanitarian crisis in India, an important partner to Washington's Indo-Pacific strategy, over the weekend, finally responded positively, pledging medical aid such as raw materials for vaccines and oxygen concentrators. Such a U-turn in attitude is largely driven by geopolitical interests, in addition to countries' actual concerns about the epidemic crisis, and displays how this so-called political alliance failed to address India's major concerns, experts said. 

At least a dozen countries and regions have expressed their willingness as of Monday to help India which has been engulfed by devastating scenes, such as packed hospitals, outdoor non-stop cremation, and people begging for oxygen. The message sent by the White House, indeed, appeared to come out "too late" as the US government has been heavily criticized for being selfish and hypocritical by offering too little aid to India in the past few days. Ironically, just last month, the US-led Quad alliance within which India is a major partner, shed light on cooperation of the group regarding vaccines and the COVID-19 fight. 

With pictures showing over 300 oxygen concentrators being loaded at JFK airport in the US, which were on their way to Delhi, the Biden administration finally acted upon India's SOS calls, pledging to offer medical supplies such as rapid diagnostic test kits, ventilators, and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), the White House said on Sunday, adding that the US would also make raw materials required for producing vaccines in India "immediately available."

Anthony Fauci, the top medical advisor for the US government, was quoted as saying in media reports on Sunday that the US will consider sending AstraZeneca Plc's vaccine doses, currently unapproved for use in the US, to India despite AstraZeneca's vaccines lately raising concerns regarding blood clots. 

'Too early to be happy'

"We have to be honest about the humanitarian angle, India is facing arguably the worst surge of COVID-19 the world has seen yet and many people are likely to die due to the country's over-strained infrastructure," Tom Fowdy, a British political and international relations analyst, told the Global Times on Monday. 

However, the European and the US' focus toward India is obviously motivated by their geopolitical "Indo-Pacific" strategies, and the US wants to use India as a tool to attack China with as opposed to a sincere concern for Indians themselves, Fowdy noted. 

Although the US has vowed to ship medical supplies to India in the coming days with Indian media reports saying Air India plans to transport about 600 oxygen concentrators in the next two days, the supplies have actually been ordered by private entities according to the reports. Meanwhile, India's public health system is facing collapse as described by local media, with various hospitals across the country continuing to grapple with severe shortages of oxygen and some Indian netizens slammed New Delhi for acting as a concierge for wealthy citizens.  

The Biden administration has only partially lifted export ban of raw materials for vaccine production, following growing pressure from vaccine producers, according to the New York Times. 

As the US can meet their domestic requirements for vaccines and has enough stockpiles, it may offer limited raw materials for producing vaccines to India to showcase that it is helping. The US won't help India by transferring a proportion of its technology. Help from the US will remain limited, Tian Guangqiang, assistant research fellow with the National Institute of International Strategy at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Monday. 

Even with raw materials export ban partially lifted in the US, India is still unable to produce the vaccines it needs. Moreover, given the severe situation and surging infection numbers, vaccines will not stop the pandemic immediately as it takes a period of time to create antibodies, Tian said, noting the situation in India is not optimistic.

Zhang Wenhong, China's leading infectious disease expert and head of the Shanghai COVID-19 medical team, said in a post on social media on Sunday night that even with the massive inoculation drive, it won't stop the virus from spreading in India. Given the low inoculation rate in India, the rate of vaccination won't catch up with the speed of virus transmission. 

The total number of inoculations in India is just behind that of the US and China, however, given its huge population, the single-dose vaccination rate is 8 percent, which is still relatively low and can't stop the virus from spreading to more places.

Experts suggested that India should take strict lockdown measures to slow down infections, isolate patients and increase medical staff and equipment to promote the capability of medical care. It should also turn to the WHO, the US, China or ASEAN for help.

China has expressed its willingness twice in the last few days to help India fight its recent COVID-19 surge and will provide support within its capacity if requested. In response to questions on what China thinks about the effectiveness of the Quad with one of its recent agenda items being anti-virus cooperation, India seems to have received little help from the other three countries, Wang Wenbin, spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, told a routine press conference on Monday that China hopes the related countries can offer help within their capacity to fulfill their international responsibility and obligations.

It remains unclear whether the National Health Commission of China would dispatch more medical support to India, which will depend on the consultation between China and India, but Chinese companies, associations and individuals have been actively responding to India's SOS calls lately. 

India epidemic Photo: VCG

India epidemic Photo: VCG

China came to help 

On Monday, 800 oxygen concentrators were airlifted from China's Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to Delhi and 10,000 more in a week, the Chinese Embassy in Sri Lanka tweeted on Monday. It also wrote that "China is keeping in touch with India regarding urgent needs."

Chinese medical suppliers across the country are receiving a surge in orders from India. For example, Jiangsu Yuyue Medical Equipment told media on Monday that it received an order of about 18,000 oxygen machines from Indian medical institutions in recent days.

Clients from India have ordered seven CT scanners from MinFound in the last fortnight, a person who is in charge of the overseas market, surnamed Zhang, from the Zhejiang-based MinFound Medical Systems Co, told the Global Times on Sunday. All CT scanners are self-developed products, according to Zhang.

China and India maintain communication on the matter, Wang, the spokesperson said, noting that medical supplies provided by Chinese firms so far are normal procurements. 

Changing attitude for what?

While the US offering assistance has been hailed by some Indian people, Chinese experts considered such a sudden change in attitude "was not surprising at all," as the Biden administration has been facing a backlash lately. In addition, some experts also pointed out that the US is taking advantage of India's humanitarian crisis - as Washington wants to use minimum resources to push India to come closer to the US. 

It's not surprising to see the US adopting such old-fashioned tactics of paying little attention to other countries' crisis first but suddenly appearing to be "willing" to offer urgent help. What has happened to India recently proves this point," Li Haidong, a professor at the Institute of International Relations of the China Foreign Affairs University, told the Global Times on Monday. 

The US would often turn down requests from partners when they ask for help, he said, noting that promises and help come at the last-minute from the US as it would help it gain more from the partner with less offering.