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[Burning Issue] The COVID chapter in Indian Diplomacy

The outbreak and spread of COVID-19 has created multiple challenges for the entire world. Apart from primary challenges like containing the spread of the virus and treating infected patients, there are rising political issues such as the blame game between US and China, crumbling role of WHO and questions about the future world order. Amid this entire crisis, India has been playing an important role as reflected in the praises being heaped on our PM from worldwide, paving way for stronger future partnerships. This also creates an opportunity for India’s so-called “medical diplomacy” which is already growing at an unprecedented scale.

Background

  • The spread of COVID at lightning speed has exposed the void in collective leadership at the global level.
  • The contemporary global order and institutions have proved to be hegemonic exercises meant to deal with isolated political and military crises but failed to serve humanity at large.
  • To top it all, the worst nativist tendencies of the global leaders are visible in the face of this major crisis.
  • The fact that UNSC took so long to meet (that too inconclusively) to discuss the pandemic is a ringing testimony to the UN’s insignificance.
  • In this global chaos, India’s handling of the pandemic and its bilateral moves, shows India’s mettle to awaken the conscience of the superpowers and catalyse collective global action.

The World on its knees (credits COVID-19)

Fall of WHO

  • WHO is under criticism for giving China too much benefit of the doubt at the beginning of this pandemic.
  • At the center of public outrage, WHO is now being mimicked as “Chinese Health Organisation” even as it is at the forefront of fighting its worldwide spread.
  • The largest contributor to WHO’s finance, the US has halted its funding making WHO a paper organisation.

The Trumplomacy

  • The US decision to suspend contributions to the WHO is an extraordinary act of moral abdication and international vandalism at a time when the world desperately needs to find means of working together.
  • From unnecessary trade war to an increasingly desperate coronavirus war, US and China are trapped in a blame game with no easy way out.
  • Weakened economically and politically after COVID-19, U.S.’s capacity to play a critical role in world affairs is diminishing.

EU woes

  • The EU, the most progressive post-national regional arrangement, stood clueless when the virus spread like wildfire in Europe.
  • Its member states turned inward for solutions: self-help, not regional coordination, was their first instinct.
  • These regional institutions haven’t fared any better in the past as well.
  • Europe, in the short and medium-term, will prove incapable of defining and defending its common interests, let alone having any influence in world affairs.

Problems in West Asia

  • In West Asia, both Saudi Arabia and Iran are set to face difficult times.
  • The oil price meltdown will aggravate an already difficult situation across the region.
  • There may be no victors, but Israel may be one country that is in a position to exploit this situation to its advantage.
  • Israel could exploit this situation to strengthen its control over Palestine (benefiting from its dependency) and crush the Hamas.

Looming global depression

  • Neoliberal economic globalization may face a major beating in the wake of the pandemic and signs of the global recession are eminent.
  • The pre-existing structural weakness of the global order will further feed states’ protectionist tendencies fueled by hyper-nationalism.

The Great Strategist: China

  • China is seeking to convert its ‘failure’ into a significant opportunity. This is Sino-centrism at its best, or possibly its worst for the world.

 Point in Case

  • China has surprisingly accelerated its movements in the South China Sea.
  • It plans using its manufacturing capability to its geo-economic advantage.
  • There are enough reports of China’s intentions to acquire financial assets and stakes in banks and companies across the world amid crisis.
  • Shares in HDFC: India seems to have woken up only recently to this threat after the Peoples’ Bank of China acquired a 1% stake in India’s HDFC.

Taking advantage of RCEP and Belt and Road Initiative

  • Restricting hostile takeovers may not be adequate to checkmate China.
  • It is poised to dominate the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
  • It will enable China to exploit market access across the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, East Asian nations, Australia and New Zealand.
  • Together with its Belt and Road Initiative, China is ostensibly preparing the way for a China-centric multilateral globalization framework.

India steps in as a Leader

  • India has been proactive at both the domestic level – the steps taken to tackle the crisis at home — and the diplomatic level — India’s assistance to other countries, especially in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), amid the pandemic.
  • Despite the existing domestic challenges emanating out of the pandemic, India has decided to render possible help to countries like the US, a few European, African, and Latin American countries, as well as countries in the Middle East by providing medicines and sending medical professionals.

What steps did India take?

  • The first element of India’s medical diplomacy includes issuing speedy clearances for the export of the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine – seen as useful in the treatment of patients suffering from the novel coronavirus – at the last count to 55 countries.
  • The second element includes dispatch of Indian military doctors teams to countries like Nepal, the Maldives and Kuwait to help local administrations draw up plans to combat the spread of this pandemic.

India and IOR

1) Early evacuations

  • One of the first steps taken by India was to evacuate citizens of different countries along with its own citizens from Wuhan, China, the epicentre of the first COVID-19 outbreak.
  • Those evacuated as compassionate cases includes citizens from IOR countries such as Bangladesh, Myanmar, the Maldives, South Africa, and Madagascar.
  • India not only evacuated these people but also quarantined them in India as a precautionary measure before sending them to their respective countries.

2) Supply of essential medicines

  • India has emerged as a major supplier of medicines to different countries worldwide in the fight against COVID-19.
  • As part of that effort, India was the first responder to Mauritius and Seychelles.
  • Accordingly, India sent a consignment of life-saving drugs, including hydroxychloroquine, to Mauritius and Seychelles.

3) Settling the neighbourhood irritants

  • In the past few months, India’s relations were strained to owe to Iran and Malaysia’s criticisms of India on CAA issue.
  • However, recently India and Iran cooperated with each other in order to evacuate Indians stranded in Iran.
  • Apart from this, India has sent a wheat consignment to Afghanistan through Iran’s Chabahar port.
  • With respect to Malaysia, India has agreed to supply anti-malarial drugs, indicating an improvement in bilateral relations.

India and Middle-East

  • While the current Indian government has been placing immense importance on promoting its “Neighborhood First” policy, it is simultaneously strengthening overall cooperation with its “extended neighbours.”
  • This is where the Middle Eastern countries come to the fore.

Extending the cooperation

  • India’s cooperation with this region has become more comprehensive, moving beyond the oil-energy trade to include military-security ties, maritime cooperation, strategic oil reserves, joint energy exploration projects, and mutual investments.
  • India has dispatched a team of 15 doctors and healthcare professionals to assist the efforts of the Kuwaiti government in its fight against the pandemic.
  • Jordan, UAE and Oman are some of the countries to whom India has supplied hydroxychloroquine (HCQ).
  • Apart from the above-mentioned Arab countries, India has also provided medical-related and humanitarian assistance to Israel, which is one of its largest arms suppliers.

India and SAARC

  • India has assumed leadership of the South Asian charge against COVID-19.
  • India has backed to set up an emergency fund to fight the rapid spread of Covid-19 pandemic and has pledged $10 million toward this emergency fund.

India and US

  • India lifted the ban on HCQ, displaying its ability to rise above politics despite Trump’s consistent politicization of COVID-19 response efforts.

The thought behind Indian Diplomacy

1) Acting in-principle with Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam

  • At this crucial juncture when almost every part of the globe is engulfed by the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, India has taken a step forward by providing medical assistance to some of its international partners.
  • Precisely, India has been propagating the ancient Sanskrit dictum Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, meaning “the world is one family.”
  • Such goodwill reflects the evolving nature of the Indian foreign policy, and this has gradually been acknowledged by other countries.

2) India chose collaboration over confrontation

  • Crises bring out the best and worst in individuals, and the same appears to be the case for nation-states.
  • While rivals China and the US engage in a high-profile war of words amidst the COVID-19 crisis, India has chosen the approach of collaboration over confrontation.
  • This approach also provided India with an opportunity to address the irritants in its ties with countries, most notably Iran and Malaysia.

3) Being the global pharmacy

  • India is often dubbed “the pharmacy of the world” that produces 70 per cent of the world’s HCQ.
  • The Indian pharma industry is the world’s third-largest drug producer by volume and the country’s market manufactures 60 per cent of vaccines globally.

4) Addressing the ‘threat everywhere’

  • Covid-19 does not respect borders – even closed ones – and its continued transmission anywhere poses a threat to health everywhere.
  • If the pandemic worsens, intensive international cooperation will be required to get expertise and resources to where they are needed the most – especially as the disease takes root in impoverished countries in the Global South.

5) Occupying the vacuum generated

  • The COVID-19 crisis presents an opportunity for India. This entire crisis has put the focus on China from different quarters.
  • At present, more and more countries in the world have an unfavourable opinion about China.
  • On the other hand, India has been nimble-footed enough to take this opportunity and build up goodwill, which could result in elevated status in the post-COVID-19 period.

Conclusion

  • History teaches us that the collective action needed to address this crisis will not just emerge spontaneously – it must be built painfully, step by step, by countries that trust one another and are able to look beyond their own immediate interests.
  • Indian diplomacy has been often accused as a response to the transactional discussions. However, India is making genuine sacrifices to show international solidarity and not to monger profits.
  • India’s foreign policy has instilled this principle in letter and spirit and is acting accordingly because of even the smallest contribution matters.

Way ahead

  • The new world order is on the way. The spread of concepts like “before corona” and “after corona” will become commonplace.
  • Far-reaching changes can be anticipated in the realm of geo-economics and geopolitics.
  • India is gearing up itself for the emerging challenges on various fronts.
  • The effort and message are clear: India’s careful diplomacy reflects a balance between the country’s values and interests.
  • The Indian act of generosity has turned the world attention towards India and is sure to open doors towards deeper ties around the world in the near future.

 




References

https://www.civilsdaily.com/news/covid-19-and-the-crumbling-world-order/

https://www.civilsdaily.com/burning-issue-world-health-organization-who-and-coronavirus-handling/

https://thediplomat.com/2020/04/indias-indian-ocean-diplomacy-in-the-covid-19-crisis/

https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/the-deep-void-in-global-leadership/article31200881.ece

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