Former Indian Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal has said the so-called race between India and China to supply COVID jabs to other countries is not the “correct” way to look at things. He said this while pointing out that even the joint production capacity of the two Asian powerhouses wouldn’t be enough to meet the global demand for inoculation towards the end of 2021.
“The needs of the world are so huge that neither India nor China could alone meet the demands”, Sibal, who has previously served as New Delhi’s top envoy to Moscow, among other diplomatic postings, told Sputnik on Monday.
Gavi, the vaccine alliance which is coordinating the COVAX Vaccine Initiative with the World Health Organisation (WHO), has already expressed fears that the demand for COVID jabs worldwide will “far outstrip” the global supply.
The COVAX initiative aims to distribute nearly two billion doses of COVID jabs to 190 countries, which include nations that are capable of financing their own vaccine programmes as well as those that need foreign aid for the roll-out of their inoculation programmes.
Ex-Indian diplomat Sibal points out that even India’s own domestic demand for COVID jabs was “enormous”, despite the fact that the South Asian country was emerging as one of the biggest vaccine production centres.
“Despite India’s own domestic demand, New Delhi is trying to strike a balance between inoculating its own population and discharging its international commitments”, he said, adding that New Delhi’s approach was in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “philosophy” that vaccines should be available at affordable prices to everyone around the world.
As of 4 March, India had supplied 46.4 million doses of Made-in-India COVID vaccines to 47 countries around the world. Nearly 7.1 million doses of Indian-made COVID vaccines were donated as “gifts”, while the rest were sold on commercial terms.
Beijing, on the other hand, has also taken orders for around 46 million COVID jabs from countries in Asia, Africa, and South America to date, as per Reuters news agency.
Several media reports over the last few weeks have compared the “vaccine diplomacy” of India with that of China, as commentators have viewed the race to supply COVID vaccines as part of a global power push by New Delhi and Beijing.
India Looking for Help From Quad Allies?
A recent news report by Reuters claimed that Indian officials had even sought funding from other members of the Quad, an informal alliance comprising Australia, Japan, India, and the US, to ramp up its vaccine production to “match” China’s.
The Reuters report cited two Indian government officials as claiming that the request for funding was made during a Quad foreign ministers’ call on 18 February, when US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Indian External Affairs Minister Subramanyam Jaishankar, their Australian counterpart Marisa Payne, and Japan’s Toshimitsu Motegi conducted a telephonic conversation.
According to government readouts after the call, the officials of the four democracies discussed advancing cooperation in combating the COVID pandemic.
The Reuters news report, citing Indian government sources, noted that the focus of the discussion on the COVID vaccine was that the Quad countries should “secure” key markets in urgent need of COVID jabs.
It also said that India had approached American-German vaccine candidate Pfizer-BioNTech to convince them to manufacture their shots in India.
Former Foreign Secretary Sibal feels that it would be in the “global interest” if the Quad countries help in bolstering the production capacity of India, which is home to the world’s biggest vaccine development facility at the Serum Institute of India (SII) in Pune city in Maharashtra state.
“The Quad countries, especially the US, should understand that they can’t seek to undermine Chinese vaccines in order to promote the Indian ones. When it comes to supplying COVID jabs, the US and China must not think of themselves as competitors”, said Sibal, reacting to the Reuters report.
Further, the news report also alleged that US officials had expressed reservations about helping India with the production of the Russian vaccine candidate Sputnik V. "The US must keep its rivalries aside when it comes to helping the world fight the epidemic", suggested Sibal.