GP Insights

GP Insights # 462, 23 January 2021

India: New Delhi's re-engagement with neighbours through vaccine diplomacy
Akriti Sharma

What happened?
On 19 January, the Ministry of External Affairs announced that India would begin delivering the Indian-manufactured vaccine to six nations — Bhutan, Maldives, Bangladesh, Nepal, in response to neighbouring countries' requests Myanmar, and Seychelles. On the same day, Bhutan received its first batch of 1.5 lakh doses of Covishield developed by the Serum Institute of India (SII) followed by the Maldives which received one lakh doses.

On 21 January, Nepal received one million doses, and Bangladesh received two million doses of Covishield. Nepali PM KP Sharma Oli tweeted: "I thank Prime Minister Shri @narendramodi ji as well as the Government and people of India for the generous grant of one million doses of Covid vaccine to Nepal at this critical time when India is rolling out vaccination for it's own people". 

On 22 January, Myanmar received 1.5 million doses of Covishield. Mauritius and Seychelles also received vaccines.

What is the background?
First, India fulfilling its commitment to supply vaccines. Last year, the Indian Foreign Secretary and Minister of External Affairs visited Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and the Maldives to review the bilateral relations. These visits aimed to assist the countries facing pandemic induced challenges. India had also promised to provide the COVID-19 vaccines once they were developed and approved in the country. 

Second, neighbourhood pandemic challenges and India's helping hand. As of 22 January 2021, according to the data by the Johns Hopkins University, Nepal had 2,69,000 COVID-19 cases; Bangladesh had 5,30,000 cases; Myanmar had 1,36,000 cases. Inadequate healthcare facilities further worsened the situation. Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Seychelles, the Maldives, Bhutan, and Nepal faced an economic crisis because of their heavy dependence on the tourism sector suffered due to lockdowns and closing of international borders. New Delhi used this as an opportunity to demonstrate itself as a responsible regional player when the relations with neighbours were going through testing times. India utilized it to mend ties with the neighbourhood.

Third, the key role of the SII in manufacturing the jabs. World's largest vaccine manufacturer by volume, it played an important role in mass production of the vaccine based on Astrazeneca-Oxford candidate to meet domestic and international requirements. This enabled India to start the rollout and shipping of vaccines to the neighbourhood simultaneously.

What does it mean?
First, India has yet again proved to be the pharmaceutical powerhouse of the region. It has increased the reliability of India's healthcare sector on which its neighbours are heavily dependent. This will further bolster medical tourism in India.

Second, with an efficient mass production capacity, India will export vaccines to the other poor and middle-income countries as part of an arrangement with GAVI, the vaccine alliance. India will export vaccines to other regions like Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia. This will boost India's international standing, goodwill, and soft-power.

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