With deaths in the US crossing the 20,000-mark, China is starting to feel the heat on its handling of the corona-virus crisis. US allies Japan and Australia, it appears, have joined ranks to call out and penalise China for its inaction. While Australian lawmakers have attacked Beijing for “failing to contain the coronavirus” an Australian newspaper published a rebuttal to the Chinese consul-general’s criticism of its coverage of the epidemic. Japan has allocated $2.2 billion to help its manufacturers shift production out of China, signaling a shift in relations.
ThePrint asks: US, Australia, Japan target China on Covid-19. Should India join or act in self-interest?
China needs to be targeted as the source of the virus. It cannot disown its responsibility by seeking to change the narrative under our very eyes about its origin. China has to be called to account.
China has the capacity to resist as the world’s second-largest economy that controls supply chains and can provide much needed equipment to meet the immediate needs of afflicted countries. But, it will pay a price later on with the production of critical items in all fields progressively shifting out of China.
The UN Security Council has failed to address the crisis because of US-China differences. With US and Europe divided over affirming the virus’ China connection, Australia and Japan have shown solidarity with the former. India, as part of the Quad, could face pressure to join but it should be cautious in its public position at this stage, and prioritise its own battle against the virus. It cannot immediately disengage itself from China because of health sector links with it. Its self-interest requires pressure on China, which it can apply by seeking transparency about the source of the pandemic and emphasising the need for sharing all data that would help control it.
Clearly the processes and decisions that were adopted in China, particularly lack of transparency and silencing of those who wanted to share information, had an impact on the global spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. In a globalised world, given today’s levels of technology and communication — with supply chains, trade and investment having a strong link to China — it is critical that there is transparency in Chinese processes. The rest of the world can legitimately raise these issues because everyone bears the impact.
Chinese trade and investment in India have been growing but China has not been particularly helpful to India on political issues, be it in terms of India’s permanent membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) or raising issues at the UN Security Council. At the same time, there has been some cooperation from China in dealing with the Covid-19 crisis, including provision of PPE, as well as APIs for our generics manufacturers.
While India doesn’t have to get involved in an anti-China campaign, there is no harm in emphasising the need for greater transparency.
It is in India’s interest to join its Quad partners against China as the Chinese government bears the sole responsibility for the coronavirus disaster we are facing right now. While all countries make mistakes, what China did is that it actively covered up the outbreak of Covid-19 and allowed it to become a worldwide pandemic, showing utter disregard to the safety of the rest of the world. It actively colluded with the WHO to suppress information that could have helped others in dealing with the crisis earlier. And once the pandemic spread, the Chinese communist government actively engaged in an unbelievably crass effort to shift the blame to others.
In addition, Beijing has attempted to use the crisis to strengthen its regional and global political and military interest. India needs to stand with its Quad partners because it is in the interest of all Quad countries that China’s efforts to absolve itself of responsibility for this disaster, shift blame to others, and use this crisis to gain an advantage is countered. It is in India’s national interest to ensure that China does not shift blame for Covid-19 crisis and that the Quad cooperation is enhanced.
While the pandemic has wreaked havoc around the world, New Delhi should take a cautious approach when acting against China. This is certainly not the time for India to play its cards even though the clamour against cornering Beijing is growing louder by the day. The proper platform to discuss and debate the issue will be the UN Security Council, but countries are still contemplating on that and passing a resolution seems like a far-fetched dream.
India recently took efforts to hold a videoconference with SAARC leaders to discuss ways of tackling the pandemic. It was due to India’s efforts that the first virtual G20 summit happened where leaders discussed the Covid-19 crisis. India was also party to the last two meetings of the ‘Quad Plus’, which included the US, Japan and Australia, but it did not say much on China.
It will be imperative for India to take a strategic approach on this issue as New Delhi and Beijing have robust diplomatic ties. India has been sending medical supplies to China and also receiving critical supplies from them to fight the present situation. India also imports a number of APIs from China that helps India export critical drugs like hydroxychloroquine and paracetamol.