Democratic countries also need to cooperate to wage a joint battle against Coronavirus so that their citizens keep faith in the institution of democracy.
By Raj Kumar Sharma
World’s most powerful democracy, the US and the largest democracy, India face an unprecedented threat in the history of mankind – Coronavirus. Democracies around the world like the US, Germany, France, Italy and the UK have been struggling against the pandemic as they debated how to strike balance between human rights and social security. Despite being the most prepared nation in the world to deal with a pandemic, the US, has faltered in its response to the virus, which by most accounts is believed to have originated in China. With more than 400,000 COVID-19 cases, the US is the unlikely hotspot of the virus. China, on the other hand, is promoting its authoritarian narrative of successfully containing the virus and has been aggressively trying to build its soft power by sending medical supplies and equipment to different countries. The world would know in times to come who dealt better with COVID-19 – authoritarian states or democracies. The Coronavirus wave is yet to peak in areas like South Asia, Latin America and Africa. How high population density regions like South Asia deal with Coronavirus would be critical in winning or losing the war against this pandemic. Democracies in the developing world would need to better manage their resources and showcase their resilience against this virus which can not only overwhelm the health sector but all institutions of the state. Democratic countries also need to cooperate to wage a joint battle against Coronavirus so that their citizens keep faith in the institution of democracy.
In February this year, President Trump had visited India and both he and PM Modi had waxed eloquent about deepening strategic relationship between India and the US. Little would they have known that the ties would be very soon tested by a non-living entity (virus). Trump has openly praised the potential of the anti-malaria drug, Hydroxychloroquine to stem the COVID-19 tsunami. The scientific community around the world remains divided over this issue and clinical trials are underway to assess the exact impact of Hydroxychloroquine on Coronavirus. India is the biggest manufacturer of Hydroxychloroquine with 70 per cent of world supply and had earlier imposed a ban on its export, keeping in view the domestic challenges to deal with COVID-19. India can manufacture 20 crore tablets of 200mg every month.
India’s ban on the export of Hydroxychloroquine may have further pressurised the beleaguered US President Trump. A lot has been said about Trump’s recent statement and his threat of retaliation against India if New Delhi did not export Hydroxychloroquine to the US. A contextual analysis is needed to empathise with the POTUS and understand his sentiments. These are tough times for the US, a friend and strategic partner of India. President Trump has a lot to handle in these testing times and this statement was made by him in an environment where the COVID-19 is testing America’s resilience and resolve. Seeing the immense American suffering, the Indian government rightly agreed to supply nearly 29 million doses of Hydroxychloroquine to the US on humanitarian grounds. Trump was effusive in his praise for PM Modi and said the US will always remember this gesture. His tweet thanking India was liked by more than 3.5 lakh people. India is called the pharmacy of the developing world but even the developed world would now possibly experience health security through India’s low cost and high-quality medicines. India supplies almost half of the generic drugs used in the US. One important lesson of Coronavirus is that the Indian and the US pharma companies should lessen their dependence on China and deepen mutual cooperation.
India and the US have been discussing a joint strategy to deal with COVID-19. The India-US joint statement issued after President Trump’s February visit mentioned continued joint efforts in the areas of prevention, early detection, and rapid outbreak response of Coronavirus. USAID has announced $2.9 million aid to India while the US-dominated World Bank has granted $1 billion to India to strengthen its defences against Coronavirus. It will be some time before the US is able to take control of its domestic situation and properly think of its international obligations in fighting the virus. It would also be interesting to see how Coronavirus impacts Trump’s America First policy. India, under PM Modi has shown the farsightedness to formulate a regional and global response to COVID-19. India took the lead in establishing the SAARC COVID-19 Emergency Fund and was also the main brain behind first-ever G-20 virtual summit called to formulate a coordinated response to Coronavirus. On their part, American and Indian Biotech and pharma companies should take advantage of suitable time zones and lead the efforts to develop a vaccine aided by artificial intelligence and machine learning. Questions would be asked from World Health Organization (WHO), whose role in this crisis has been heavily influenced by China. Deputy PM of Japan, Taro Aso has even said that WHO should be renamed as China Health Organization (CHO). India, the US along with Japan and Australia should coordinate their positions on this issue. After COVID-19, there would be enough scope for Indo-Pacific 2.0 strategy which should also include human security and responses to non-traditional threats like pandemics, climate change and food insecurity. There should be more collaboration between these countries over areas of science and technology as well.
The world today may not know about China’s real situation and response to COVID-19 but it will never be a secret forever. China had an image problem before Coronavirus and it would continue to have that problem in the post-Coronavirus world as well. Democracies like Japan and South Korea have had a far better response to the pandemic than China. Another democracy, Germany has been remarkable in checking the death rate of its Coronavirus patients. In bringing the post-pandemic world, experiences and collaboration between democracies will be critical and India and the US have an obligation to lead humanity’s fight against COVID-19.
(The author is Consultant, Faculty of Political Science, IGNOU, New Delhi. Views are personal.)