President Donald Trump in a press-briefing hinted at possible retaliatory measures if India stopped supplies of hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug being tried for treating COVID-19 patients in the US and other places. He did not elaborate on potential retaliation and instead tried to play down and assuage such fear by emphasising the strong ties between the two countries. A section of Indian media, however, interpreted it as a potential warning by the US president to India. Fight against COVID -19 is global with territorial controls and peculiarities that require a concerted international response, experts say.
Prof Rajan Kumar, School of International Studies, JNU, tells Financial Express Online, that “As India witnesses a surge in COVID-19 cases, it has banned the export of several drugs and medical equipment to other countries. A few days ago, a controversy had erupted over reports of India exporting 90 tonnes of personal protection equipment (PPE) for healthcare professionals to Serbia for humanitarian purposes. The opposition parties criticised this as an ill-advised policy of the government which compromises with the security of its citizens.”
The situation in the US has turned alarming with nearly 400,000 cases and the administration is struggling to acquire protective gears for healthcare professionals and medicines for the patients. “With most of the states having banned the export of such goods, countries are finding it extremely difficult to obtain them from outside. Recently, a German official accused the US of ‘modern piracy’ after a shipment of mask intended for Germany was confiscated in Bangkok and diverted to the US. Italy and Serbia accused Germany of withholding the supplies of medical goods. The European Union failed to function as an effective institution and the states were left on their own to deal with the pandemic,” opines Prof Kumar.
“As far as the issue of hydroxychloroquine is concerned, the US administration authorised the use of chloroquine for emergency and severely ill patients. President Trump touted this drug as a ‘game-changer’ following which its demand increased manifold. India is one of the biggest manufacturers of this drug, but with the rising cases of corona afflicted patients in its own territory, it does not have many options but to save the limited resources for its own citizens. Every state is following the same policy, and India is not an exception,” he adds.
Sharing his views, ambassador Anil Trigunayat says, “National governments in over 190 countries are fighting their own battles and since it has spread with travels and human touch international cooperation is a given. It is in this context that PM Modi had reached out to Saarc leaders and enabled virtual meetings with G20 and other leaders. Only last week President Trump spoke to Indian PM and discussed joint collaboration in this fight against Corona epidemic. Reportedly he also wished India to lift export controls on the malaria drug Hydroxychloroquine. Several other countries had also requested India likewise. India agreed to look into it as only earlier in the week it had completely banned its import along with some other key related requirements. It is, of course, the priority of the government to provide for its own people first.”
“However given our strategic relationship with US, West Asian and African and BRICS countries and humanitarian considerations India is likely to consider the requests as a goodwill gesture and as being an important voice for international diplomacy and collaboration. As for President Trump’s reportedly veiled threat to retaliate if India did not accede to the requests…less said the better. Occasional ill-conceived reactions and ramblings are better ignored as they do not contribute to the well being of the people and bilateral relationship,” Trigunayat states.
“It is in our interest to ensure, to the extent possible, that our partners and friends do not suffer unnecessarily and are able to cope with this situation. If our partners suffer, obviously that hurts us too,” says Prof Rajesh Rajagopalan, School of International Studies, JNU.
“No government can be expected to take care of the requirements of others first before taking care of domestic demands, especially in a crisis like this. But to the extent that we have enough production capacity and stocks, we are also likely to take care of our friends and partners, especially when they are dealing with such a serious situation and given their dire needs,” he adds.