India scores big with medical diplomacy, prepares to play larger role

In the wake of COVID-19, India, with its medical diplomacy, struck the right chords and made the best use of its soft power stature in this crisis and has been trying to fill the global leadership vacuum, writes V K Samudrala for South Asia Monitor

Samudrala VK May 05, 2020

As the entire world has been preoccupied with a mammoth task of battling COVID-19 pandemic, India's proactive and generous diplomacy at the international level in dealing with this crisis would be a feather in its cap. It is unfortunate that the bad blood between the US and China has once again resurfaced at the moment when collective action at the global level is the need of the hour. The geopolitical tussle between the two has reared its ugly head in the midst of this heightened crisis. US President Donald Trump has been trying to sweep his blunders under the carpet and burning bridges with his virulent remarks against the World Health Organization (WHO). It is clear that nations like the US and the UK, countries with most sophisticated health systems, have failed to nip corona spread in the bud.

WHO, an esteemed organization which is known for its efforts and achievements at the global health space has become a sitting duck at the hands of the US president for its alleged mishandling of the crisis and being too "China-centric". Apart from freezing of funds and scapegoating the  WHO, the Trump administration has been looking for existing and new alternative channels to reroute it's USAID (United States Agency for International Development)-an independent body which oversees the US foreign aid  and developmental assistance-funds to detour middleman i.e., the WHO. Trump, known for his hardball political tactics and bellicosity, has been trying to window dress his litany of failures by finger-pointing at a 70-year-old Geneva-based organization, WHO. Adding insult to injury, Trump is leaving no stone unturned to lambast at media houses that are not dancing to his tune. Initially, the US president, who has excelled the art of passing the buck, downgraded the calamitous nature of the virus and lallygagged at the precious time as a result of which the US has become a new epicenter of the COVID-19.

As the US seems inward-looking, countries which are overly dependent on the US for support have fallen into dire straits during these tough times. The US foreign policy, under the leadership of Trump, has not only turned into a state of morass but also filled with sheer claptrap and a series of flip-flops in the matters of its own national interest.

As the insidious virus is swirling across the world, it is more important to iron out the differences between the US and China for the greater good of humanity. It is clear that the US has missed the bus and failed to lead the battle against the invisible enemy, COVID-19. It is preposterous to give the WHO the cold shoulder which has its presence all around the globe and has been at the forefront of the battle against many deadly outbreaks, both communicable and non-communicable diseases. The time has come to let bygones be bygones between the major powers and strengthen global health infrastructure in the fight against the deadly menace of COVID-19 and be prepared to deal with similar sorts of outbreaks in the future. It is important to realize that the entire humanity is in the same boat and has been facing an existential threat which in turn requires a collective and expeditious global response.

At a time when the major powers around the globe are struggling to stem the tide of coronavirus, India, shelving its lackadaisical attitude in the matters of global significance, extended a helping hand to the nations all around the world. In the wake of COVID-19, India, with its medical diplomacy, struck the right chords and made the best use of its soft power stature in this crisis and has been trying to fill the global leadership vacuum.

Ever since the South Asian region experienced the first wave of the COVID-19, India has been actively engaging with the SAARC nations by supporting them with the critical medical supplies like hand sanitizers, forehead sensors, PPE(personal protection equipment), surgical masks, and so on. As part of its humanitarian aid, India pledged $10 million for the SAARC coronavirus emergency fund. To ensure global food security, India has delivered food grain stocks to countries like Afghanistan and Lebanon upon request. The export of anti-malaria drug Hydroxychloroquine to almost 60 countries around the world, including the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), except China, remained as the jewel in the crown of India's medical diplomacy. India has also mooted the idea to create a common electronic platform for the SAARC nations to exchange information and share best practices in their race against COVID-19. 

The subcontinental giant, India, has also been sending its medical health professionals and offering technical assistance to various countries across the Asian region to supplement their efforts against the deadly virus. New Delhi has been walking on eggshells as Beijing's "mask diplomacy" has backfired in Europe due to the delivery of shoddy products to afflicted countries. It is pertinent to realize that apart from the global concerted action, there is no silver bullet to obliterate this invisible enemy.

The COVID-19 pandemic has altered almost every aspect of human life and global politics is no exception. It is clear that the pandemic effect, which challenged the West-led global order, would lead to a paradigm shift in the arena of international politics in terms of power and influence. Players like Brazil, Germany, India, and Japan are waiting in the wings to secure permanent member status in the UNSC. Finally, the time has arrived to revamp international institutions in a democratic way and let new players design the architecture to deal with the 21st century global challenges.

(The writer is a columnist on international affairs and trade)