New Delhi: The US and China seem to be “competing” against each other over who is giving more aid to cash-strapped South Asian economies to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
But India is concerned that the US and China are taking advantage of the vulnerability and the unprecedented crisis that these countries are facing in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, official sources told ThePrint.
The US announced Friday that it has offered development assistance to the tune of $1 million to Pakistan through its development agency USAID to “bolster monitoring and rapid response” to the increasing number of coronavirus cases there.
With at least 301 coronavirus patients until Thursday, Pakistan has, so far, registered the highest number of COVID-19 cases in South Asia.
The U.S.-Pakistan government partnership is helping fight #COVID19. The U.S. government is responding to #COVID-19 in #Pakistan with initial $1 million in @USAID_Pakistan funding to bolster monitoring & rapid response.
— State_SCA (@State_SCA) March 19, 2020
Before the US’ aid to Pakistan, China had announced a fund of about $4 million along with 30,00,000 face masks, 10 ventilators and other equipment to help Islamabad tackle the pandemic.
India, meanwhile, has already pledged a contribution of $10 million towards a ‘SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) Emergency COVID-19 Fund’ out of which $1 million has already been disbursed, according to Raveesh Kumar, spokesperson, Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).
China’s aid to Sri Lanka
Besides announcing aid for Pakistan, China has also offered a concessionary loan of $500 million to Sri Lanka.
Beijing will be offering the loan to Colombo over a period of 10 years with a three-year grace period along with concessionary interest rates.
An agreement in this regard was signed between Sri Lanka’s Finance Ministry and the China Development Bank on 18 March in the presence of Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and Chargé d’affaires of the Chinese embassy Hu Wei in Colombo.
“The inflow of the funding is set to be implemented by the end of March and expected to increase the official foreign reserves of Sri Lanka to better manage the finance and fight coronavirus,” said a press statement issued by the Chinese embassy.
The US, on the other hand, has already announced disbursement of aid through USAID and other US government investments under the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) for countries such as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan.
On Friday, the Chinese government organised a video conference with 19 South Asian and Eurasian countries.
Senior MEA officials and those from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare took part in the video conference.
(1/2)China held Video Conference on Prevention and Control of COVID—19 with the Eurasian and South Asia Region.Senior Indian officials and scientists from MOHFW and MEA discussed the efforts in combating the epidemic with the Chinese counterparts. pic.twitter.com/VeNjKaE0tA
— Sun Weidong (@China_Amb_India) March 20, 2020
‘India should just wait and watch’
Experts have said India should just now wait and watch, and focus on domestic challenges.
Former Indian intelligence officer and president of the Centre for China Analysis and Strategy Jayadeva Ranade said both the US and China have the resources and, therefore, they have engaged in a competition.
“This is like a game, a competition that is being played out by both these countries (the US and China) as they have the wherewithal and resources available. Both are fighting it out where the virus originated from and now both are competing with the aid that is being given,” he said.
“Yes, in the long run, it is indeed a cause of concern for India, but we should let it be. We cannot match their dollars, we have already done enough by announcing the $10 million fund and now we should focus on our domestic challenges,” added Ranade.
He also said since the situation is unprecedented, India should wait and watch, and focus on the humanitarian aid it has offered to the SAARC countries.
Anil Wadhwa, former secretary (East), MEA, and now a distinguished fellow in the Vivekananda International Foundation, said: “The Chinese feel they need to now claw back their reputation. This will surely give rise to some rivalry between India and China. India should now just wait and watch. The US has deep pockets so it can afford to. They are now dependent on Pakistan for the peace deal in Afghanistan.”
Wadhwa also said India should now focus more on strategic projects like the port it is developing in Sri Lanka in collaboration with Japan.
He added all the aid offered by China will be utilised in the future when it comes up with a coronavirus vaccine.