The US’ image among the Indian public is crumbling as India’s conoravirus cases soar, yet the US failed to offer any solid assistance. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted on Sunday, “Our hearts go out to the Indian people in the midst of the horrific COVID-19 outbreak. We are working closely with our partners in the Indian government…” But the rhetoric was defined by Indian netizens as “crocodile tears.” Most Indian net users who commented under the tweet share one consensus – the US is no friend in times of need.
Anti-US sentiment among Indians started to explode when the US, on April 22, dodged the Serum Institute of India’s request to lift an embargo on the supply of vaccine raw materials, while underlining the US “America First” approach in terms of vaccination. This is a blow to Indians. For those who advocated forging an alliance with the US, this could be argued is a slap in the face. Quite a few Indians are disappointed as this is a life-or-death moment for India, but the US is casting a cold eye.
When the US suffered from its coronavirus outbreak, India helped. There was a time when former US president Donald Trump called hydroxychloroquine a “game-changer” in fighting COVID-19 and threatened New Delhi with “retaliation” if India kept a full export ban. As a result, “India eased some of these restrictions in April and shipped 50 million tablets of the drug to the US that month,” Reuters reported.
Regardless of being pressured or not, India thinks it lent a helping hand. But now when New Delhi is in need, Washington is indifferent.
Worse, during the Quad summit held in March with leaders from the US, Japan, India and Australia, the other three countries pledged to work collaboratively to achieve expanded manufacturing of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines at facilities in India, and to “address financing and logistical demands for production, procurement, and delivery” of vaccines in an attempt to back India to compete with China in the field of vaccine diplomacy. Yet not long after, when COVID-19 cases are exploding in India, the US still will not ease its restrictions on exports of COVID-19 vaccine raw materials to India. This makes Indians feel betrayed.
The rising anti-US sentiment will become an alarm bell to Indian elites. Over the past few years, India’s foreign policy, especially its US strategy, has been profoundly impacted by pro-US forces. The new development will at least prompt them to reflect. Yet it is too early to tell whether their pro-US stance will fundamentally change.
In terms of foreign strategy, India is taking China as its biggest threat. Economically, it is mulling how to replace China and build a new value and industrial chain centered on India. If that does not change, India will keep moving closer to the US.
Yet when doing so, the Indian government is also having a tough time. It is anxious about whether it will completely lose its strategic autonomy, hurt its balancing status in the Indo-Pacific region and Eurasia, and fully descend to a US pawn.
India does not trust the US. Voices from Indian politicians and scholars which remind the Indian government not to be too reliant the US can be heard from time to time. Such concern is quite realistic, which can be vividly proved today. The US has administered 225.6 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, Reuters reported on Sunday. And the US will probably have “at least 300 million excess doses or more” by the end of July, according to the Washington Post. It has more than enough and could certainly provide assistance to other countries. But it showed no interest in doing so.
There could be many reasons for US aloofness toward India. One of them might be that Washington is pondering whether New Delhi is worth saving. The US might have evaluated that the epidemic in India is much worse than reported. If such a devastating situation continues, India’s economy and society might break down, and in an extreme case, the current government may fall from power.
The deteriorating epidemic in India will thus have a direct impact on the geopolitical situation in the region. But what impact could it be? It will depend on how the epidemic unfolds there.
For a country as big as India which is suffering from such a severe epidemic, no one can save it except for the country itself. But the Indian government and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party have not put Indian people’s lives above everything else. It has not yet placed a strict lockdown for the fear of the impact on the economy, and now the country has come to where it is today. This should be what Indian people should seriously reflect on.
The author is secretary-general of the Research Center for China-South Asia Cooperation at Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, visiting fellow of the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China and distinguished fellow of the China (Kunming) South Asia & Southeast Asia Institute.