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the strategy of small gifts from India to its regional neighbors

Narendra Modi had promised to make available to “All of humanity” the production capacities of his country in terms of vaccine. The Indian Prime Minister is in the process of fulfilling his promise, by delivering his first commercial shipments – Brazil received 20 million doses on Friday, January 22 -, but above all by distributing millions of doses of free of charge to his neighbors in South Asia. Covishield, the vaccine from Britain’s AstraZeneca developed by Oxford and manufactured in India by the Serum Institut of India, the world’s leading vaccine producer. Twenty million doses will be offered.

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The initiative, which enters into the policy of “Neighborhood first” (“Neighborhood first”) of Modi, started on January 20. Some 100,000 doses have already been sent to the Maldives, 150,000 to Bhutan, 1 million to Nepal, 2 million to Bangladesh, 1.5 million to Burma. The country has even reserved 100,000 doses for Mauritius, 50,000 for the Seychelles, which brings together a large community of Indian expatriates. Afghanistan and Sri Lanka will also be served.

Only Pakistan, the historical enemy, is not on the list of beneficiaries. “We have not received a request”, assured the spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Pakistan hopes to receive 500,000 doses from China by January 31.

Trade war with Beijing

It is indeed a competition with China that is playing out behind this donation campaign. New Delhi has taken a step ahead of Beijing, whose vaccine, CoronaVac, is causing reluctance. Through his vaccine diplomacy, Narendra Modi hopes to re-establish links with his neighbors, weakened because of the growing weight of China in the region. In recent years, India has failed to thwart Beijing’s massive investments in the construction of ports, roads or power plants in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and especially Pakistan.

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Since April, the two Asian giants have been engaged in a merciless fight in the mountains of Ladakh to defend a line of demarcation sketched in 1962 but whose route remains contested. Playing on these tensions, as well as on China’s responsibility for the Covid-19 epidemic, Narendra Modi has engaged his country in a trade war with Beijing. He called for a boycott of Chinese products and banned hundreds of Chinese smartphone apps, like WeChat and Tik Tok.

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