Focused on eliciting global cooperation to fight COVID pandemic

US blamed Beijing for covering up the start of the COVID epidemic, while China has accused the US military of developing coronavirus.

India has refrained from taking sides in the ongoing US-China spat over the origin of the COVID virus in order to keep the focus on controlling the epidemic.

The resolve to stay neutral came on a day the government signed a $500 million COVID project with the China-dominated Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

While the US has blamed Beijing for covering up the start of the epidemic, China has suggested that the US military might have developed the virus last month.

India is in favour of the WHO being given more teeth but is currently in no mood to take sides.

“We want to see the mandate of WHO strengthened in order to increase its capacity to handle crisis of this nature. But on the US-China tussle, we will come to it subsequently when we have more breathing space to deal with it,” said a source.

India is depending on China controlled banks as well as those dominated by the US to provide emergency funding to improve the health infrastructure as well as provide stimulus to the poor and the small and medium enterprises.

India has already availed $ 1 billion from the Shanghai-based New Development Bank (NDB) and Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has sought a doubling of the amount.

Another reason for India’s reluctance to get caught in the US-China crossfire is that it is amalgamating funding from rival sources. In the latest case, the $ 1.5 billion project size to shore up the emergency response and health systems is being financed not just by AIIB but the World Bank as well.

This project will cover all states and UTs across India and address the needs of infected people, at risk populations, medical and emergency personnel and service providers, medical and testing facilities, and national and animal health agencies.

Besides availing $ 1 billion from the World Bank, India has also obtained a tranche of $ 1.5 billion from the Asian Development Bank.

Sources said External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar had also sought to keep the focus on eliciting global cooperation to fight the pandemic.

In fact, they said all of India’s conversations, from the level of heads of government to senior officials, were focused on cooperating and collaborating in developing vaccines and therapeutic medicines besides keeping the supply chains functioning.