June Analysis: International Relations and Foreign Affairs

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The COVID-19 Pandemic and its Geopolitical Implications in Nepal

Inflow of International Assistance Continues

DateInternational Aids
June 5Australian Government has provided supplies worth 1.8 million AUD which includes face shields, gloves and surgical masks
June 9Germany provided 112 ventilators, 2,068,500 K95 masks, 29,000 pulse oximeters, 34,030,000 surgical masks, 5 isolation centre tents, 400 gum boots, 25,000 litres of hand sanitizers among other supplies
June 18Denmark has provided 26 ventilators, 50 nasal flow canula and other essential medical supplies. Ireland provided 72 oxygen concentrators, 44 ventilators, 12 BPAP machines, 400 oximeters and other essential supplies.
June 27Canada has provided 27 ventilators, 15,048 face shields and 1,890 disposable gowns to Nepal. Italy provided 20 ventilators, 6,000 isolation gowns and 10,000 protective supplies.
Photo: RSS

As the country is still grappling with COVID-19 pandemic, the government had called out for international support. In response to government’s request for help to fight against the pandemic, many countries from Europe and elsewhere including Italy, Denmark, Germany and Ireland extended their support to Nepal. Although, these nations have provided essential medical supplies, Nepal, however, has not received vaccines, which is the need of the hour. Moreover, Amnesty International has pointed out that many countries in South-Asia including Nepal is battling against the second wave of COVID-19 pandemic. It has urged the international community to provide vaccines along with other medical supplies to Nepal. It also highlighted that there is a dearth of COVID-19 vaccines in the least developed countries of South-Asia. The Covax program designed to help these countries to achieve equal access to vaccine has failed to fulfil its commitment.

The President had sent letters seeking assistance for securing vaccines against COVID-19 to the heads of various states such as India, China, UK, Russia and US. Nevertheless, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as the officials of President’s office have confirmed that any response of the same has not been reciprocated by the recipient states. Many foreign relation analysts have stated that no response from these states indicate a diplomatic failure and a loss of Nepal’s credibility which is a vital element of diplomacy.

Vaccine Geopolitics

Since India’s vaccine diplomacy has failed, Nepal like always has turned to China to seek vaccine assistance. China also has been the only one heeding and responding to the desperate pleas of Nepal. Leveraging on India’s failure, China has been generously supporting Nepal with vaccines, trying to tighten its loosened grip over Nepal once again. China has come up with a policy that it would provide visa to only those who have taken Chinese vaccine. Fifty thousand citizens at the northern border received Vero cell vaccine in order to resume trade relation with China. It is mildly imposing its vaccine on countries like Nepal that has close trade relations and shares border.

Further, Nepal has entered into an agreement with Chinese Company Sinopharm under a non-disclosure agreement and the supply will start from July 8.

China’s vaccine diplomacy is not limited to Nepal. China has been capitalising on the COVID- 19 catastrophe in Southeast Asia to magnify its soft power. It has underlying strategic intentions such as promotion of the Belt and Road Initiative along with its claims in the South China Sea. China pledged additional aid to Southeast Asian countries in overcoming the pandemic on June 6. The US and China, both are trying to increase their influence in the South-Asian region. Chinese Foreign Minister stated that China would immediately put the China-ASEAN Public Health Cooperation Initiative into effect and also strengthen regional public health capacity-building.

The US, apprehensive of China’s increasing influence in the Southeast region, has announced to provide 16 million doses of COVID- 19 vaccines to Asian countries on June 19. Nepal is one of the 18 countries who would be receiving vaccine under this. It also announced to provide additional 55 million doses of vaccine to various countries on June 21. However, Nepal is not included in the list of the countries that are directly receiving vaccines from the US while other South-Asian countries like Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan are directly receiving vaccines from it. The exclusion of Nepal from the list of direct vaccine recipients could indicate multiple things. Firstly, the lack of effort from the Nepali envoy to the US in lobbying for the vaccine, which resulted from failed diplomacy. Secondly, the US is displeased with Nepal’s strategic clarity. Thirdly, the US is dismayed with Nepal’s lackadaisical approach towards MCC.

Nepali Foreign Minister held a meeting with Indian envoy on June 9. In the meeting, they discussed procurement of vaccines amongst other things as per the Foreign Ministry. Finally, India will provide Serum Institute manufactured Covi-shield vaccines to Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in mid-August. India has so far provided 2.1 million doses of vaccines to Nepal. However, Nepal is yet to receive 1 million doses of vaccine from India which is already paid for.

Counter to China’s Geo- Economic Strategies

China organised a high-level summit with Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Finance Ministers of 30 countries in Asia Pacific including Nepal. The Summit was organised to discuss about BRI and COVID-19 pandemic after the G-7 put forth B-3W (Build Back Better world) project to counter BRI. In the summit, the Chinese President highlighted the major principles of BRI project and also acknowledged the delay in BRI projects due to the on-going pandemic. The geo-economic competition between China and the world powers has surfaced visibly amidst the pandemic.

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