Jaishankar talks of ‘dishonoured commitments’ during COVID-19

Pandemic has prompted countries to become self-seeking often resorting to broader definition of national security that disrupted supply chains, he notes

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar has hinted that countries failed to live by “commitments” during COVID-19. The pandemic had prompted countries to become self-seeking often resorting to broader definition of national security that disrupted supply chains, he said in a speech at a ‘Future of Asia’ event organised by Nikkei on Thursday.

“In the past, defence, politics and intelligence drove calculations, with some extrapolation into domains like resources, energy or technology. With some notable exceptions, its demands were balanced out by the requirements of global exchanges, economic efficiency and perhaps by social habits. These trends, in fact, became stronger as the globalisation mantra took deeper root. The pandemic, however saw capabilities leveraged, commitments dishonoured, supply chains blocked, logistics disrupted, and shortages created, with all the accompanying anxieties,” said Mr. Jaishankar distinguishing the pandemic-era response of nation-states from the usual globalisation-driven concerns.

Vaccine Maitri project

The policy-oriented speech is being interpreted as an admission by the Minister to the problems that India itself is facing in continuing with the Vaccine Maitri project, under which it had promised to deliver vaccines to all over the world and especially to the South Asian parner countries. On Wednesday, Bangladesh Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen called Mr. Jaishankar and reminded him that Dhaka did not get the Covishield vaccine from Pune’s Serum Institute of India despite placing orders. The shortage of vaccine from the SII has created a crisis for the required second round of doses for the recipients. Similar problems have been reported from Nepal, Sri Lanka and African countries that were promised vaccine from the SII.

India has been vocal in pointing out that the American ban on raw materials’ export had hurt its vaccine production. This argument was amplified by social media messages from SII head Adar Poonawallah. The Biden administration lifted the ban on export of raw materials for Indian vaccine manufacturers in April last week but India has not yet managed to revert to the previous scale of production of vaccines, most of which were exported abroad for the first round of doses. Mr. Jaishankar has defended the government’s export decision but there has not been a substantial clarification about when India can renew the global supply of the doses.

Ukraine has been lobbying for required doses from India for weeks but has not succeeded in getting even a small consignment, as India has prioritised the domestic process of vaccination due to the second wave of COVID-19. Mr. Jaishankar acknowledged that the process of prioritising self-interest had led to a degree of avoidance from “international” sphere.

“When economies slowed down due to material disruptions, we now understood the need for manufacturing security. Call it buying nationally, middle class concerns, dual circulation or self-reliance, there is no question that many polities are seeking to hedge against excessive exposure internationally,” said Mr. Jaishankar, who is expected to leave for the U.S. on May 24 for a round of vaccine diplomacy with the decision-makers there.

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