Eye on China: Mourning – Wuhan Opens – Ren Probe – J&K – African Debt – UK Tech Deal – Supply Chains

Eye on China is a weekly bulletin offering news and analysis related to the Middle Kingdom from an Indian interests perspective.

I. India-China Ties:

India’s ambassador to China Vikram Misri spoke to CGTN at length about the changes in Sino-Indian ties this week. He underscored the key aspects of the Wuhan and Chennai summits, i.e., respect sensitivities and not let differences turn into disputes. On the Covid-19 pandemic, he said what was immediately needed was support for India’s medical community to deal with the crisis, through the provision of medical supplies, including PPE and ventilators. He highlighted India’s provision of nearly 16 tons of medical equipment to China in February, and underscored that India is at the moment commercially procuring equipment from China. 

Atul Aneja’s report in The Hindu sheds more light on this procurement process. Prices for products in China have gone up as demand has surged, and there have been concerns about substandard supplies. Therefore, the report says that right now “it has been decided that only 20 reputable companies recommended by the Chinese government will be the focus of purchases.” That said, this Economic Times report says that on Monday, as per the Union Health Ministry, India had received 1.70 lakh PPE coveralls, which were donated by China. So, there’s likely a mix of procurement and donations.

Meanwhile, a new report by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific says that if the pandemic is prolonged, one can expect disruptions in pharmaceutical supplies. India provides 20% of global supplies, but is heavily dependent on China for APIs. In fact, as per this report, the API supplies for Indian manufacturing of hydroxychloroquine come from China; so this will be an important diplomatic and supply chain challenge. In general, too, trade between India and China has sunk for much of Q1 2020. 

ET reports that according to Chinese official data, trade between the two countries in January and February was down 12.4% year-on-year. China’s exports to India during this period stood at 67.1 billion yuan, down 12.6% year-on-year, while imports from India dropped 11.6% to 18 billion yuan. Meanwhile, the social media anger in India is now focussed on boycotting Chinese products. RSS affiliate Swadeshi Jagran Manch has also taken the opportunity to repeat its call for banning Huawei from 5G trials. Huawei India, on the other hand, has been highlighting contributions to the PMCARES Fund and six other states. The company is also trying to pitch a 5G+ thermal imaging technology, which it says supports contagion monitoring by tracking a moving object’s temperature in real time without contact and issuing alerts. 

In New Delhi, the Chinese ambassador was among the foreign diplomats in the country, supporting Sunday’s light a candle call in India. But there were frictions as well. The embassy’s spokesperson Ji Rong has been making quite the splash since joining Twitter. This week, she dismissed a complaint by the International Council of Jurists and All India Bar Association to the UN Human Rights Council seeking compensation from China for the global spread of Covid as “eyeball-catching nonsense.” Global Times calls it “public opinion warfare,” adding that “analysts said the complaints serve as a tool to deflect domestic dissent in India and to pass the buck to cover up inefficient measures in controlling the epidemic in foreign countries.” The piece also says this, which is noteworthy: “the complaints should not represent mainstream voices of either the Indian public nor their government as both are non-governmental bodies.”

Finally, two other stories to note. First, India and China were sparring at the UN again this week. Just last month, there was much made in the Indian media about China as UNSC president not paying heed to Pakistan’s request on J&K. But this week, China’s permanent representative to the UN issued a statement regarding those reports. To be honest, the statement did not contain anything new. But as it would, it did evoke a response from the Indian MEA, reiterating that this was an internal issue on which other parties, including China, must refrain from commenting. The MEA added: “We also expect China to recognise and condemn the scourge of cross-border terrorism that affect the lives of the people of India, including in Jammu and Kashmir.”

The UNSC also finally discussed the pandemic in a closed-door session Thursday night. Reports suggest that there was some Sino-US sparring, but there wasn’t any significant outcome or statement. India’s Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador Syed Akbaruddin explained India’s position on all of this while speaking to India Today. He said: “At some stage, if we have to gain a thorough understanding of this entire phenomenon of the coronavirus, we will have to address that issue transparently, scientifically, openly. However, there will be time and space for that when we overcome the current crisis. Let us now work to overcome the existential threats we are all facing.”

And finally, the curious case of the young man taken by the PLA along the McMahon line in Arunachal Pradesh in late March. The 21-year-old was handed over to the Indian Army on Tuesday. He’s now in quarantine. ET reports: “Singkam along with his two friends — Gamshi Chadar and Ronya Nade — had gone fishing and to collect traditional herbs from the land belonging to the Naa clan of Tagin community on March 19 when the Chinese security personnel allegedly ambushed them. While his other two friends could successfully escape, Singkam was abducted at gunpoint by the Chinese security personnel.”

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