When India asked the United States this month to lift a ban on exporting vaccine raw materials to help with the South Asian country’s Covid crisis, Washington appeared to drag its feet, citing the need to “vaccinate the American people” first.
This tepid response disappointed and angered many in India, which is grappling with the world’s worst outbreak: daily infection numbers are hitting new records, hospitals and cremation sites are overflowing and patients are dying due to shortage in medical supplies.
A backlash at home, as well as widespread international criticism, quickly led the US to reverse course, promising to provide aid to India.
Outside of India itself, the loudest and harshest critic was China: over the past week, state media has published a flurry of articles lashing out at Washington, claiming the initial response “fully exposed its selfishness” and accusing it of “obstructing global efforts” to distribute vaccines to developing countries in dire need.
Since containing its own domestic coronavirus outbreak, Beijing has positioned itself as a global leader in fighting the pandemic, often contrasting its eagerness to help other countries with the “America first” approach of the US under former President Donald Trump.
And as the crisis has rapidly spiraled out of control in India, Chinese leaders have repeatedly expressed a desire to help, pledging to “offer support and assistance to the best of our capability if the Indian side informs us of its specific needs.”
New Delhi, however, has so far not taken Beijing up on this offer, symptomatic perhaps of what has become a deep and oftentimes mutual distrust between the two Asian powers.
This reticence is all the more remarkable considering India was one of the first nations to send medical supplies to the Chinese city of Wuhan after the initial coronavirus outbreak there in late 2019.
But since then, bilateral relations have deteriorated rapidly, due in large part to tensions along a shared border high in the Himalayas. In June, the two countries saw their deadliest border clash in more than 40 years, with at least 20 casualties on the Indian side (China later said four Chinese soldiers died during the brawl).
Meanwhile, New Delhi has forged closer ties with Washington, which sees India as a key partner in dealing with China’s growing presence and ambition in the region, redoubling India’s commitment to the Quad, an informal alliance with the US, Australia and Japan.
After castigating India for moving closer to the US, the failure of Washington to come to its ally’s assistance at a time of need has been a major line in Chinese state media, with one paper describing the US as an unreliable partner that treats India like a “pawn,” to be “discarded like used tissue” when no longer useful.
While some in India may well agree with this assessment, many are nevertheless disinclined after the last year to believe that Beijing has their best interests at heart either, and a perception that China is attempting to take advantage of the crisis to drive a wedge between Delhi and Washington could ultimately backfire.
Under domestic and international pressure, US President Joe Biden on Sunday pledged “America’s full support to provide emergency assistance and resources in the fight against Covid-19,” during a call with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
China, on the other hand, can’t even get a call back.
Beijing said Tuesday it would establish a Covid-19 “emergency supplies reserve” for South Asian countries, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. India was invited to attend the online meeting, but it did not join, according to Chinese state media.
“It is hoped that our meeting today can also assist India in the fight against the pandemic,” said Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
Quoted and noted
“(Dong Hong) totally lost his ideals and convictions … committed grave violations of Party political discipline and rules, was dishonest and disloyal to the Party, engaged in superstitious activities and intervened in disciplinary and law enforcement matters through illegal means.”
— China’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection on expelling a former top corruption investigator, and aide to Vice President Wang Qishan, from the Communist Party. On Monday, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate said it was charging Dong with bribery.
Business of China: HSBC’s profits surge 79% in strong start to the year
HSBC enjoyed a better-than-expected first quarter as the global economic recovery gained traction.
The bank — which is still headquartered in London, although it makes most of its money in Asia — said Tuesday that pre-tax profit jumped 79% to $5.8 billion in the three months ended March.
That was despite a revenue dip of 5% to $13 billion.
HSBC said the improving economy allowed it to release $400 million that had been set aside to cover pandemic losses. All regions were profitable, and the United Kingdom was a bright spot — pulling in more than $1 billion in pre-tax profit.
“We had a good start to the year,” CEO Noel Quinn said in a statement Tuesday. “The economic outlook has improved, although uncertainties remain.”
HSBC, which was founded in Hong Kong in the 1800s as the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, is once again turning toward China as it works to recover from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Just two months ago, the lender announced that it would push harder into Asia, particularly China, southeast Asia and India, which it outlined as “key drivers” of its future growth.
It’s a plan that focuses on a continent that was delivering more than 80% of HSBC’s profits prior to the pandemic.
The bank is planning to step up its investments in the region by about $6 billion, and is also shifting more resources there, including relocating some key executives.
HSBC confirmed earlier this month that four of its top executives will move to Hong Kong later this year, highlighting “the importance of the Asia-Pacific region to our strategy,” according to Quinn.
The bank specifically wants to build up its presence in mainland China, defend its leading position in Hong Kong and establish Singapore as a wealth management hub.
It plans to hire more than 3,000 wealth managers in China alone, where its Asia Pacific CEO has said that the middle class population may “double from the current 300 million, to 600 million by 2028.”
— By Michelle Toh
The one child policy’s long legacy
Beijing saw its lowest birth rate in a decade last year, according to official data released by the capital Tuesday, raising fears of a national demographic crisis.
The city only saw 100,368 newborns in 2020, falling more than 32,000 from 2019. Its birth rate has dropped continuously for the past several years — a trend that has been seen across the country.
It’s just the latest in a series of warning signs these past few years about a potential population decline. The number of newborns registered across China dropped almost 15% last year, and in 2019 the national birthrate hit its lowest level since the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949.
This poses serious potential problems for when the current working-age population reaches retirement, especially as the “one child” generation ages.
The “one child policy” limited most couples in China to a single baby from 1979 to 2015, causing the national fertility rate to fall dramatically and the aged population rise.
The rule has been relaxed since 2016, and authorities have since encouraged families to have more babies — but it appears to have been too late to turn around the decline.
The country is now waiting for the results of its seventh national population census, which is set to be released in the coming weeks.
Photo of the day
First supermoon of 2021: Tuesday night saw the first of two supermoons this year — seen here rising over the Yellow Crane Tower in Wuhan, Hubei province. A supermoon is when the satellite is closest to Earth and appears at its biggest and brightest.