Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) expressed “deep concern” over the staggering rise of COVID-19 cases in India, and offered to supply medical equipment and vaccine doses to the country, but his overtures sparked debate in India’s academic and political circles about his sincerity to help, particularly as it was followed by a vulgar display of schadenfreude over the hundreds of thousands of cremations of deaths caused by the virus in the country.
The vast majority of Indians were already angry and frustrated with Beijing needling the country on a number of issues, including imports from China, which were abruptly stopped following the suspension of cargo flights by Sichuan Airlines, not to mention a border standoff and tensions at the border in India’s Ladakh region last year.
However, what has poisoned the well of public opinion was a recent social media post by the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission that mocked India’s dead.
The post on the commission’s official Sina Weibo account juxtaposed China’s latest space station launch with the mass cremations of COVID-19 victims in India, portraying the launch as a success and the loss of lives as a failure.
The post’s provocative caption, “China lighting a fire versus India lighting a fire,” taunted that while China ignites fire to send rockets into space, India ignites fire to burn bodies.
India’s daily count of infections late last month crossed 400,000.
Indians were angry and disgusted at the distasteful attempt to make fun of the loss of lives and economic devastation caused by the virus.
As millions vented their grief over deaths of relatives and friends, their feelings were turning into anger over China’s insensitive and, as one commentator put it, “wolf-warrior barbarism” of rejoicing over the grief and sorrow of others.
There was a huge backlash not only in India, but also in other countries. The reaction was so intense that the commission quickly deleted the post.
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs reportedly told the microblogging site that it hoped that “everyone gives attention to the Chinese government and mainstream public opinion supporting India’s fight against the epidemic.”
An editor of a Web site monitoring Sina Weibo told Bloomberg that she did not believe there had been “consensus on the post or else it would not have been removed so quickly.”
However, the removal did not mollify the frayed tempers in India, where millions blame Beijing for the global suffering as it tried to cover up the origin of the virus in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.
From “Xi mocks India’s COVID victims” to “Communist China’s abominable sense of humor,” the colorful headlines in the Indian media conveyed a sense of anger and resentment against the CCP leadership.
The financially powerful and politically active Indian diaspora in the US has also taken a grim view of China’s role in causing harm to India and its suffering population.
Ravi Batra, a prominent New York-based lawyer of Indian origin who knows US President Joe Biden from a UN event in 2015, last month wrote an open letter to Biden, urging him to set a “clear American policy” addressing both “our injury from Covid19 and holding the sending-nation reasonably responsible (turn over all biomedical information, indemnify our losses, etc).”
Similar sentiments have also been voiced by other prominent figures of Indian origin in the US.
Many are also wondering about the timing of Xi’s offer to help India with oxygen equipment, which is needed in the country’s hospitals overwhelmed by the huge numbers of COVID-19 patients seeking medical attention.
The US, Europe, Japan, South Korea and even tiny Singapore have sent supplies to ease India’s dire situation. This cast China in a poor light.
However, some analysts said that China’s action must have been spurred by Taiwan’s supply of 150 oxygen concentrators and 500 oxygen cylinders, shipped to the Indian Red Cross Society on a China Airlines freight plane.
In Taipei, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs wrote on Twitter: “These oxygen concentrators & cylinders are love from #Taiwan. More help for our friends in #India is on the way. #IndiaStayStrong!”
Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Wu’s (吳釗燮) interview with the TV channel India Today, in which he called India a “friend,” has gone down well in the country’s political circles and civil society.
On the other hand, the Indian media were warned by the Chinese embassy in New Delhi not to give any coverage to Taiwan as an entity separate from China — Beijing’s envoy responded to newspaper advertisements celebrating Double Ten National Day last year, reminding them that they were “obliged” to honor Beijing’s “one China” principle in line with New Delhi’s official stance.
However, the media defied the embassy’s urging, and the envoy’s protest to the Indian Ministry of External Affairs against the coverage was to no avail because, as Indian officials said, the country has a free press that is not under government control.
In the interview, Wu applauded the media for not caving in to China and thanked the Indian public for celebrating Taiwan’s national day.
One week before the interview, the embassy warned the channel and other media not to refer to Taiwan as a country or introduce “the Taiwanese leader,” Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), as its president.
The media ignored the warning and reported extensively on the national day.
Chinese embassy spokesman Ji Rong (嵇蓉) said that Beijing had lodged a complaint with the Indian foreign ministry, claiming that the channel had “seriously violated the ‘one China principle’ and provoked bottom line disregarding the long-standing position of the Indian government.”
“We urge the relevant Indian media to take a correct stance on issues of core interests concerning China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, adhere to the one China principle, not to provide platform for Taiwan independence forces, and avoid sending wrong messages to the public,” Ji said.
After China’s relations with India nosedived after the border standoff in Ladakh, New Delhi seems to have found an informal ally in Taiwan, which itself has been facing threats and coercion from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army.
Tsai recently wrote about India on Twitter three times within two weeks, greeting Indians, and expressing her fondness of Indian food and culture. Such sentiments have been warmly received and appreciated.
The CCP, which has been using coercion and financial assistance for its arm-twisting tactics against some foreign leaders and politicians, is becoming increasingly unpopular, and its image is taking a beating in many countries.
The West, along with many like-minded democracies in Asia and elsewhere, seeks to preserve the rules-based international order and resist attempts by a recalcitrant China trying to use its economic and military power to coerce other nations to toe its line.
This can only lead to rancor among its friends, alienating it on the world stage.
Manik Mehta is a New York-based journalist who writes on foreign affairs, diplomacy, global trade and economics.
Over the past year, scores of gargantuan Chinese sand dredgers have deployed themselves in territorial waters off the Taiwanese-administered Matsu Islands, where their activities erode beaches and ruin fishing shoals. These Chinese ships are mercenary; a small 5,000 ton ship could sell a load of sand for the equivalent of US$55,000 to Fujian construction firms — or to the People’s Liberation Army for use in building its artificial reefs in the South China Sea. They also frustrate Taiwan’s government, which tries unsuccessfully to cooperate with Beijing on environmental stewardship of their contiguous waters. Each day, Taiwanese Coast Guard vessels can
On Monday last week, a formation of 16 Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) warplanes flew over the South China Sea near Malaysian Borneo and intruded into the airspace of Malaysia’s exclusive economic zone. Although it was not the first incursion into Malaysian airspace by Chinese military aircraft, it was the first time such a large formation had been dispatched by China. It was yet another worrying indication that Beijing senses an opportunity to aggressively shape the post-COVID-19 world in its own image and has stepped up its plans to expand the frontiers of its empire well beyond the limits of its
With Taiwan’s COVID-19 “ring of steel” breached, the public is demanding vaccines, and politicians are calling for vaccine imports to be expedited. However, the manner in which the debate is being conducted leaves much to be desired. Some people believe that companies and nonprofit groups should be allowed to import vaccines. This is not as simple as it sounds. The mRNA vaccines made by Moderna and BioNTech need to be stored at extremely low temperatures during their transportation from overseas manufacturing plants to the clinics that administer them. Regarding the BioNTech vaccine, its export from the EU requires complex paperwork and procedures.
With more controversies upsetting the nation’s fight against COVID-19, government agencies need to regain the public’s confidence. Being more transparent would be a good start. Over the past week, several politicians have apologized for failing to prevent more COVID-19 deaths, including President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) and Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中). They must be frustrated to see their globally acclaimed victory from last year being denounced. However, their apologies must ring hollow to the grieving families and those who have no access to rapid testing kits or COVID-19 vaccines. To make matters worse, a Taipei-based clinic