Diplomatic experts say the Biden administration’s support for New Delhi in its battle against the second wave of the Covid pandemic can become the benchmark for future intra-Quad humanitarian cooperation, or third country support operations, outside the realm of military and geo-strategic considerations.
The first flights carrying US relief material have already landed in India or will do so shortly. The US is sending emergency supplies worth over $100 million to help India deal with the outbreak of the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic that has affected more than 3 million people so far despite the best efforts of the government to bring it under control.
The flight, which took off from the Travis Air Force Base on Wednesday night, is carrying 440 oxygen cylinders and regulators donated by the state of California, 960,000 Rapid Diagnostic Tests that can help in the early identification of infections and prevent community spread of the Covid virus and 100,000 N95 masks, the US Agency for International Aid (USAID) said in a statement.
This is one aspect of the four-nation Quadrilateral (QUAD) alliance – comprising India, the US, Japan and Australia – that everyone had overlooked till recently. Humanitarian assistance to a fellow Quad member, of which the US support for India’s fight against the second wave of Covid is an example, can become a template for future intra-Quad cooperation as well as for third country support operations.
After an initial lukewarm response, when it sat on India’s request for assistance for three days, the Biden administration is pulling out all stops to support its south Asian ally.
Tim Manning, the White House Covid-19 Co-ordinator, told the media that the Biden administration has decided to divert its own supplies of raw materials for vaccine production to India’s Serum Institute of India (SII), which is the world’s largest vaccine producer and the license holder for the Astra Zeneca vaccine.
Saying that the US government invoking the Defence Production Act “doesn’t even mean a ‘de facto’ ban”, he added: “Now here’s what we did yesterday: We diverted our pending orders of vaccine filters to India’s vaccine manufacturing effort. This will help India make more vaccine.”
Releasing a statement, the White House said several state governments in the US, many companies, mostly with operations in India, and thousands of private American citizens have come forward to help deliver oxygen-related equipment and other essential supplies to Indian hospitals.
This reflects American solidarity with India as it battles the second wave of Covid-19. The emergency assistance includes oxygen support, oxygen concentrators, oxygen generation units, personal protective equipment, vaccine manufacturing supplies and rapid diagnostic tests.
A PTI report added that “an initial delivery of 1,100 cylinders will remain in India and can be repeatedly refilled at local supply centres, with planeloads more to come”.
“Multiple large-scale (oxygen generating) units to support up to 20 patients each, and additional mobile units will provide an ability to target specific shortages. A team of US experts will support these units, working hand-in-hand on the ground with Indian medical personnel,” the White House said.
The US experts, mostly from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) will work closely with Indian experts in areas such as laboratory surveillance and epidemiology, bioinformatics for genomic sequencing and modelling, infection prevention and control, vaccine rollout, and risk communication.
Diplomatic circles and geo-strategic analysts have been painting multiple scenarios about the possible future trajectory of the Quad – mainly in the context of the rise of China and its ill-disguised ambitions of becoming the new Asian hegemon.
But the Indian request for medical assistance to the US and Washington’s adherence to India’s appeal – albeit with a delay of 72 hours – is still considered very fast by the standards of government decision making.
Biden tweeted on April 26: “India was there for us, and we will be there for them.” Following a call with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he told reporters the next day: “We are sending immediately a whole series of help that he needs.”
That’s the important part, the bottom line.
And although this assistance is being provided on a bilateral basis, outside the ambit of the Quad, diplomatic circles in New Delhi point out that the fact that the two democracies are members of the four-nation bloc cannot be denied.
They aver that such diplomatic assistance could well become the template for future cooperation among Quad-plus countries.