Advancing India’s ‘Act East’ outreach amidst the COVID-19 global pandemic, Prime Minister Narendra Modi discussed public heath governance and economic challenges with key strategic partners including Vietnam, Japan and Republic of Korea. After demonstrating decisive leadership in bolstering South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) in combating COVID-19; the Indian Prime Minister joined forces with key anchors of India’s Act East policy to explore new vistas of cooperation.
Earlier this week, Prime Minister Modi engaged in a telephonic conversation with his Vietnamese counterpart, Nguyen Xuan Phuc with the objective of enhancing bilateral collaboration including facilitating supplies of necessary medical equipment to battle COVID-19. As India looks to import Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) kits, suppliers based in South Korea having tie-ups with production companies in Vietnam has been identified.
Vietnam has so far showcased resilience in its fight against the pandemic with relatively low number of positive cases and no reported fatality despite sharing borders with China. Strict border control, robust health governance and enhanced awareness through technology platforms helped Vietnam in its fight against COVID-19. In addition, Vietnam currently holds Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Chairmanship and steered the Special ASEAN Plus Three Summit on April 14. During this meeting ( through video conference), Vietnam called for multi-sectoral, multi-stakeholder, whole-of-community approach to address the multi-dimensional challenges posed by COVID-19.
During the exchange, the two leaders also discussed shared strategic interests. Vietnam is India’s Comprehensive Strategic Partner and an important pillar of Delhi’s Indo-Pacific Strategy advancing rules-based order. Moreover, economic cooperation is an important pillar in the bilateral relations. India features as one of Hanoi’s top ten trading partners. Within ASEAN, Vietnam is the second largest export destination for India following Singapore and the fourth largest trading partner following Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia.
Mr. Modi had earlier spoken with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The two Prime Ministers urged that India-Japan Special Strategic and Global Partnership should focus on developing new technologies and solutions for the post-COVID 19 world. Japan has expanded the state of emergency due to coronavirus throughout the country. As of April 15, Japan had 8,100 positive cases as per Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. Tokyo has registered most number of cases followed by Osaka.
The biggest setback inflicted by COVID-19 on international sports is the postponement of the much anticipated Tokyo Olympics 2020. It has been rescheduled to July 23-August 8, 2021.
Meanwhile, Japan has helped developing economies to deal with the pandemic, for instance, it extended US$ 1.86 million to Vietnam through international organisations. Japan has also offered antiviral drugs for free to 20 nations to deal with this global health emergency.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi also reinforced India-South Korea cooperation on COVID-19 during his telephonic discussions with President Moon Jae-in. South Korea is already facilitating supplies and transport of medical equipment sourced by Indian companies. South Korean technology based ‘trace, test and treat’ model to contain the outbreak of COVID-19 has been appreciated worldwide. South Korea opted for extensive testing. As many as 18,000 tests each day, could be possible as Korean bio-companies promptly developed testing kits. As India looks at importing such kits, South Korea offers opportunities; nine Korean companies have got export licences for the test kits.
As India, together with the world, grapples with this pandemic and prepares to manage the economic implications triggered by severely disrupted global supply chains, the Indian Prime Minister has stepped up India’s leadership role in deepening cooperation with strategic partners in the East. Commerce, connectivity and culture have defined India’s eastward strategic engagement.
With new dimensions of challenges like COVID-19 facing humanity, India is working and coordinating with its partners to device a robust and coherent approach to fight the pandemic while managing the risks to public health governance and economic stability.
Script: Dr. Titli Basu, Strategic Analyst on East & South East Asia