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Environmental Diplomacy: China’s Attitude and Effort Towards Climate Change

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With the rapid process of industrialization and modernization there has been notable increase in carbon emission leading to global change in climatic conditions in the last two decades. This phenomenon has been occurring worldwide and has drawn concern on mitigating global climate change. However, developed economies have been furthering their economic interests at the expense of the environment through industrialization while others have become victim of the trend of climate change creating a transboundary environmental problem. The concept of environmental diplomacy rose as a result of such transboundary environmental problems in order to negotiate on environmental governance between state entities.

According to Climate Action Tracker, China, the world’s most populous country, alone accounts for around twenty-seven percent of global carbon emission. China itself being subject to ill impacts of climate change and understanding the global threat it poses, has proactively drawn attention of world leaders to formulate and implement policies not just to mitigate the impacts of climate change rather eliminate the problem as a whole. As a rising power, and one of the major contributors to the global carbon footprint, China should play proactive role and cooperate with other international actors in tackling this global problem. This article explores the concept of environmental diplomacy, its emergence and importance, further analyzing China’s Environmental Diplomacy, its formulation in close coordination with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Environmental Diplomacy

Due to its evolving nature, no universally defined definition exists for Environmental Diplomacy. Various scholars from diverse background have defined environmental diplomacy in different ways. Whereas the scholars of environmental studies have defined it as negotiations concerned with conflict resolution over natural resources as well as instrumental use of the environment in resolving disputed and peace building. In reference to international relations, environmental diplomacy is understood asa negotiation between the states on environmental policy. In general terms, environmental diplomacy addresses issues and actions related to environmental security, global environment governance and environmental peace building involving a wide range of actors. As the environment is borderless, the issues continue to be addressed at a multilateral level. Despite different disciplinary backgrounds there is a shared focus on negotiation in studies on environmental diplomacy.

It was in late 1970s the world became aware and grew concerned over this issue when a scientific finding revealed about the phenomena of ‘acid rain’. This phenomenon indicated the initiation of international environmental problem and necessity to exercise international diplomacy was felt. The efforts to exercise environmental diplomacy goes back to the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling which was initially signed by 15 nations in 1946 and came into force in 1948. The term environmental diplomacy got prevalence after the formation of United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) in 1973. After the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development(UNCED), known as the Earth Summit or Rio Summit in 1992, the term became more common. Acid rain was only the indication, so far there have been whole lot of transborder environmental problems like high pollution, unusual warming of atmosphere, ecological decline of world oceans, melting of glaciers, extreme weather patterns etc. providing greater attention to need of international environment diplomacy than ever before.

Lawrence Susskind in his book Environmental Diplomacy in 1994implied environment diplomacy to encompass multilateral environmental agreements and mentioned best practices to negotiate them in the context of broader international security priorities. Susskind has pointed out three key areas of scholarship within political science and international relations that the term environment diplomacy has acquired over past twenty years: First, is the environment security, a genre emerged after cold war where scarcity of resources has been posited as a potential source of violent conflict. Second being Global Environment Governance, to understand the key drivers of behavior within organizations that have international underpinnings, particularly within the United Nations’ system. Third, is Environmental Peace-Building where the derivative potential for environmental issues in securing peace actively in situations of conflict.

In June 1992, tens of thousands of official delegates and unofficial activists met in Brazil at an “Earth Summit” sponsored by the United Nations where the world’s attention was focused briefly on these global environmental problems. In 2002, the organizers of the “World Summit on Sustainable Development” (WSSD) purposely took out the word “environment” from the title of what was meant to bea ten-year milestone. Millennium Development Goals became the measure for the following ten years of environmental diplomacy. A forty-nine-page manifesto called the “The Future We Want” within the framework of a “green economy” repackaged the common aspiration towards sustainability at Rio Plus 20 in 2012. All these changes show that our system needs renewed analysis.(Susskind and Ali: Environmental Diplomacy,2015)

UNEP lists over 155 environmental agreement that has been negotiated at regional and global level since 1921. The task of achieving international agreement on any issue is extremely difficult especially for environmental issues. It combines scientific uncertainty, citizen and industry activism, politics and economics. The negotiation themselves are complex and time consuming usually preceded by extensive scientific findings. Humanity has now faced range of environmental problems that affect everyone globally and can only be managed through cooperation between all countries of the world.(Pamela S. Chasek: Earth Negotiation, 2001).

China’s Environmental Diplomacy

As mentioned earlier, China is the “world’s largest emitter of the GHGs” accounting for a staggering twenty-seven percentage. However, it can not be denied that China has also been facing the potential threat of climate change. Since 1990s climate change has been recognized as a source of environmental threat. In China, global warming has led to rise in sea level and extreme weather events causing coastal floodings, degradation and scarcity of water resources. Though China has contributed to regional economic growth, it has also equal role of being region’s largest polluter.Enermous amount of green house gas is emitted by burning of fossil fuel. China is the world’s largest pollutant responsible forcausing global warming. This unwantedrecord has attracted global concernand created pressure on China to take responsibility. In order to protect its image in international arena, China had to take some steps in forming its policy in the area of climate change in context of UNFCCC.

As the consequences of global warming and climate change is increasing, governments have started working unilaterally to adapt and mitigate climate change. The international cooperation on global warming began with in 1992 UNFCCC, signing at the Earth Submit. The 1997 Kyoto Protocol laid a path for reduction of green house gases for developed countries following steps for its implementations. China as an emerging power has been a participant ofin all those negatiationsand is a core member of the negotiation group “China plus G 77”. It is crucial for China to play an influential role as doing so is in the best interest of China, its humongous population and in turn in it’s economy.

In 1990 the Chinese diplomats and environmental professionals joined the Inter-governmental Party on Climate Change (IPCC). Qu Geping, former Minister of Environment Protection Authority made a commitement to support global struggle against climate change. After the five round of engagement of IPCC for negotiation, UNFCCC was established on May 9, 1992. Same year in Rio Summit Chinese former Premier Li Peng adressed that global warming was threatning the national security of relevant countries and signed the UNFCCC. Since then, UNFCCC has been implicated in the concern and agenda setting of Chinese national interest and foreign policy. To join UNFCCC China had to go through three stages. The first stage from 1990-1992 was to make China integrate its principles and  policy into the negotiation of UNFCCC. In the second stage from 1992-1997 great challenge to policy makers where the Kyoto Protocol and trade mechanism imposed on developing countries like Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), Joint Implementation (JI) and Iternational Emission Trade (IET). The third stage from1997 to present where China ratified the Kyoto protocol and beganto introduce Clean Development Mechanism. (Hongyun: Global Warming and China’s Environmental Diplomacy,2008)

Based on Chinese foreign practise from 1992 China possess three charecteristics toward the international struggle against climate change:

  1. China always insists it principle on “common and differential responsibility”
  2. China chooses the strategy of joining the international regimes against climate change formed by developed countries
  3. China tries its best to avoid any concrete responsibility or burden and insists on “no regret” principle.

(Hongyun: Global Warming and China’s Environmental Diplomacy,2008)

In China, National Coordination Committee is responsible for coordinating and formulating policy related to global struggle of climate change. This committee performs two functions: firstly, to cope with climate change issue while protecting its national interest and sovereignty and secondly, to do strategic study on energy and an economic development study in regardsto global climate changes. After its first meeting in 1990, it has only called a conference once just before China joined international negotiation on climate change.

Conclusion

In today’s twenty-first century global warming and climate change have become a major issue. Individual effort of any particular state would not be sustainable enough to fight and reduce impacts of climate change as it is a global phenomena. EveryState-actors should come together underan international regime and make cooperative efforts. The concept of Environmental Diplomacy was introduced to createcooperation between nation-states to negotiate on environmental issue in global level as somecountries have been more victimized than others.Especially industrialized nations are responsible for high proportion of global carbon emissionsleading to global climate change.So far, multiple summit have been held, conventions has been signed and protocols have been issued bounding all most every country. China being the largest GHG emission producer in the world is also a participant of all these negotiations.China has been working on various level to cut down the emission of harmful gases. However, evaluating China’s policy regarding climate change in connection to international regime seems to be of what they call it “no regret” policy. According to which China would not take the burden or full responsibility under international regime of climate change that would reduce China’s economic growth.

References:

Ali,S.H., Vladich,H.V. (2016) Environmental Diplomacy. In C.M Constantinou, P Kerr, P Sharp (Eds),The Sage Handbook of Diplomacy(pp 601-616). City road, 55: SAGE Publication Limited

Susskind, L.E., Ali, S.H. (2015).Environmental diplomacy: negotiating more effective global agreements(2nd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press

Hongyung, Y. (2008). Global Warming and China’s Environmental Diplomacy. New York: Nova Science Publishers, Inc.

Carroll, J.E. (1988). International Environmental Diplomacy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Chasek, P.S. (2001). Earth Negotiation: Analyzing Thirty Years of Environmental Diplomacy.Tokyo: United Nations University Press

Gupta,N. (2008, March 9) Environmental Diplomacy. retrieved from https://www.borgenmagazine.com/environmental-diplomacy/

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“Kyoto-2”: The lame duck of Western European climate diplomacy

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Lessons learned from the international climate process

For many years, the problem of global climate change – one of the most serious environmental threats of our time – has been making international headlines and has been the subject of high-level political negotiations.

A new milestone will soon appear on the thorny path of the international climate process: the Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) comes into force on December 31, 2020. This document extends the period of the Kyoto Protocol for 2013-2020 (hence its informal name – “Kyoto-2”), and contains a whole set of amendments to the Kyoto regime, including updated quantitative indicators of greenhouse gas emission cuts for a group of developed countries.

Climate activists are likely to mark this “historic” stage in the battle against global warming with new marches, and the leaders of many countries – to renew their calls to “raise the level of ambition” in the name of averting a global climate collapse.

What doesn’t immediately meet the eye here, however, is why “Kyoto-2” is coming into force at the very close of its second commitment period (2013-2020).

Let’s take a look at the real – not retouched – picture of the events of the lengthy negotiating process going under the auspices of the UNFCCC. However, if we take a look at what is going on “behind the scenes,” many things will clear up.  

The first attempt to find the key to solving the problem of global warming was made by the UN member states in the early 1990s, by adopting the abovementioned Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992. The general atmosphere of enthusiasm, inspired by the proposed concept of sustainable development, made it possible to come up with the world’s first-ever climate treaty that took a mere 15 months to agree on.

The long and arduous negotiations that followed – from the development of the Kyoto Protocol to the UNFCCC (1997) to the adoption of the Paris Climate Agreement (2015) – resulted in a series of major successes and very painful failures: the chaotic work of the Hague Conference (2000), which led to a six-month suspension of all activities; the jubilation over the outcome of the Marrakesh meeting (2001), which finalized the agreement on the entire set of rules for the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol; the euphoria in Montreal (2005) following the launch of the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol and the decision to start negotiations on the second period, the collapse of the Copenhagen Conference (2009); the adoption of the Durban Platform for Action (2011), which inspired hope for a positive outcome of the talks on the new climate regime, and the cynical disregard for procedural rules and UN principles displayed during the Doha Conference (2012), which called into question the legitimacy of its decisions, and sealed the fate of “Kyoto-2.”

What has over the years been happening at the UNFCCC negotiation platform, reminds one of the topsy-turvy world of Lewis Carroll’s timeless Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

The situation was further complicated by the West European countries’ essentially dual climate diplomacy purported to spearhead the international campaign to save the Earth’s climate. From the outside, it looks like a sincere desire to find a speedy solution to an acute environmental problem, which, however, hides a clear temptation to use pro-environment rhetoric to achieve economic advantages by changing the global energy balance that would rule out any multivariate national energy strategies, and, secondly, to redirect international cash flows, all the way to limiting investments in projects related to fossil energy sources.

Moreover, we have very often seen far from perfect methods being used to achieve these goals. Some people, for sure, would prefer not to make public little-known examples of this so as not to sally the reputation of the West’s environmental diplomacy. There are multiple examples of this that have piled up over the entire period of negotiations.

The 2000 session was traditionally presided over by a representative of the host country – then the Minister of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment of the Netherlands, Jan Pronk. His thinly-veiled political bias, unwillingness to listen to partners and, in particular, his arrogantly demonstrative refusal to give the floor to the Russian representative at one time forced the Russian delegation to temporarily leave the conference room in protest. The Russian delegation eventually managed to fulfill its tasks during that session. However, the chairman’s arrogant behavior had a very deplorable effect on the overall results of the conference, which failed to achieve a balanced solution and take into account the interests of all participating countries and thus led to its suspension for a period of six months.

It was in The Hague that the EU’s “green aggressiveness,” which reflected so badly on the future of the Kyoto Protocol, was manifested so clearly. Due to the intransigence demonstrated during the conference by the German and French environment ministers, Jurgen Trittin and Dominique Voynet, both representatives of their governments’ “Green” political wing, the European Union blocked the adoption of a US proposal to ensure greater flexibility in the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol by taking into account the potential of the land use sector in absorbing greenhouse emissions.

The participants were stunned by this short-sightedness, as the United States was then the world’s biggest polluter, accounting for about 17 percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions. It was the conference in The Hague that precipitated America’s refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. And with the United States out, the coverage of total global emissions in the Kyoto Protocol’s initial commitment period dropped from 47 percent to 30 percent.

Examples of the European Union’s “odd” attitude continued, During the 2001 meeting in Marrakesh, the participants worked well into the night in consultations initiated by British Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Margaret Beckett, who was trying to convince the Russian delegation that the proposed threshold for the allowable offset of the use of the absorptive capacity of forests in fulfilling the obligations under the KP, which differed by just a few units from the earlier agreed indicator for Japan, was a “good deal.” But the truth was that in 2002, the area of ​​forested territories in Japan was about 25 million hectares, compared to 621 million hectares in Russia – almost 25 times more! Margaret Beckett still believed that we should agree on numbers that were virtually similar to the Japanese.

This begs a simple question: “Are you serious? What about math and logic?

Throughout the negotiation period, Western European representatives have never tired of calling – and keep calling now for “raising the level of ambition.” But here, too, we see a clear split of the European Union’s climate consciousness.

In 2005, Belarus expressed a desire to join the club of countries committed to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions, and thereby, to increase, though modestly, the Kyoto Protocol’s coverage of global emissions. The participating nations approved changes to the Protocol, making it incumbent on Belarus to reduce its emissions by eight percent. And still, the European Union refused to ratify this. If this is not a case of double standards, then what is?

Therefore, the crushing fiasco of the 2009 Copenhagen Conference came as no surprise at all.

Everything that could have been done wrong, Denmark did as chairman of the conference, starting with the decision to force the members of official delegations to stand in a tens, if not hundreds of meters-long line for security checks along with numerous observers (representatives of NGOs, the business community, and journalists), resulting in the negotiators being an hour or more late to the consultations room, and ending with a complete confusion during the closing stage of the high-profile event.

And this at a time when the heads of state and government of 119 countries had gathered in Copenhagen to adopt a fundamentally new document to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which would give a start to the implementation of a strategy of truly collective climate efforts, which included commitments not only for developed, but also for developing countries.

The stakes were high and political tensions were going through roof. On the night before the closing day of the conference, the heads of a number of states and governments representing major groups of countries, including  Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, joined in the talks. It seemed that after a series of exhausting informal discussions, a compromise was finally at hand. But!.. Without waiting for the final official meeting of the conference,  French President Nicolas Sarkozy left the meeting early in the morning and lost no time telling journalists before entering his plane that “the deal has been reached.” The morning papers came out with splashy headlines and triumphant reports about a “historic climate breakthrough.” Danish Prime Minister Lars Rasmussen, who had presided over the conference, was equally in a rush to submit the final document titled “Copenhagen Agreement” for adoption by the conference, without bothering to first hold formal consultations with all its participants.

Many leaders, who had not taken part in the overnight meeting, felt themselves insulted, with Hugo Chavez mincing no words when expressing his indignation. “They are trying to slip something through the crack under the door!” he fumed. The emotional discussion about the violation of the basic UN principles and the lack of transparency continued for a whole 13 hours.  Neither Rasmussen nor UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was able to save the situation. As a result, the Copenhagen Agreement was never signed,  blocked by representatives of a number of developing countries, led by Venezuela.

The fiasco in Copenhagen cost the participants another six years of negotiations, started virtually from scratch, until the Paris Agreement was finally inked in 2015. A whole six years of practical work to tackle the climate problem had thus been wasted.

The events of the Doha Conference (2012) top the list of anti-records in environmental diplomacy when, amid heated discussions of the configuration of “Kyoto-2,” where basic national interests were at stake, the Europeans at the very last moment and without proper coordination with all participating countries added a provision that actually emasculated the so-called emission quotas saved by non-EU countries with transitional economies (Russia, Belarus, Ukraine). This automatically increased by almost three times (!) the burden of obligations for these countries and undermined the integrity of the regime of compliance with the Kyoto Protocol within its first and second periods.

Responding to the request of the Qatari presidency, and trying to rectify the clearly abnormal situation without putting at risk the constructive conclusion of the conference, Russia Belarus and Ukraine came up with a compromise option. Based on the results of urgent informal consultations presided over by the conference chair Abdullah bin Hamad al-Attiyah, deputy chairman of the Council of Ministers of the State of Qatar, the participants worked out an algorithm for their further action, whereby the chairman would submit the Russian-Belarusian-Ukrainian proposal for formal consideration by a plenary session.

And … the chairman did not keep his word.

Almost immediately after opening the final plenary session, he, without raising his head or looking into the hall, proceeded to approve the draft Doha Amendment in its original form. The question on the order of the session, raised by the Russian delegation, was demonstrably ignored, which in itself is a gross violation of the rules of procedure of the UNFCCC, and the package of final documents was allegedly approved by a consensual decision. Nonsense!

But this is not the end of the story! What makes the whole thing even more outrageous, all this did not happen spontaneously, but had apparently been planned in advance – something Norway’s environmental minister Bård Vegar Solhjell, one of the two ministers appointed to head the process of unofficial ministerial consultations, unashamedly admitted later in an article, titled “This is how Kyoto-2 came about.” Here are some quotes from that article in an unofficial translation from Norwegian,  published in the online version of Aftenposten newspaper on December 11, 2012: “Bomb … Russia refuses to surrender … In a brief discussion in the corner, someone says:’ We can do this just like we did in Cancun.’ What does it mean? To put forward a proposal [the draft of the entire final document] and ignore the protests that we know will come from Russia …”

“Backstage” diplomacy”…  Compared to this, the “highly likely”-style tricks that the Western Europeans are playing today are no longer surprising.

Our response was honest, open and legally substantiated. In June 2013, during a session of the subsidiary bodies of the UNFCCC, Russia, with the active support of the Belarusian and Ukrainian delegations, proposed adding to the agenda of the Conference of the Parties a new item – “Decision-making within the UNFCCC process” to serve as a barrier to manipulation and violation of the generally recognized legal norms and UN principles. Do you think the European Union supported us? No, for the most part it kept silent.

It took us two weeks of grueling procedural discussions to achieve this goal, but it was worth the effort. The inclusion of this item on the agenda of the UNFCCC governing body was an important contribution to the prevention of legal and political nihilism within the international climate process.

But what was the outcome of “Kyoto-2” accord? Well, just like the popular Russian saying goes, “What you reap is what you sow”…

The natural reaction from Russia, Belarus and Ukraine to the gross disregard for the UN procedures and principles at the Doha conference resulted in their refusal to ratify the Doha Amendment (as for Russia, long before Doha, we officially announced that we were not going to assume obligations under “Kyoto-2,” due to its extremely limited value for easing anthropogenic pressure on the climate). New Zealand and Japan refused to commit themselves to reducing emissions in the framework of “Kyoto-2.” Such major emitters of greenhouse gases as the United States and Canada remain outside the Kyoto regime. As a result, compared to the first period of the Kyoto Protocol, the coverage of global emissions fell by another four times – from 30 percent to 7.6 percent. Is it possible to use it as an instrument of tackling the problem of global climate change?

Most notably, after Doha, the European Union refused to ratify the Doha Amendment for a whole five years, apparently reflecting on its position as the only major player bound to cut emissions in keeping with “Kyoto-2,” and even to provide financial assistance for climate goals to developing countries.

In fact, “Kyoto-2” only put off for a whole eight years the implementation of collective international legal measures to solve the problem of climate change. It will fade into oblivion after briefly appearing to the world in the guise of a full-fledged document: it officially takes effect on December 31, 2020, only to expire that very same day. What a sad and ironic coincidence!

Now all hopes are pinned on the Paris Agreement. However, the international community should learn serious lessons from the almost 30-year history of the climate process, from all its twists and turns and “crooked mirror” diplomacy, so that further efforts to combat global climate change are truly comprehensive, balanced, rest on a solid foundation of laws and the basic principles of the UN, thus making a genuine, not fictitious, contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. If this is not done, then the Paris Climate Agreement, which took years of painstaking diplomatic effort to come by, may repeat the sad fate of “Kyoto-2.”

From our partner International Affairs

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India-made Covid vaccines open a new chapter in New Delhi’s continuing medical diplomacy

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Ever since the pandemic began, India’s goodwill has significantly improved among its neighbours in South Asia and the Indian Ocean, as New Delhi continues to expand its soft power with timely delivery of needy drugs, as seen in last year, and vaccines, this year.

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Continuing its long-standing legacy as first responder to crises in the region, India reached out to most of its neighbours even before the World Health Organisation and the Covax initiative of GAVI (Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization).

While China too promised supplies to South Asian nations, only India delivered it so far. Perhaps, the only exception to this would be Islamabad, which has neither requested nor discussed the delivery of India-made Covid vaccines.

India’s vaccines

The beginning of 2021 saw India’s drugs regulator granting emergency use approval for two domestically-made vaccines.

One is Covishield, manufactured by the Pune-based Serum Institute of India, the largest vaccine producer in the world, and the other is Covaxin, manufactured by Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech. The former is made in partnership with AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, and the latter entirely indigenous.

Government of India has procured hundreds of millions of vaccine doses at reduced prices offered by these two domestic companies. More domestic manufacturers are awaiting approval for their respective in the coming months. Currently, at this stage, India also has four vaccines in active clinical trials and fifteen vaccines in the pre-clinical stages, as well.

Adding a new dimension to ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy

For about seven years now, one of the key tenets of the Modi government’s foreign policy has been ‘Neighbourhood First’, as a means to improve cooperation with partner countries in South Asia and the Indian Ocean. The pandemic opened up new prospects to this highly-held policy.

Even though India has its own big challenges such as the task lying ahead to inoculate a billion-plus population in phases, as it began the world’s largest inoculation drive for Covid-19 on January 16, with the first phase targeting 30 million frontline and healthcare workers.

Notwithstanding the domestic challenges, three days after the beginning of inoculation drive, Indian government announced its decision to dispatch vaccines to countries in its neighbourhood such as Bhutan, Maldives, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar, and Seychelles, which began the very next day after the announcement, mostly as gifts and grant assistance, free of cost, and some on a commercial basis.

Just four days after India began its inoculation drive, the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan became the first country in South Asia to receive India-made Covishield vaccines, followed by the Indian Ocean island state of Maldives on the same day.

As gift and grant assistance, India supplied “150,000 doses of vaccines to Bhutan, 100,000 doses to Maldives, one million doses to Nepal, two million doses to Bangladesh, 1.5 million doses to Myanmar,  100,000 to Mauritius, and 50,000 doses to Seychelles”, the country’s foreign ministry said.

Sri Lanka and Afghanistan will also receive India-made vaccines soon after getting regulatory clearances. These moves come amid Chinese attempts to extend its influence in India’s backyard, as seen in the recent years.

When the world plunged into coronavirus-induced lockdowns in March 2020, India quietly began its medical diplomacy bidding for a collective response to this new health emergency by convening a virtual meet of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and by leading the effort to institute a new relief fund to tackle the pandemic.

Previously, the regular meetings of the organisation remained stalled due to India’s bilateral tensions with Pakistan. But, New Delhi used the pandemic as a good opportunity to revive the regional grouping which was followed by governmental level meetings in the later months.

India has also provided training to several neighbouring countries to enhance and strengthen their clinical trials of vaccines, through various assistance programmes.

‘Pharmacy of the world’

Being the global hub of vaccine production, New Delhi’s diplomacy is very much focused on reaching out to all needy countries, and it is not limited to the immediate neighbourhood. Throughout the pandemic period, the world also saw India projecting its soft power beyond its traditional spheres of influence to a truly global scale.

An effective conduct of medical diplomacy by providing medicinal tablets last year and this year through the supply of domestically-made Covid vaccines, India reaffirmed its position as the ‘pharmacy of the world’, being the world leader in the production of generic drugs and vaccines, and making three-fifth of the world’s total vaccines.

Even while battling the challenge of inoculating a very large population, Indian Prime Minister has recently stated that India’s vaccine production and delivery capacity will be used for the benefit of ‘all humanity’ to fight the pandemic.

Contractual supply of India-made vaccines to Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Brazil, and Morocco are also currently underway.

Indian government has made clear that continue to supply vaccines to friendly and partner countries even while the second phase of inoculation drive goes on at home. India also comes with an experience of running a successful immunization programme for more than four decades now.

Being a leader in drugs manufacturing, India was approached by many countries including the United States, last year, for the supply of medicinal tablets like hydroxychloroquine, which was exported to more than a hundred countries around the world from Asia to Africa toLatin America.

India also exported other tablets such as remdesivir and paracetamol, as well as diagnostic kits, ventilators, masks, gloves and other medical supplies to a large number of countries around the world.

When it comes to immunization against Covid through vaccines, India’s potential lies well beyond just its domestic population due to its invaluable experience in the pharmaceutical front.

Statistics say one in every six humans on earth reside in India. If this Asian powerhouse succeeds in its fight against the coronavirus pandemic, it simply means, a sizeable proportion of humanity is saved, so do the countries it assisted, contributing to the global response and continuing efforts of the scientific community in bringing the pandemic to an end.

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The case for more middle power involvement in the reshaping of the post-pandemic world

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The past year was the year of the pandemic, although initially 2020 was seen more as a year of increased great power competition. The pandemic took us off guard and revealed that generally a good handling of the crisis requires a combination of national self-sufficiency and global action, perhaps in dosages that have to be more balanced than what we thought before. A certain reimagining of how the world and each country should function naturally took place, but a more systematic process of transforming our governance toolbox (not because of COVID-19, but of what the pandemic has revealed about some major failures in our global “engines”) is necessary. Here, I make the argument that we should pay more attention to what the middle powers can bring to the international table.     

Despite expectations, 2020 was not a great year for the hegemon and the potential successor. China was the originator of the pandemic and this has been reflected in its popularity ratings. The international image of the country took a big hit, the commercial dependence on products made in China determined many to ask tough questions about the future of trade, and Beijing was sometimes put on the same level with Russia as a reactionary/resurgent power. Despite the mask diplomacy and the robust economic recovery, China has been seen more as a source of problems than as a potential solution to global woes. Moreover, the country did not count much in the symbolic race for a vaccine, although, with Sinovac, things might change in the future, depending on its effectiveness. The US also had to deal with a couple of major issues/headaches: a very poor handling of the pandemic that resulted in record numbers of American getting infected or losing their lives, extreme political polarization that did not avoid pandemic subjects (e.g., the wearing of masks, the lockdowns), a severe economic fallout, and a very contested presidential election in which the rules of the democratic games were challenged by the president himself. The icing on the cake was the January 6 Capitol Hill insurrection that further damaged the American image abroad and cemented the idea of the American decline already announced by the inward-looking approaches and decisions of the Trump administration. 

The idea that, once Trump is gone, international politics will go back to business as usual will not be borne out by the facts. The consequences of the Trump years will not go away easy or soon. President Biden has already committed that, in his first day in office, he will sign executive orders for the US to rejoin the Paris climate accord and to end the Muslim travel ban. These are not small steps, but many other details remain to be solved out, starting with the new approach towards the WHO (will the US leave the organization and, if not, what changes Washington will ask for?) or the reform of the WTO so that it does not become a museum institution with little influence on how the next stages of globalisation will look for. Moreover, as others have argued, Trump has put the China topic front and center on the US and international political agenda, so that issue cannot be ignored. Beyond employing different tactics than those characterizing the whimsical behavior of Trump, Biden will have to offer a substantive answer on how to deal with a rising power whose action is not as predictable as it was and that will claim a bigger role at the table than currently allocated (in a decade or so, potentially event the main seat at the table).

We like it or not, we are more and more caught by the language of power in international politics, we started to consider more carefully the relation between absolute versus relative gains, we look more carefully at the main international players, potential alliances and at how the new era of globalization and economic evolutions more broadly could change an emerging balance-of-power logic. Fortunately, we are far from the Cold War nightmare, but nothing guarantees that we will not end up in a situation that is perhaps even more unstable than the one that ended with the 1989 revolutions and the disintegration of the USSR. The times of crisis usually test our instincts, and this applies not only to the constructive side: fear and uncertainty, the game theory has shown so well, can very well generate suboptimal results. This is why we need safeguards that the post-Covid-19 situation will not bring to the fore the worse in us as citizens of the world.

One of the few clear safeguards we can consider is the role of middle powers. We already know that, in times of transition of power and hegemonic weakness, international public goods can still be provided by a coalition of states that have obvious stakes in the preservation of the system and are ready to act to make sure that international norms and practices are not destroyed by the vacuum of power. The likes of Canada, Denmark, Australia, South Korea, Indonesia, Japan or New Zealand can join hands and offer their agreed take on the hottest international topic: how to maintain honest international cooperation and ensure that we have the proper global institutions that will mitigate the health, economic, social, and political consequences of the pandemic. We already saw individual actions: the cooperation within MIKTA, an informal middle power partnership between Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey and Australia aiming to support global governance, an alliance which accounts for almost 10% of global trade; or the statement of the Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi that countries around the world need to make concerted efforts to promote multilateralism. But these steps should be more systematic and coordinated: we are in need of a bigger, louder platform.

We know very well that multilateralism has issues, that international organisations have problems: the pandemic has made all this too clear. However, we do not have to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The reckoning and the rethinking will have to go beyond the interests and involvement of the great powers, in order to generate trust and the buy-in of the other relevant players. We really need honest brokers for the post-pandemic world, to prepare us for the next ones and for whatever lies in store for a debacle-prone future. A few months ago, the Lowy Institute rightly focused on the role of middle powers in the current crisis and made reference to a coalition of competent middle powers to offer a safer ground for the recovery. I would dare to say that this is true, but even more important would be a coalition of generous and enlightened self-interested middle powers, that recognize that their position of strength is also a by-product of the current international order that their consolidation is tied to refurbished, not overhauled global agreements. My call is as much a realistic assessment as it is a hope that there is an alternative to zero-sum great power competition in the post-2020 era.

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