Bangladesh is in a spot of bother with the only country that matters to it as far as keeping itself going with some degree of leg space in the region. It’s not that China is our undiluted friend, no one is. But having China on our side is a great help.
It’s not just that China is our biggest trade partner but also our largest friend given regional pushing and shoving. But the recent vaccine interaction shows that perhaps we need to look at how to deal with our critical senior friends when we don’t call the shots. Since we don’t call any of the shots, it’s time to improve capacity in building a life as a junior partner and making it work better. The corona vaccine fracas with China is just an indicator.
Why the vaccine matters
Both India and Bangladesh have been a victim of sorts of the first surge which hit South Asia with relatively less fury. Neither the infection nor the death rate was high which made entire South Asia careless. That made South Asians complacent and the price of that has been high.
In India this was most obvious as the Government went about its political objectives robustly and held meetings and allowed gatherings including the massive “kumbh mela” as part of an overall plan. It massively backfired as the current situation shows and has given rise to the Indian variant that has not only made India a Covid hotspot but affected the entire world.
India was sure that its vaccine capacity role would make it different. However, the vaccine production capacity soon went suspect and India has now gone foraging for vaccines in the world it was once claiming to supply.
If India, the largest producer can go awry on their assumptions this way, what chance is there for Bangladesh which doesn’t have any capacity in production? Whatever it had is shut down.
Vaccines alone can’t make the difference but are the most important element in the combo that can. Bangladesh depended entirely on India and even cold shouldered China which wasn’t necessary but the buzz is that a business lobby wanted to send a “not welcome” signal to China though none are sure. Sole dependence on India has potentially misfired with India failing to supply. In that scenario, dealing with China is very important. Given the supply pattern and industrial capacity, it’s China which could be the only willing hand in town because it can soon produce and sell for geo-political reasons.
China’s vaccine strategy and us
For China, managing Covid is now a national war and not a national health emergency. It has become all the more so since speculation has risen in the West that China produced the virus in the Wu Han lab. While China controlled the virus internally, the pressure on China as “creator of the virus” is a hit to its status. It’s being led by the US who managed the virus very poorly in the first stage despite being the richest in town with a supposedly quality health care system and experts.
So China will have to prove that it can provide support to poorer countries better than others. It’s a speculation but for China, getting good PR after such accusations, which are going to grow, will be important. That means more vaccine production capacity, more supply and greater concessions to friends who matter.
Bangladesh falls in the more favoured nation category simple by being part of South Asia which can be used against India by China. But going by records, Bangladesh seems to be doing its best to weaken that bargaining.
Chinese anxiety over encirclement including using China is a fact and we should accept that. It’s none of our business. The outburst by the Chinese envoy on Quad shows that. But that didn’t require the response Bangladesh FM gave and was followed by certain quarters including media. Indian and Western media was very happy but it made the Chinese angry.
The subsequent deal on supply of vaccines was signed but the big snag was the disclosure of price to media when it clearly what wasn’t meant to be. China was not selling higher but at a lower price to Bangladesh. It has caused embarrassment to China. That the deal was not a G2G between both was never clarified and China was more pissed off than anything else. Here is a country they are trying to help for strategic reasons which keeps goofing up. Subsequent clarifications and denials really don’t help that much.
And stop talking so much…
Bangladesh needs to get more efficient personnel to manage its critical desks in both health and foreign ministry. Many of the current lot may be more known for being corrupt and mediocre but it’s too risky to keep going with them to manage the covid crisis and international affairs. We are a mediocre people and this has caused a problem as many such people hold critical governance power.
A vaccine policy should be announced on both production and acquisition. Existing facilities should be restated and the private sector can join hands but given the level of corruption, people may have trust issues. Best is to produce vaccines at home with a Chinese company as a joint venture. Favouring a- chosen few- policy in money making must be put on hold for a while.
And everyone should talk less.