China on Friday said it “appreciates” India’s offer of help to fight the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak, soon after it blanked out New Delhi from an official list it released naming the 57 countries, which have either sent assistance or even offered aid to Beijing to contain the epidemic.
The puzzling lack of a clear acknowledgment from Beijing, and sending out a mixed message instead, comes in the backdrop of a letter written by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to President Xi Jinping where the Indian leader offered assistance to China.
At an online briefing on Friday afternoon, the Chinese foreign ministry released the 57-country list comprising 33 countries that had given medical supplies, 17, which had offered to provide the same and seven more that had offered money and material aid.
The list also named international organisations, which had donated supplies.
The list was updated as of 12 noon Friday, the ministry said, profusely thanking the donor countries.
India wasn’t named among those 57 countries.
In a written response to questions from HT hours later, the ministry said something else. Well, almost.
“After the outbreak of the new coronary pneumonia, President Xi Jinping received a letter of condolence from Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. State councilor and foreign minister Wang Yi had a telephone conversation with Indian foreign minister S Jaishankar,” the brief statement in Chinese said.
“The Indian side highly appreciated the strong measures taken by the Chinese government to deal with the epidemic. China appreciates India’s willingness to provide support and help to China in the fight against the epidemic,” the statement added.
The foreign ministry response didn’t address a direct question from HT: Why wasn’t India’s name not on the list of the 57 countries?
Details of Modi’s offer aren’t public but it is learnt that India has reiterated it through a formal written note indicating India’s intention to send an “aircraft load of assistance”.
Details, it’s learnt, are being worked out for an Indian air force aircraft with medical supplies to fly to China next week.
Official sources in Beijing had confirmed earlier this week that one of the two Air India aircraft deployed to evacuate Indians from Hubei and Wuhan, the province and city worst hit by the escalating epidemic, in early February had carried dozens of boxes of supplies.
Beijing hadn’t acknowledged that either.
India’s name wasn’t in the list of 21 countries the foreign ministry had released on February 6, naming the nations that had donated epidemic prevention supplies.
It’s not clear whether Beijing’s lack of acknowledgement is the symptom of seemingly sour bilateral ties.
However, Chinese state media have lately carried articles and opinion pieces criticising India in the context of the outbreak.
The nationalistic tabloid, Global Times, which is affiliated to the Communist Party of China’s mouthpiece, People’s Daily recently carried a report accusing Indian hackers of targetting Chinese medical institutions during the ongoing health crisis.
Another opinion piece in the same tabloid pointed out India’s ban on the export of medical protective clothing after the epidemic broke out in China, and how New Delhi suspended e-visas for the Chinese.
The opinion piece didn’t mention that India had subsequently waived the ban specifically for a handful of China-based importers to purchase the same from Indian companies.