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Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Photo: ANI)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Photo: ANI)

India ready to help Myanmar to lessen economic and health burden of coronavirus

This was conveyed by PM Narendra Modi to Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi during a telephone conversation between the two leaders

India on Thursday conveyed its readiness to provide all possible assistance to Myanmar to lessen the economic and health burden on the country due to the novel coronavirus disease. This comes against the backdrop of China reaching out to countries in India’s immediate periphery with medical aid and supplies to battle the covid-19 pandemic.

This was conveyed by prime minister Narendra Modi to Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi during a telephone conversation between the two leaders, a statement from the Indian foreign ministry said.

“The leaders discussed the evolving covid-19 scenario in the domestic and regional contexts and updated each other on the steps being taken to control the spread of the pandemic," the statement said.

“Underlining the importance of Myanmar as a vital pillar of India's Neighbourhood First policy, Prime Minister Modi conveyed India's readiness to provide all possible support to Myanmar for mitigating the health and economic impact of covid-19," it said.

“The leaders agreed to remain in touch and work together to address the present and future challenges posed by covid-19," the statement added.

India’s offer to Suu Kyi comes at a time when China has been seen as making special efforts to reach out to countries like Myanmar and others in the Indian Ocean Region including India’s periphery. On Wednesday, Modi had made a similar offer of help to Bangladesh during a call with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

In the past two months – ie March and April -- China has sent masks, ventilators and other equipment to countries like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar. For Sri Lanka, China has also extended a concessional loan of $ 500 million to battle covid-19. “Sri Lanka is a special friend of China. We have long standing and cordial relations between the two countries. When we faced COVID- 19 disaster recently, Sri Lanka stood with us. China is willing to return that goodwill in the form of fullest cooperation to revive Sri Lanka’s economy in the post-COVID – 19 period," the Acting Ambassador and Chargé d’affaires of the Chinese Embassy in Colombo Hu Wei said to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, says the readout of the meeting between the two.

To Bangladesh and Myanmar, China has dispatched medical teams as well, according to news reports. In the Maldives, where the Ibrahim Mohamed Solih government is seen as leaning towards India, China is helping in the construction of shelters for stranded foreign workers, according to posts by Chinese ambassador Zhang Lizhong on Twitter.

India on its part has sent hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) the anti malarial drug, and a large consignment of medical supplies to Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and the Maldives. In recent days, New Delhi has also activated a currency swap agreement for $ 150 million for the Maldives which is part of a $ 400 swap agreement signed in July 2019 to help the atoll nation deal with revenue losses from the tourism sector. With Sri Lanka too, India is negotiating $ 400 million currency swap agreement. In March, India convened a meeting of South Asian heads of government to decide on a strategy to deal with the pandemic. One of the outcomes of the meeting was the setting of a covid-19 fund that countries of the region could draw from.

The Chinese efforts also come at a time when Beijing is being slammed by many countries across the world for not doing enough to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus disease. Countries like the US, Australia and others have called for an impartial probe into how the covid-19 pandemic assumed the proportions it has, four months after it reportedly surfaced in Wuhan in December. Worldwide, the SARS-CoV2 virus that causes covid-19 has sickened 3.2 million people and claimed almost 230,000 lives in 185 countries or regions since it surfaced in Wuhan in December. Countries like the UK and France have indicated that it cannot be business as usual with China. There is talk of moving supply chains out of China. Japan for instance has announced a $ 2.2 billion package to support its businesses to move home from China.

Then there are tensions between China on one hand and Vietnam, Taiwan and Malaysia in the South China Sea – in the midst of the covid-19 pandemic. This has made countries criticize China for taking advantage of the crisis to push its claims in the disputed waterway.

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