Bejing reaches out to India over not labeling Covid-19 as ‘China virus’

  • China’s foreign minister Wang Yi and his Indian counterpart S. Jaishankar hold conversation over phone
  • Wang Yi says China and India should support each other, and jointly safeguard global public health

Elizabeth Roche
Updated25 Mar 2020
India’s foreign minister S..
India’s foreign minister S..(HT)

In the middle of a diplomatic spat between the US and China over the labeling of the Coronavirus as the “China virus”, China’s foreign minister Wang Yi has reached out to India with the hope that New Delhi would not support such a classification.

According to the Chinese ambassador in New Delhi Sun Weidong, India’s foreign minister S. Jaishankar has agreed with Wang Yi’s point of view – i.e. on not labeling the virus.

The conversation between Wang Yi and Jaishankar took place on Tuesday.

During a phone call with EAM Dr. Jaishankar today, State Councilor and FM Wang Yi expressed sympathy and solidarity with India in fight against COVID-19. China is ready to share our experience, provide assistance within our capacity and open its channel for procurement to India,” Sun said in the first of a series of Twitter posts on Tuesday.

“Mr. Wang Yi said we are confident that India can handle and win the battle against COVID-19. China and India should support each other, and jointly safeguard global public health. Dr. Jaishankar thanked China for its sympathy message and assistance of medical materials to India,” Sun said in a second post.

“Wang Yi said it’s not acceptable and detrimental to international cooperation to label the virus and stigmatise China, hope India oppose such narrow mindset. Dr. Jaishankar agreed not to label the virus and the international community should send strong signal of solidarity,” Sun’s third post said.

New Delhi on its part chose to be circumspect about the conversation. Indian foreign minister S. Jaishankar’s Twitter post stressed that “Global challenges require global cooperation” without any mention of agreeing with Wang on his views of avoiding stigmatising China.

“Discussed with State Councilor and FM Wang Yi of #China our working together in combating #COVID19. Agreed to build further on our bilateral efforts in this domain. Exchanged views on the forthcoming #G20 Summit.

Global challenges require global cooperation,” Jaishankar’s tweet on Tuesday said.

India has an undemarcated border issue with China dating back decades and New Delhi also eyes Beijing's ties with Pakistan with suspicion. With Washington, India's ties have warmed rapidly over the past two decades. New Delhi hosted US president Donald Trump last month in a state visit that was seen as widely successful.

The exchange comes as the US and China are locked in a war of words over the outbreak of the Coronavirus that first emerged in China’s Hubei province in December. In the past few days, the spokespersons of the US state department and Chinese foreign ministry have accused each other of being responsible for the spread of the pandemic. The spat began after Chinese foreign office spokesperson Zhao Lijian put out some Twitter posts in which he pointed to conspiracy theory that the US military may have developed the virus last month. US President Donald Trump and the White House later referred to the coronavirus as the “Chinese virus”, which infuriated Beijing further. US secretary of state Mike Pompeo has also referred to the Coronavirus in a similar way. And in a recent interview with the Washington Watch radio program, Pompeo slammed China for its delay in sharing information about the virus had created risks to people worldwide that had “truly put thousands of lives at risk.”

“My concern is that this cover-up, this disinformation that the Chinese Communist Party is engaged in, is still denying the world the information it needs so that we can prevent further cases or something like this from recurring again,” he added according to a Reuters report.

In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China had been transparent and shared information with the World Health Organization and other countries, including the United States.

“We urge the U.S. to cease politicizing the epidemic, and cease attacking and defaming China,” Geng told a news conference this week, according to Reuters.

Worldwide, the SARS-CoV2 virus that causes COVID-19 has caused more than 435,000 infections and killed almost 20,000 people. China continues to have the largest number of infections at more than 81,000 with Italy and the US following at the second and third positions with 69,176 and 55,238 infections, respectively.

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