China offers to help India deal with catastrophic COVID-19 surge

Foreign Affairs

Chinese leader Xi Jinping told his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, that he is “very concerned” about the surge in COVID-19 cases in India. China is supplying India with oxygen and other critical supplies to deal with the crisis, but bilateral tensions remain high with a still-unresolved border standoff.

Illustration by Derek Zheng

In the past week, as India has struggled with a catastrophic surge in COVID-19 cases, potentially driven in large part by more contagious variants, China has taken gradual steps to offer aid to its neighbor.

Today, Chinese leader Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 sent a “message of condolences” to his Indian counterpart, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, per Xinhua (English, Chinese).

  • Xi said that China is “willing to strengthen anti-pandemic cooperation with India,” and noted that he is personally “very concerned” (十分关切 shífēn guānqiè) about the pandemic situation in India.
  • Health officials in China are on alert, because at least some travelers arriving from abroad have tested positive for “the Indian variant,” according to Wú Zūnyǒu 吴尊友, chief epidemiologist at the Chinese CDC, referring to the B.1.617 variant spreading in India which is reportedly more transmissible and slightly more resistant to some vaccines.
  • Wu did not say how many of the 364 positive cases among travelers from abroad this month were from India, or how many were found to have the B.1.617 variant.

Separately, Chinese Foreign Minister Wáng Yì 王毅 had a call with his Indian counterpart, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.

  • The ministers emphasized that their two countries were cooperating in COVID response and agreed to keep transportation lines open and customs checks smooth for necessary supplies, according to the readouts from both India and China (in Chinese).
  • “Chinese media said a first batch of 25,000 oxygen concentrators pledged to India has arrived in the country. The reports said China has already shipped 5,000 ventilators and 21,000 oxygen generators,” per AP.

The border standoff remained lurking in the background, however: While the Chinese readout for Wang Yi’s call does not mention the issue, the Indian readout noted the standoff “remained unfinished,” and urged that it was “necessary that this process [of disengagement] be completed at the earliest.”