- India was invited by Bangladesh Foreign Minister to join the China-led South Asian initiative for COVID-19 vaccines and poverty alleviation. The creation of the China-South Asian Countries Emergency Supplies Reserve, and a Poverty Alleviation and Cooperative Development Centre was the outcome of a meeting of the Foreign Ministers of China, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in April, had caused some concerns, as it appeared to leave out only India, Bhutan and the Maldives.
- However, given continuing tensions over Chinese PLA aggression at the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh, and New Delhi’s firm stand that other bilateral relations cannot move ahead without a resolution of the boundary stand-off, it is understood that India would be unlikely to consider a new grouping involving China, especially one that could be seen to dilute its role in the SAARC region.
- The absence of India from the grouping as well as from a series of consultations on COVID relief between the Chinese Vice Foreign Minister and different combinations of all SAARC member countries (other than India and Bhutan) led some experts to suggest this was meant to be a “Minus India” initiative. India is the only country of all eight SAARC nations that has not requested or accepted Chinese COVID vaccines.
- Beijing also set up the China-South Asia Emergency Supply Reserve at Chengdu International Railway Port at Chengdu. The reserve is a joint stockpile of emergency supplies as part of efforts to tackle the covid-19 pandemic and other crises, according to a report in the South China Morning Post. The centre is part of efforts to foster longer-term cooperation under China’s multi-billion dollar Belt and Road Initiative.
- The South Asian nations for its China-South Asian Countries Poverty Alleviation and Cooperative Development Center is being seen as an alternative to the eight-member South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) which has been inactive since 2014 when leaders of the India-led grouping met in Kathmandu for their summit. The 2016 summit was to be hosted by Pakistan but it had to be called off after India, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan cited terrorism emanating from Pakistan as a major threat to the region and announced their boycott.
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