A vaccine is a vaccine. If it is approved by the World Health Organization, it is good enough. But the government appears reluctant to import more jabs from China, whose ‘Vero Cell’ vaccine recently received the WHO’s emergency use approval. Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli is wary of Chinese vaccines as his government has been trying to mend its ties with New Delhi. There is no sign that India does not want Nepal to import Chinese jabs—when India is incapable of meeting its own vaccine needs, let alone export them to Nepal.
In fact, the civil society in India itself supports vaccine-import from China, India’s next-door neighbor that has largely controlled the Covid-19 contagion. But the Indian government is reluctant. It has allowed individual states to buy vaccines from abroad, but none of the states seems interested in importing Chinese vaccines. New Delhi has clearly instructed them to bypass China. Instead, the states have placed orders for American vaccines that need to be stored at extremely low temperatures, which might not be practical in the mostly hot-weathered India.
That is not the whole story though. Beijing too has resisted from helping New Delhi with vaccines following their long-standing border disputes and India’s ban on Chinese apps. But that is a problem for India and China to sort out. This cannot be a reason for Nepal to abjure Chinese vaccines. The Oli government seems to have calculated that it would earn some brownie points with New Delhi by bypassing China. This is at best a naïve and at worst a criminal calculation.
Surely, PM Oli, the person who valiantly stood against Indian bullying during the 2015-16 blockade, is more than capable of striking a new government-to-government vaccine deal with the Chinese government. China has also repeatedly showed its interest to supply vaccines and oxygen cylinders and concentrators to Nepal. Yet Nepal has shown little interest, even though people are dying for the want of oxygen and paucity of vaccines. The private sector’s limited attempts to directly buy vaccines from Chinese companies won’t be enough to meet Nepal’s needs.
Nepali political leaders have over the years tried to prolong their tenure in government by appeasing either India or China. They also frequently switch camps as and when it suits them. The assumption this time is that the Oli government’s ‘gesture of goodwill’ won’t go unnoticed in New Delhi. It is hard to believe that a foreign power will trust the government of a country that bargains with the lives of its own citizens.
The best way KP Oli can earn the trust of his countrymen will be by getting them enough vaccines at the earliest. That will also boost his international standing. People have queued for hours for a jab of Vero Cell. Most of the unvaccinated Nepalis will be more than happy to get the same, or even Sputnik V. What is the government waiting for?