COVID-19: PM Modi’s Historic Diplomacy
| Onkareshwar Pandey - Editor in Chief & CEO, IOP - 16 Mar 2020

By Onkareshwar Pandey

NEW DELHI, MARCH 16, 2020: Taking a clear diplomatic lead over China on the Covid-19 issue, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 15, 2020, held a video conference with all SAARC member countries to chalk out a common strategy to fight corona virus in the region.

For the first time in history, heads of the seven SAARC nations, out of total Eight Member States, i.e., Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka participated in a video conference organized by the Indian PM Modi. Pakistan was represented by Dr. Zafar Mirza, State Minister of Health, Pakistan.

The whole world watched how PM Modi skillfully organized to bring all the heads of nations of this region on one platform through a highly televised Video conferencing.

 PM MODI PROPOSES COVID-19 EMERGENCY FUND DURING SAARC MEET

Prime Minister Narendra Modi today proposed the creation of a COVID 19 emergency fund based on voluntary contribution from SAARC nations. He said India can start with an initial offer of 10 million dollars for this fund. Mr Modi said India is assembling a Rapid Response Team of doctors and specialists, along with testing kits and other equipment. They will be on stand-by to be placed at SAARC nation's disposal, if required.

Leading India at the video conference of all SAARC member countries to chalk out a common strong strategy to fight COVID-19 in the region, Mr Modi said India had set up an Integrated Disease Surveillance Portal to better trace possible virus carriers and the people they contacted. This Disease Surveillance software could be shared with SAARC partners. Prime Minister Modi said SAARC nations could create a common Research Platform to coordinate research on controlling epidemic diseases within South Asian region. The Indian Council of Medical Research can offer help coordinating such an exercise.

Mr Modi said SAARC countries must prepare together, act together and succeed together in dealing with the COVID 19 situation. In his opening remarks at the video conference of all SAARC member countries to chalk out a common strong strategy to fight COVID-19 in the region, Mr Modi said sharing perspectives is most valuable as it cannot be predicted with certainty how the situation will unfold despite best efforts. He said so far SAARC region has fewer than 150 cases but there is a need to remain vigilant as the region is home to one fifth of humanity.

 Sharing India's experience of combating the spread of the virus so far, the Prime Minister said "prepare but do not panic" has been the guiding mantra. He said India was careful to not underestimate the problem but also to avoid knee jerk reactions. He said India started screening entry into the country from mid-January itself while also increasing restrictions on travel. He said the step by step approach has helped avoid panic. Mr Modi highlighted that there were increased public awareness campaigns on TV and social media and special efforts were made to reach out to vulnerable groups.

Mr Modi also stated that diagnostic capabilities were increased. He said within two months, India moved from one major facility for pan India testing to more than 66 such labs and developed protocols for each stage of managing this pandemic. He said nearly 1400 Indians have been evacuated from different countries. He said a protocol has been built for such evacuations including carrying out testing by India's mobile teams deployed abroad.

In his concluding remarks, Prime Minister Modi said that we have to fight this battle together and we have to win it together. He said, our neighbourhood collaboration should be a model for the world. Mr Modi also assured that India will do its best for its neighbours. He said, we should identify nodal experts from each of our countries and they can have a similar video-conference one week from now, to follow up on our discussions.

MALDIVES PRESIDENT IBRAHIM MOHAMED SOLIH

Maldives President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih welcomed Mr Modi's suggestion of setting up a COVID Emergency Fund. He said the situation requires a shared response at an unprecedented scale to contain the virus.

 SRI LANKAN PRESIDENT GOTABAYA RAJAPAKSE

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapakse thanked Prime Minister Modi for offering assistance like testing kits to regional countries. He said the biggest challenge is to stop the virus from spreading within Sri Lanka. He said in view of this, Sri Lankan President has banned tourists entering the country. He emphasised the need for South Asia to share ideas and best practices in order to face up to the challenge of the rapid spread of the virus.

AFGHANISTAN PRESIDENT ASHRAF GHANI

Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani welcomed various new initiatives suggested by Prime Minister Modi and suggested all countries to keep a close focus on the next months on the evolving situation. He said there is a need for a common cooperative framework to fight the pandemic of COVID 19.

BANGLADESH PRIME MINISTER SHEIKH HASINA

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina thanked Prime Minister Modi for bringing back 23 students of her country from Wuhan. Nepal Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli noted the importance of pooling collective wisdom to devise a sound and effective strategy to combat the virus.

 PRIME MINISTER OF BHUTAN DR. LOTAY TSHERING

Prime Minister of Bhutan Dr. Lotay Tshering welcomed the setting up of the COVID Relief Fund and acknowledged the contribution of health care professionals in combating the virus.

PAKISTAN - STATE MINISTER OF HEALTH DR. ZAFAR MIRZA

State Minister of Health, Pakistan Dr. Zafar Mirza observed that his country shares the common regional concerns on the virus. He said that while hoping for the best, they also have to prepare for the worst. Earlier, Mr Modi had expressed the desire that the leadership of SAARC nations should chalk out a strong strategy to fight Coronavirus.

NEPAL PM KHADGA PRASAD SHARMA OLI

In his remarks, Prime Minister of Nepal Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli noted the importance of pooling our collective wisdom to devise a sound and effective strategy to combat the virus.

Thanking India’s PM Modi for taking this timely initiative, PM Oli also thanked all other SAARC leaders for their kind words and good wishes on his speedy recovery.

PM Oli said the government of Nepal has restricted international movements, and on-arrival visas have been suspended.

“We have taken several measures to prevent the disease from entering the country. I am personally overseeing and guiding towards this effort,” he said.

Earlier, on Friday, Prime Minister Modi had called on the eight-member regional grouping and pitched for a video conference among the leaders of the SAARC nations to chalk out a strong strategy to combat coronavirus outbreak.

PM MODI SPRUNG A DIPLOMATIC SURPRISE

By taking this initiative of reaching out to the eight-nation grouping and urging its leaders to come together to fight the coronavirus outbreak, PM  Modi sprung a diplomatic surprise as it was considered a well thought diplomatic move because India has consciously been ignoring the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) for nearly four years.

A MOVE TO ISOLATE CHINA

It was also a move to isolate China, which is not only the worst affected country but also leading in successfully fighting and controlling the threat of Coronavirus.

There are only 108 confirmed cases in India so far and, as per data from the World Health Organization, there are 126 cases in SAARC region; Pakistan has over 30 COVID-19 cases.

On the other hand, the novel coronavirus, which originated in China's Wuhan city in December last year has killed over 3,189 people and over 80,824 confirmed cases of infection. The fact is, China, which has successfully controlled the spread of this virus and has shown its vast capabilities to handle such a grim situation, well deserves as a nation to talk on this issue and tell the world how to deal with it. But PM Modi took the lead and utilized this opportunity to become an acceptable leader of the SAARC nations.

MODI RECEIVED WARM SUPPORT

Modi’s initiative was hailed by all SAARC leaders including Pakistan. Bhutanese Prime Minister Lotay Tshering Tweeted: “This is what we call leadership. As members of this region, we must come together in such times.”

PM Modi's suggestion was warmly appreciated and accepted by all member states of SAARC. All the leaders of the grouping welcomed the Prime Minister's proposal. Pakistan's response to the proposal came late in the night.

QUESTION OF CONSULTATIONS AND COOPERATIONS WITH CHINA

On the question of consultations and cooperations with China on tackling coronavirus, the sources in the MEA said, “In this regard, Embassy of India is in touch with relevant Chinese authorities in Beijing and Wuhan as well as Indians in Hubei Province, especially in Wuhan.

They said, “We are closely monitoring the evolving situation in China, including advisories issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) in this connection. The relevant Chinese authorities have assured all assistance to residents of Wuhan, including food supply. At present, it is reported that supermarkets (particularly those that are government-run) and e-commerce services, including food delivery continue to remain operational in Wuhan.”

However, it is considered a standard diplomatic reply. Indian diplomatic observers feel that, PM Modi took the advantage of this situation, also because Chinese Foreign Ministry did not take any such initiative, and it was well exploited by Indian PM to showcase the world about its sensitivity and ability to fight this global epidemic.

NOW MODI ON A MISSION TO CREATE LINK ALL G20 LEADERS

The Indian initiatives do not stop till the SAARC region,  now Prime Minister Modi is keen to organise a linkup between all the G20 leaders to fight #CoronaVirus. Australian PM @ScottMorrisonMP has appreciated PM Modi on Tweeter saying, "I think that's a commendable initiative.”

It may be mentioned here that the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Disaster Management Centre (SDMC-IU) is located in India and it was set up at the Gujarat Institute of Disaster Management (GIDM) Campus, Gandhinagar, Gujarat.

Image courtesy - Khabar Hub / Twitter

(Onkareshwar Pandey is Founder, Editor in Chief & CEO, Indian Observer Post, and former Senior Group Editor- Rashtriya Sahara (Hindi & Urdu) and also former Editor, (News), ANIhttp://bit.ly/2mh7hih)

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