India working with China to ensure quality of supplies, says Vikram Misri

India working with China to ensure quality of supplies, says Vikram Misri

With several agencies in India involved in the procurement exercise, ensuring quality may have been not be possible, says Indian Ambassador to China

India and China are working together to ensure the quality of medical supplies, especially for personal protective equipment (PPE)  kits and testing kits, given China continues to among the world’s largest suppliers of the items India needs at present, said Indian Ambassador to China, Vikram Misri.

In an exclusive interview to The Hindu, Mr. Misri indicated that private companies in India should be discouraged from direct procurements without consulting the government on the bonafides of companies manufacturing the medical supplies, and disclosed that India is employing European agencies to verify quality assurances of these companies as well.

India has imported more than 500 tonnes of medical equipment from China in the past two weeks, including PPE, antibody rapid testing kits, thermometers and other essentials.

Last week, the Ministry of External Affairs said dozens of flights carrying more than 400 tonnes of medical equipment from China have arrived in the last two weeks, and the government is also exploring cooperation on research on the coronavirus with China and other countries. How are the two countries are working together during the pandemic?

In the context of the COVID-19 crisis, there is considerable space for India and China to cooperate in controlling the spread of this pandemic. Initially, when China was at the height of dealing with the epidemic outbreak, the two countries had cooperated in the process of evacuating Indian nationals from Hubei province. India had on that occasion also offered and provided medical assistance to China to help deal with the outbreak.

Now, India is in the process of commercially procuring a large amount of medical supplies from China, which happens to be the one of the largest producers of a number of the products we are looking for. Our priority is for quality products to be available at reasonable and stable prices and enable their transport in an efficient and timely manner to India. We have been working together with the Chinese side on identifying bona fide suppliers, facilitating customs procedures and expediting flight clearances, etc. Smooth cooperation in these areas would be an excellent development in our bilateral relations.

Members of our scientific agencies have also taken part in videoconferences with Chinese government and medical authorities on sharing China’s experiences in tackling the COVID-19 crisis. There may be more such opportunities in future, and we will look forward to participating in them. Collaboration, experience and information sharing in this area would be useful as the situation evolves.

There have been concerns about the quality of Chinese medical supplies. Tens of thousands of PPE kits failed quality tests, and the use of rapid antibody test kits had to be put on hold. Why has India continued with these imports despite these issues?

As I noted earlier, China happens to be among the world’s largest producers of some of the medical supplies that India is looking to procure at this moment. With regard to quality issues with the rapid antibody tests, you may have to inquire with the agencies at the Indian end that were involved with the procurement process.

Regarding PPE kits, it may be noted that several agencies in India, including private entities, are involved in this procurement exercise and may not have been in a position to look at quality related issues in detail.

As far as the procurement of PPE kits by the Government of India through the Embassy in Beijing is concerned, we are taking care to ensure that this is confined to a list of approved and qualified suppliers who figure on an official Chinese Government list. The Chinese Government has emphasised that procurement should be done only from those entities that figure on this list. Chinese authorities have also added an extra quality inspection requirement for all consignments before they are handed over to customs authorities. We are also doing our part in the quality assurance exercise by insisting on an independent third-party inspection by reputed agencies [such as SGS Switzerland and Bureau Veritas]. Indeed, it is through this third party inspection that we have been able to detect issues with a recent consignment and have had it returned to the manufacturer for rectification.

There are about 25,000 Indian students registered for study in China. You interacted with some over a videoconference some days ago. How many would need to return to India once travel restrictions are lifted, and what preparations are being made for them?

India has a significant population of students in China. Many of them are now in India, either having left before the Spring Festival [Chinese New Year] vacation or having been evacuated. I interacted recently with several students who stayed back in China and was happy to see them keeping good health and in good spirits. They are completely appreciative of the challenges that face us. It is my understanding that most of them, as also those who are in India, have already resumed their university classes, as many universities have shifted to the online mode of instruction. We have not come across any cases of Indian students in need of evacuation. On the contrary, we can expect Indian students looking to return to China once universities begin to resume regular classes and as the situation trends towards normalcy.

The government’s decision to push FDI from neighbouring countries through the government route as an emergency measure appears to be aimed at stopping Chinese investment and hostile takeovers. The Chinese Embassy in India has called this a discriminatory move and accused India of violating global commitments. What is your response?

There is no prohibition or bar on investments resulting from these procedural changes, which have been made with full cognizance of India’s international commitments.

In the long term, do you think that this will slow or stop the flow of Chinese investments into India?

India continues to remain among the most attractive global destinations for FDI. Capital only seeks returns and as long as India continues to be a profitable place to do business, I do not expect the trend of investment into India from anywhere in the world to change.

Minister for Road Transport and Highways and MSMEs Nitin Gadkari has said that India should attract companies that plan to exit China in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Is the Indian Embassy reaching out to these companies to invite them to move manufacturing units to India? What would you say are India’s comparative advantages at present?

Indian Missions across the globe are always on the look-out for opportunities to attract businesses to India. The significant progress that we have made in improving the ease of doing business in India and the tax, labour and banking reforms that have been effected in recent times have created a more attractive environment for international business. With adjustments under way in the global economic landscape, we should be able to leverage this, together with our young and technically skilled workforce, for greater successes in the years ahead.

Apart from the medical requirements, are there other areas India and China are exploring for cooperation after the pandemic, such as in technological cooperation, food security, environmental cooperation and other climate change goals, both bilaterally and on multilateral fora like BRICS, RIC [Russia-India-China] and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization?

These are all potential areas of India-China cooperation. Some, like climate change, are areas where India and China already cooperate, both bilaterally and in multilateral fora. They are also important themes for cooperation in the various forums where both our countries are members. As the world emerges from the pandemic, these areas should see further cooperation.

Is India exploring any formal cooperation to study or learn from mistakes and best practices adopted by Wuhan in managing the COVID-19 crisis?

As I have noted in a previous response, members of the Indian scientific fraternity had participated in a videoconference organised by the Chinese side that was dedicated to sharing China’s experiences in tackling the COVID-19 crisis. There may be more such opportunities in future, and we will look forward to participating in them. Right now, the preoccupation in both countries is to deal with the immediate challenges posed by the pandemic.

Indian institutes like the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) and the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) have collaborated in the past in studies with the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV). Do you see more such collaborations, or will they come to an end after the pandemic?

Public health issues, epidemiology, vaccine development, etc., are areas with significant potential for cooperation between India and China, given our large populations, and our large pools of scientific and technological manpower. I think it would be mutually beneficial to remain engaged in these areas. The concerned agencies would be better placed to answer questions on specific programmes of cooperation.

Celebrations for the 70th year of India-China relations have been put on pause during the pandemic. If the situation improves in the next few months, please tell us about what is planned for the rest of the year. Will the annual informal summit between Prime Minister Modi and President Xi be postponed this year?

April 1, 2020 marked the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between India and the People’s Republic of China. Our leaders exchanged greetings through letters that they wrote to each other on this important occasion. You would recall that at the second Informal Summit in Chennai, Prime Minister Modi and President Xi had agreed to celebrate this event through 70 activities that would be organised over the course of the coming year. The outbreak has obviously interrupted our plans and our preparations for celebrating this very important and significant occasion in a befitting manner. We may thus not necessarily be able to undertake every activity, but it remains our intention to try and do as much as possible in the time that is available to us. This is a very important occasion and we remain committed to observing it in an appropriate manner. Both sides remain engaged on the issue, and we hope we can resume engagements at the earliest possible, whenever it is safe and healthy to do so.

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