For much of the world, the coming weeks and months (if not years) will be dedicated to curbing the spread of the coronavirus. In China, where the outbreak has purportedly been contained, another challenge is pressing: damage control.
Beijing has been mounting a diplomatic push to help the world contain the pandemic and, in the process, reposition itself not as the authoritarian power that was slow to sound the alarm on the impending health crisis, but as the global leader that stepped up when others didn’t. In some places, it appears to be working.
Not everywhere, though. In India, which this month marked 70 years of diplomatic relations with Beijing, anti-China sentiment has soared. Many Indians fault the country for allowing the virus’s spread, and references to the “Wuhan virus” and “China virus” have become commonplace.
India’s perception of China at this moment matters, if for no other reason than to signal how others might be viewing Beijing’s efforts. Like many countries, India doesn’t count China as a key ally, nor does it necessarily have much incentive to praise Beijing for its response to the pandemic so far. India is, however, also among the many countries that have become reliant on China—not just for trade and investment, which was the case before the pandemic, but, perhaps most crucially now, for the vital equipment required to curb the spread of the virus, including testing kits, face masks, and other personal protective gear. That dependence has proved enough to prevent India from openly criticizing China—at least in any official capacity. It hasn’t stopped the Indian public from turning on Beijing, though, nor is it likely to prevent other countries’ populations from doing the same.