India, China, and a tale of two vaccination programs, and rewriting Party history

Welcome to today’s issue and I hope this finds readers well and safe. In this issue, I'll be looking at:

- Vaccination programs in China (where it is taking off rapidly) and in India (which is slowing down worryingly)

- Indian drugmakers’ concerns about rising prices of raw materials coming in from China

- The LAC situation: India's Army Chief gives a series of interviews this week while China's State media carries reports of new deployments amid the summer exercises in Xinjiang. Meanwhile, the stalemate continues.

- On the tightening - and rewriting - of Communist Party history as the CPC turns 100, and a look at an article by Wen Jiabao, former Premier, that didn't make it past the censors.

China is stepping up vaccinations rapidly, recording 14 million doses in a single day earlier this week -- the highest it's managed so far. At this rate, China could end up vaccinating 75% of its population easily by the end of this year.

Will this mean any kind of limited opening up? The thousands of students still stranded in India and elsewhere, waiting to go back to resume their education in China, will certainly be hoping so. China, remember, has barred most international travel since November 2020 and its travel restrictions are so extreme that it is now even barring its own nationals from returning home from many places, including India, where Chinese nationals are being denied health codes without which they can’t go back even if they test negative for COVID.

The Global Times reports:

China is accelerating its speed in administering COVID-19 vaccines as daily vaccinations edged close to 14 million doses amid an epidemic flareup.

The Global Times sorted out the official data and found that it took 25 days for total COVID-19 vaccinations to rise from 100 million to 200 million, 16 days to jump from 200 million to 300 million, and only 9 days for overall administered doses to go from 300 million to over 400 million.

The daily administered doses were close to 14 million on Sunday, marking the highest daily vaccination doses so far.

COMMENT: There is much to be admired by the organisation of the vaccination program in China right now which has seemed to have overcome initial vaccine hesitancy. We can only dream of such a focused effort given the shortages we are facing. But are China's vaccines effective, you may wonder? There is enough literature out there which readers may turn to, which broadly seems to suggest, at least as I’ve understood it, that they are effective in preventing severe COVID infection while estimates of efficacy for any kind infection range from 55-80%, much less than the mRNA vaccines but somewhere in the ballpark of the Oxford/AZ vaccine.

This graph sums up the trend in both countries:

Indian drug manufacturers are seeing prices of raw materials from China soar, reports the SCMP:

India’s drug manufacturers have seen the price of some raw materials they import from China skyrocket in recent weeks, industry groups say, as the country struggles to contain a second wave of Covid-19.

Ingredients for paracetamol, which helps reduce fever, and some antibiotics, including Azithromycin, have gone up by 30 to 40 per cent since the start of the second wave, according to the heads of two trade associations. Ashok Kumar Madan, executive director of the Indian Drug Manufacturers’ Association, said the price of raw materials for drugs used to treat Covid-19, like ivermectin, had risen by as much as 300 per cent. Demand for such products has surged as new coronavirus infections have risen past 350,000 a day and hospitals have run short of supplies. While medical equipment has poured in from around the world, India depends on China for most of the active pharmaceutical ingredients (API) it needs to make drugs used to treat Covid-19 and related health problems.

“India is importing almost 70 per cent of our requirements from China, so when the impact comes it’s basically coming with the APIs from China – it is an increase in the API prices, it’s an increase in the packing material prices, and there are issues that freight prices have gone up, both air and sea,” Madan said.

Chinese media have been showcasing what China has been doing in ramping up exports to India. As I reported in earlier issues of this newsletter, some media and commentators in China have been somewhat incensed by reports from India of supply chain problems and rising costs, portrayed as India being “ungrateful” — regardless of the fact there are real logistical concerns. A detailed Global Times piece today was written in a similar vein:

As India struggles with the worst COVID-19 outbreak yet with record infection cases and deaths and dire shortages of crucial supplies, some in the country have resorted to knee-jerk reactions - blaming China groundlessly for suspending flights, controlling exports of raw materials to India and raising prices.

However, an investigation conducted by the Global Times showed a completely different picture from what some Indian media outlets and politicians have depicted. Instead of cutting supplies, Chinese airlines and logistics firms have been working to increase flights to carry desperately needed medical supplies to India, even as they face mounting risks and hurdles, companies and sources told the Global Times.

Not only was China among the first handful of countries that offered medical support to India, but it has provided the largest air cargo capacity for India - accounting for 60 percent of air cargo flights into the country, as China, a manufacturing power, has been a key source of support for India to maintain its economic operation.

Such efforts to extend India a lifeline during the country's devastating COVID-19 crisis, despite tensions in bilateral relations and growing Indian hostility toward China, underscored China's commitment to helping the global fight against the pandemic, after it successfully reined in the deadly virus domestically, analysts noted.

The BBC reports on how as India deals with the current surge and vaccine shortages, China has been stepping in, in the neighbourhood. The report looks specifically at Sri Lanka:

Sri Lanka began vaccinating people earlier this year, and was largely dependant on India for supplies of the AstraZeneca vaccine. But with the situation worsening there and shipments stopping, the programme had to be halted. As of 19 May, just over 6% of the population had received one dose of a vaccine and there's a great deal of uncertainty over how or when those who received the AstraZeneca jab will get their second dose.

Enter China.

The Asian giant - which already has a significant presence in many of India's neighbours, including Sri Lanka - has been at the forefront of relief efforts here, donating vaccines, personal protective equipment (PPE), face masks and testing kits in efforts that are being called "face mask" diplomacy.

And along with Russia, it has also been able to make up for the shortfall of vaccines left after India's inability to keep providing them.

China has donated 1.1 million Sinopharm vaccines to Sri Lanka which has helped resume its vaccination programme and the government has announced plans to purchase more, along with Sputnik.

Experts say Sri Lanka has been exemplary in deploying vaccines for infectious diseases in the past and so people are not as hesitant about the Covid-19 vaccine as elsewhere in Asia.

There was some concern over the Chinese and Russian vaccines, but as cases have surged, people have been queueing up to get them.

Beijing is also already providing financial assistance to Sri Lanka as its economy struggles under the strain of the pandemic.

The LAC stand-off shows no signs of easing with no apparent progress following the January disengagement agreement at Pangong Lake. China's media last week carried several reports showing a beefing up of military infrastructure in Xinjiang bordering eastern Ladakh, suggesting perhaps it is in it for the long haul. India's Army Chief, meanwhile, gave a series of interviews last week as we mark one year of the LAC crisis.

From the Press Trust of India:

The Indian Army is keeping a constant eye on activities by the Chinese military including a drill it is conducting in its training areas near Ladakh region and there were no ”violations” by either side since the implementation of the disengagement in Pangong lake areas, Chief of Army Staff Gen M M Naravane said on Wednesday. Gen Naravane also expressed hope that both sides will be able to make forward movement in resolving issues in other areas.

The Chief of the Army Staff said the disengagement has been cordial so far, but added that Indian troops are maintaining an effective vigil to deal with any eventualities along the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh. Asked about a military drill by the Chinese Army in their depth areas, he said Indian troops are keeping a constant eye on it.

”We have seen movements in training areas. It is an annual exercise. They come for training. We also go to training areas. We have been keeping a constant eye on it. We have forces along the LAC and they are adequate to deal with any action or activity,” Gen Naravane told India Today channel. He said there were no ”transgressions and violations” since the disengagement process took place in February and both sides are observing it in letter and spirit.

An interesting observation on what he said to CNN News 18:

Sabre-rattling from the Chinese media to coincide with the PLA’s summer exercises:

The Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Xinjiang Military Command, deployed in China's high altitude western regions, revealed that it has taken delivery of three new advanced weapons systems over the past week, including armored vehicles and artillery pieces, as analysts said on Sunday that troops are upgrading their arsenal to meet modern warfare demands.

Dozens of a new type of armored assault vehicle recently entered service with a PLA Xinjiang Military Command unit deployed in a snowy plateau region at an elevation of more than 4,500 meters,, a video news website affiliated with the PLA, reported on Sunday.

The eight-wheeled armored vehicles come in different variations, with some equipped with large caliber rifled guns, some with auto cannons, some with machine guns and some with howitzer systems, the footage shows.

Snehesh Philip adds in The Print:

Though this is the first time the PLA has confirmed presence of rocket launchers, the report did not give the type or firing range of the weapon. But it said it was a system with a long-range rocket with precision strike capability and had entered service in 2019.

Referring to the PLA Daily report, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) Tuesday said the move by the PLA is aimed at reinforcing China’s border defence and acting as a deterrent to India. “An artillery brigade stationed 5,200 metres (17,000 feet) above sea level in Xinjiang military district has intensified its drills using a rocket system during full-wing combat-ready training,” the SCMP said.

The PLA Daily report comes at a time when China changed its stand on further disengagement during the 11th Corps Commander level talks, as reported by ThePrint. After the surprise breakthrough in February that saw both sides pulling troops and equipment back from the brink in Pangong Tso, China now wants the two armies to de-escalate or withdraw additional troops brought in as back-up to those in the front.

India, however, is insisting on disengagement from the remaining friction areas along the disputed Himalayan frontier first. Sources in the Indian defence establishment said they are aware of the PLA report, but did not comment further.

External Affairs Minister Jaishankar made these comments about China yesterday (Thursday) in an event organised by the FT and Indian Express. Report from Hindustan Times:

The India-China relationship is at the crossroads and New Delhi cannot think of cooperating with Beijing in other areas as long as tensions continue on the Line of Actual Control (LAC), external affairs minister S Jaishankar said on Thursday.

The external affairs ministry too said the process of disengagement of Indian and Chinese troops at friction points in Ladakh sector remains “unfinished” and the full restoration of peace and tranquillity in border areas alone will lead to progress in bilateral ties.

Jaishankar’s remarks, made during a virtual interview at the FT-Indian Express webinar, came in the wake of calls by the Chinese leadership for setting aside the border standoff that began a year ago and focusing on cooperation in other areas such as trade and investment.

He accused China of moving away from the consensus on stabilising the border, which emerged from former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi’s groundbreaking visit to China in 1988. This consensus led to important border agreements in 1993 and 1996 that created three decades of peace and tranquillity on the LAC, he noted....

Jaishankar also told the webinar that India’s interest extends from deep into the Indo-Pacific region to Africa and Europe, and that the country’s growing relationship with the US shouldn’t be viewed through a Cold War prism. The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or Quad, he said, brings together countries with a growing degree of comfort with each other and a shared interest in global and regional challenges such as connectivity, maritime security, resilient supply chains and vaccines.

“Today, the Quad fills a gap which cannot be addressed simply by four bilateral relationships aggregated, and a multilateral or regional structure which isn’t there. Something has to fill that space [and the] Quad helps to fill the gap,” he added.

COMMENT: Jaishankar also had an interesting response to a question from the FT's Jamil Anderlini on how India viewed human rights abuses in Xinjiang - something Delhi has not yet commented on - and the view of some countries that this was "genocide".

Here is what Jaishankar said: "I don't know if you are going to get a perspective from me as I have enough issues with China as it is. I would rather focus on the issues that are already on my plate".

On Xinjiang, Dake Kang in the AP writes on the Chinese counter-effort on the allegations of human rights abuses:

China has highlighted an unlikely series of videos this year in which Uyghur men and women deny U.S. charges that Beijing is committing human rights violations against their ethnic group. In fact, a text obtained by the AP shows that the videos are part of a government campaign that raises questions about the willingness of those filmed.

Chinese state media have published dozens of the videos praising the Communist Party and showing Uyghurs angrily denouncing former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for declaring a genocide in the far west Xinjiang region. The videos, which officials have insisted are spontaneous outpourings of emotion, have also featured prominently in a series of government news conferences held for foreign media.

But the text obtained by AP is the first concrete confirmation that the videos are anything but grassroots. Sent in January to government offices in the northern city of Karamay, the text told each office to find one Uyghur fluent in Mandarin to film a one-minute video in response to Pompeo’s “anti-China remarks.”

Express a clear position on Pompeo’s remarks, for example: I firmly oppose Pompeo’s anti-Chinese remarks, and I am very angry about them,” the text said. “Express your feelings of loving the party, the country and Xinjiang (I am Chinese, I love my motherland, I am happy at work and in life, and so on).”

And finally…

Highly recommend this essay from Willy Lam writing for the Jamestown Foundation on how Xi Jinping has, in the lead up to the Party's big 100 year anniversary on July 1, taken an extremely firm grip on the writing (and rewriting) of Party history. This entire essay is really worth your time:

A series of official books and journal articles have whitewashed the tyrannical regime of Chairman Mao Zedong and lionized the contributions of Xi, now deemed an equal to Mao in the CCP pantheon. Contrary to former chronicles of party events, the recently published An Abbreviated History of the Chinese Communist Party (中国共产党简史, Zhongguo Gongchangdang jianshi) made no reference to the iniquities committed by Mao during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76). Instead, the First Generation leader was given credit for setting the foundation of “socialism with Chinese characteristics” and providing ideological enrichment of the nation with “valuable experience, theoretical preparation and material foundation” during the 1949-1976 period. An account of the nine years under Xi Jinping (2012 to 2021), during which the supreme leader fine-tuned “socialism with Chinese characteristics for the new era,” took up one-fourth of the book (Radio Free Asia, April 30;, April 12).

Senior cadres close to Xi have underscored the imperative of wholeheartedly following the “party core’s” dictums by citing examples of how deviant CCP leaders in the 1930s had tried to split the party by challenging the party central authorities (党中央, dangzhongyang) led by Mao…

The CCP authorities have also kicked off a nationwide campaign to study party history whose goal, in Xi’s words, is “to establish the correct view about the party’s past events.” The Party’s propaganda department released the latest Xi book, titled, On the History of the Chinese Communist Party (论中国共产党历史, lun zhongguo gongchangdang lishi). Compiling a selection of Xi’s articles and speeches in the past nine years, the book stresses how Xi has made history by mapping out major developmental game plans for socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era. One previously unpublished article spotlighted Xi’s late 2012 prescription for “realizing the grandiose dream of the great renaissance of the Chinese nation.” Of more relevance to Xi’s power play is his insistence on the right of princelings imbued with the correct view of history “to inherit well the red DNA and to pass on the red jiangshan [heaven and earth] from generation to generation” (People’s Daily, April 21; Ming Pao, February 22).

On a related note, this report was truly remarkable to me:

Chinese Internet firms blocked users from sharing a lengthy article written by former Premier Wen Jiabao in tribute to his late mother, censoring a senior member of the ruling Communist Party, possibly because he spoke out of line.

The obituary-style article written by Wen about his mother, who died recently, appeared in a small weekly newspaper called the Macau Herald on Friday (Apr 16) and was posted on a public account on Chinese chat app WeChat on Saturday, but was swiftly restricted.

The heartfelt tribute includes details of Wen's mother's struggle during periods of upheaval in China, including the second Sino-Japanese War and the political purges of the Cultural Revolution. "In my mind, China should be a country full of fairness and justice, always with a respect for the will of the people, humanity, and human nature," said Wen's article, which did not directly discuss China's current political environment.

China's ruling Communist Party (CCP) has sought to tighten control over how netizens discuss history on the country's heavily controlled Internet in the run-up to the 100th anniversary of the party's founding, in July.

I thought I would end this issue with selected portions from Wen Jiabao's now censored essay (usual disclaimer: translated with the help of translation software and cleaned up here and there, so don't take this as a literal translation but it is faithful to what is conveyed in the original. Please excuse typos).

My Mother

Wen Jiabao

My mother is gone. She left us, left the earth, and returned to the land where she was born and raised. She is still here, and she will always live in our hearts, in the students she loved so much, and in the villagers she loved so much.

My mother's name is Yang Zhiyun and she was born in Yixingbu, a northern suburb of Tianjin, on the 14th day of the 11th month of the 1921 lunar calendar. Her father, Yang Fengxiang was a village doctor who made a living by running a small pharmacy; her mother, Yang Ma was a housewife who could not read or write.

My mother was born in a difficult time and a difficult place. Yixingbu was a major town in the north of Tianjin. In modern times, Yixingbu has been in disaster for a long time due to internal and external troubles and constant wars. When my mother was a child, her hometown was already a poor and unlivable village. The village was a dirt road, a dirt house, a dirt bed. A folk song describes the situation at that time: living in an earthen house, sleeping on an earthen bed, men doing business outside, no rice soup at home, children crying for hunger, women in tears...

In 1936, Grandpa died of illness at the age of 45. The pharmacy was run by grandma alone. Grandmother hired two people to help take care of the pharmacy. In addition to the pharmacy, she also rented 10 mu of land. In October of that year, the Japanese invaders army conducted a large-scale exercise in the suburbs of Tianjin. Six to seven thousand Japanese troops formed a half-moon arc-shaped encirclement from the northwest to the southeast outside Yixingbu, and many crops and farmland were destroyed by the sound of gunfire and artillery. The people did not dare to go out, they could not harvest their crops, they could not do business, and they lived in hardship without food and clothing.

On April 22, 1937, the Japanese army was about to invade north China and decided to build a temporary airfield to prepare for the airlift of soldiers and supplies to Tianjin. The address was chosen in the southeast of Yixingbu village. At that time, many farmlands were destroyed and many farmers were taken to work, causing Yixingbu to suffer yet another damage. The "7-7" Marco Polo Bridge Incident marked the beginning of the eight-year war of resistance.

From February 1937 to January 1938, my father taught at the Yixingbu Shifan Elementary School. During this period, my father and my mother fell in love and got married, and in April 1938, my father was admitted to the History and Geography Section (later changed to the Department of History and Geography) of the National Beijing Teachers' College (later changed to Beijing Normal University). In that year, my mother gave birth to her first son, whom my grandfather named Guanghua (meaning restoration of China), but unfortunately he only lived for one year and died of pneumonia. On September 15, 1942 , my mother gave birth to me during the national tragedy. My grandfather was so distressed that he named me Jiabao [family’s treasure]. In that year, the Japanese were sweeping North China. One day in October, a group of Japanese invaders entered Yixingbu and gathered the whole village in the square in the southwest of the village and set up machine guns around the villagers to force them to hand over. My mother hugged her newborn child and crowded in the crowd, terrified. The courtyard was silent, and my mother, fearing that I would cry, held me tightly in her arms.

In the midst of the military chaos, the pharmacy opened. The KMT troops often came to harass them. One afternoon, when my mother was washing clothes in a wooden basin against the window, a dog was lying under the window outside, but she did not see it. Suddenly, a group of Chinese soldiers came and shot the dog to death. The sound of gunfire stunned her and she put down her clothes, unable to speak for half a day. I was terrified and hugged my mom tightly and hid behind her. At that moment, all I could hear was the sound of wild laughter outside.

My mother was strong and self-reliant. In order to struggle to support the family, she looked for jobs everywhere and taught at Yixingbu Shifan Primary School and Tianjin County Seventh District Central School. She knew that every job was hard to come by, so she cherished it very much. In 1954, she left home in pain and went to Gansu with a group of young people to teach. She was a teacher at Fuxi Primary School in Tianshui, and was there for most of the year. I was only 12 years old that year and had just started junior high school. My father was at work and had no time to take care of me, and I had to cook with him at night. It was then that I learned to steam nests and boil thin rice. My three-year-old sister was placed in my aunt's home…

During the Cultural Revolution, my family was "evacuated" to the countryside; after the Cultural Revolution, I came back here and didn't move until the neighborhood was demolished. Many people in the hutong neighborhood were friends of my mother. For many years, the parents did not have any disagreements with any of the families. This relationship lasted until those "unprecedented" times. When the family was suffering, the neighbors quietly sympathized with us and tore down the big-character posters put up for my father in the hutongs at night when no one was around, but none of the families took the blame…

The disaster of the "Cultural Revolution" fell on our family. My father was seized and arrested, put under surveillance at school, and his salary was suspended. Big-character posters were posted from the door to the alley. From her own modest salary, my mother saved enough money for father’s food and sent it to school herself. In 1970, the family was forcibly evacuated to the countryside again. First, the family had to go to Wuyuan, Inner Mongolia. After repeated negotiations and contacts, the family was relocated to the Xiaodian Commune in the northern suburbs of Tianjin, where they worked for six years. After the smashing of the "Gang of Four", my father was transferred to Yixingbu Ninety-Six Middle School in the northern suburbs of Tianjin as a teacher. On November 5, 1978, the Tianjin Hebei District Education Bureau issued a review of the political history of my father, saying that "no new problems were found" during the review of the Cultural Revolution. In 1982, he went through the retirement procedure, and in 1986, he retired.

During the Cultural Revolution, my father was locked up in school and was often subjected to brutal "interrogations" and beatings. One day, they punched my father's face and swelled his eyes so much that he could not see. My father couldn't stand it any longer and pointed to his heart and said, "Boy, hit me here!"

My mother was worried about me taking on a big responsibility. I have kept two letters from my mother in my hand. One letter was written in November 2003, when I first became premier, and the other was written in October 2007, when I was about to become premier for the second time.

The first letter reads, "It is not easy for you to be in such a high position as a minister today without any backers, not to mention your family. Your character is to strive for perfection, but with such a large country and a large population, it is difficult to achieve perfection." She asked me "to get through to the top, to make peace with people, and to remember that a lone tree cannot make a forest."

The second letter reads, "The achievements of the past five years are the result of your hard work, which is not easy to come by. The next five years will be difficult and complicated, and it will not be easy to keep it up. With such a large country, so many people, and such a complicated economy, you will have to accomplish many things one by one, and it will be thankful if its effect can reach half. So many things, how wide your shoulders can withstand? This requires everyone in the same boat to smoothly and steadily through five years of difficulties."

My mother’s heart was with her children and country. She watched the news every day to learn about domestic and international events. She never asked me about my work, but often told me in various ways what the public reflected and reminded me of it.

On February 2, 2009, during my visit to England, I made a special trip to Cambridge University to give a speech. On that day, it was snowing heavily and the Cambridge auditorium was packed. The title of my speech was "Seeing China through the eyes of development". I introduced China's past, present and future to the students and teachers in words full of emotion, and my speech received a lot of applause.
At the end of my speech, there was a "hiccup". A Western-looking student disturbed the audience, shouting and throwing shoes at the podium. I stood with my head held high, unperturbed, and showed calmness and composure. After the meeting was quiet, I spoke, "Such despicable tricks cannot destroy the friendship between the people of China and Britain." "The progress of mankind and the harmony of the world is a historical trend that cannot be stopped by any force." My words elicited a long and enthusiastic applause from the venue.

I did not know that at this very moment, my mother, who was sitting in front of the TV watching the live broadcast, suffered a sudden cerebrovascular embolism because she was worried about her son. Since then, she lost her eyesight, had difficulty speaking and walking. That year, my mother was 88 years old.

I retired after 28 years of service in Zhongnanhai, including ten years as Premier.
After I retired, I was very happy to return to my mother, but I felt bad when I saw that her condition was getting worse day by day.

My mother's love, my mother's kindness cannot be repaid. Many of her teachings have penetrated into my cells and into my blood. Many things among people can be imitated by each other. But the only thing that cannot be faked is the sincerity, simplicity and kindness of emotion and heart.

I sympathize with the poor and the weak, and oppose bullying and oppression. The China in my mind should be a country full of fairness and justice, where there is always respect for the human heart, humanity and the essence of human beings, and where there is always an air of youth, freedom and struggle. I have cried out and fought for this. This is the truth that life has taught me and that my mother has given me.

Thank you for reading, and have a safe weekend.