CHINESE New Year, also known as Lunar New Year or Spring Festival, is China’s most important festival. It is time for families to be together and celebrate the event. Last year, the outbreak of the global pandemic COVID-19 had forced the Chinese government to impose lockdown to protect the people from the ravages of the deadly disease and the Chinese had to miss out on mass celebrations. It goes to China’s credit and resilience that it managed to sanitize its teeming millions, provide relief, food and much needed medicines and even set up hospitals in record time to provide relief to the beleaguered people. Chinese leadership led from the front, visiting COVID hotspots, supervising relief and encouraging its scientists and researchers to find a vaccine to provide immunity.
It is heartening that despite some of its detractors unfairly accusing China of hiding facts and exposing the world to the deadly virus, Beijing reached out to the hardest hit countries of the world, sending medical teams, much needed equipment and sharing its experience of formulating effective strategies to contain the pandemic. The jury is still out to determine the origin of COVID-19 but undeterred by the plethora of accusations, Chinese scientists developed the Sinopharm among others along with Russia’s Sputnik V, and the west’s Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines. Unlike the western vaccine, the Chinese injections can be transported in normal temperatures and do not have to be kept at -80°C.
It was not Pakistan’s serious participation in the clinical tests of the Chinese vaccines that qualified it to become the first country in the world to receive vaccines donated by the Chinese government but its sincerity in extending a helping hand in its moment of crisis. Despite lockdowns and travel restrictions when the pandemic was at its peak, Pakistan’s President Dr. Arif Alvi flew into Beijing along with medical teams and equipment to express solidarity with the people of China.
President Xi Jinping, a master statesman and one who believes in sharing the pain of others, knew that while the opulent nations of the world will grab the first available vaccines to provide immunity to themselves; the developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America will be left behind till the World Health Organization (WHO) and humanitarian agencies will extend much needed help, which may be too little and too late. US President Trump, in 2020, soon after the outbreak of the pandemic, instead of lending much needed support to WHO and the world, had withdrawn US membership of the International Health Organization and stopped its funding. This rash decision hurt not only the world but USA itself, which suffered the highest number of casualties owing to COVID-19. Mercifully, as one of his first executive decisions taken on assuming the mantle of US President, Joe Biden reversed numerous decisions adopted by Trump including restoring membership of WHO and support for Climate Change policies.
Contrarily, despite the fact that China is leading the world with several vaccines in advanced stages of R&D and with ample production capacity, it signed an agreement with the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) on 8 October 2020, officially joining the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX), an initiative that aims to accelerate the development and manufacturing of vaccines for the COVID-19 and ensure that every country enjoys equitable access to the vaccines. The initiative intends to provide two billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines for higher-income self-financing countries and lower-income funded nations by the end of 2021.
At the request of the WHO, China has decided to offer 10 million doses of vaccines to COVAX, mainly to meet the urgent need of the developing world. The containment situation faced by all countries is still very serious, and China is also facing a huge domestic demand for vaccines. But still, it is doing whatever is possible to promote the equitable distribution of vaccines. Coming back to Sino-Pakistan strategic and deep rooted ties, the Solar New Year, celebrated by the world on January 1st and the Chinese Lunar New Year, which falls on Friday, February 12, 2021, beginning a year of the Ox, brought glad tidings for Pakistan.
On 31 January, China provided 500,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccine to Pakistan. The precious gift, which will save countless lives, was brought by special PAF air transport aircraft from Beijing, although the Chinese side had proposed to send them by their own aircraft. At a solemn ceremony held at Nur Khan Base in Islamabad, 0.5 million doses of the eagerly awaited vaccines were handed over to Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who thanked Chinese President Xi Jinping for giving us the Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine.
On the eve of the Chinese Lunar Year, China’s military took another unprecedented step by delivering a batch of Covid-19 vaccines to the Pakistan Army. However, keeping with the Pakistan Armed Forces’ traditional spirit of ‘nation comes first, always and every time’ it decided to contribute complete vaccine donation, by PLA to Pakistan military, in the national vaccine drive to be administered to front line healthcare workers across Pakistan who are the real heroes fighting against pandemic and saving precious lives. It is befitting that our Chinese brothers are celebrating this New Year—the year of the Ox — since this animal is gifted with great patience and a desire to make progress, uninfluenced by others or the environment, but persist in doing things according to their ideals and capabilities. Happy Chinese Lunar New Year!
—The writer is retired PAF Group Captain and a TV talk show host.