'China' is not sending sub-standard oxygen concentrators to India
Keith Lamb
Oxygen concentrator machines at the Commonwealth Games (CWG) Sports Complex COVID-19 Care Center in Patparganj, New Delhi, India, July 26, 2020. /Getty

Oxygen concentrator machines at the Commonwealth Games (CWG) Sports Complex COVID-19 Care Center in Patparganj, New Delhi, India, July 26, 2020. /Getty

Editor's note: Keith Lamb is a University of Oxford graduate with an MSc degree in Contemporary Chinese Studies. His primary research interests are China's international relations and "socialism with Chinese characteristics." The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

Recently India Today published a report with the headline stating "China now sending sub-standard oxygen concentrators to India." The intent in the headline is obvious. It defames the Chinese nation as a whole and provokes the ire of Indian citizen outwards, from their own internal COVID-19 mismanagement problems, onto a convenient external foe.

The tone conjures up an image that there is a conspiracy in play by the Chinese central government or the Chinese people to heap more suffering on the Indian nation. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. If one wanted to point to Beijing's conscious actions, when it comes to India's COVID-19 relief, then it has been to maintain smooth export channels for the purpose of assisting India's COVID-19 medical supply shortages.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has stated that China is willing to offer aid because "mankind is a community of common destiny sharing weal and woe and only through unity and cooperation can the nations of the world ultimately overcome the pandemic." Xi went on to say that "under the leadership of the Indian government, the people of India will certainly overcome the pandemic."

Undoubtedly, the Sino-Indian border dispute clouds India's reporting on China. Too often, I see that the Indian media, on the subject of China, becomes reductionist, hysterical and conspiratorial. The "substandard oxygen concentrators" report just adds to this genre of reporting.

In fact, India and China should be proud that despite their shared border contention, both sides patrol it with no firearms. This in my mind points to the fact that both, on some level, realize that, as the two largest developing states, they have far more space for cooperation than confrontation. China's actions towards India's COVID-19 plight demonstrate that a healthy India is within China's win-win interests.

Oneindia has reported that China, as a supporter of the Global South, is supportive of India and South Africa's proposal for a temporary waiver of Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) for coronavirus vaccines. In contrast, the U.S. has been dragging its feet when it comes to lifting restrictions on exports of supplies needed for Indian vaccine makers.

Despite the above-mentioned report, India Today says, "it is a matter of life and death, but China is choosing to make profits at the cost of people's lives." After the hate-inducing headline and leading paragraph, the article eventually gets down to details. In fact, it is not China and it is not the mass conspiratorial deviousness of a yellow peril, that seeks profit over life, but in fact, the issue, at hand, lies with a few Chinese companies.

A patient waits in an ambulance to get admitted into a COVID-19 care facility developed at Gurdwara Rakabganj Sahib, New Delhi, India, May 10, 2021. /Getty

A patient waits in an ambulance to get admitted into a COVID-19 care facility developed at Gurdwara Rakabganj Sahib, New Delhi, India, May 10, 2021. /Getty

The complaint is that a number of companies are selling goods at an increased price which are claimed to be of a lower quality than those previously sold. At worst, this is a problem of individual profiteering on market logic, which could be fixed with tighter regulation or further investigation, assuming India Today's complaint is valid.

However, things are more complicated than this. Behind the simple narrative of a unitary China seeking profit over lives are a number of complex factors that Chinese companies have to deal with. These factors are not dealt with by India Today.

An ifeng investigative report found that Indian buyers are requesting oxygen concentrators that can be shipped immediately. This leads to a dynamic of speed at the expense of quality.

Then, Chinese manufacturers state that demand is high and they are unable to increase production due to raw material shortages, which means manufacturing costs are soaring. Thus, higher prices reflect reasonable manufacturing costs.

Added to supply and demand issues are units being exported to India through intermediaries. This means, for Indians unable to access manufacturers directly, they end up paying extra middle-men costs. Only a few days ago a Delhi firm "Matrix Cellular" was found to be hoarding oxygen concentrators and engaging in profit gauging.

In terms of "China" selling poor quality goods, this is actually a hackneyed criticism. In fact, overall, China's oxygen machines sell well in Europe and the U.S. which recognize their high workmanship. Indeed, this goes for most Chinese goods these days.

The fact is that with China being the factory of the world, some deficiencies in products will occasionally occur. However, likewise, the majority of good quality products also come from China. The elephant in the room is that in our market-driven world, when it comes to high-tech products, China is the top choice of consumers and producers alike because, overall, it offers quality at reasonable prices.

Thus, if any flattery can be taken from the India Today story, it is that it would be impossible to write this story about any other country. However, India Today's fault is that they don't represent the ins and outs of the story and pin the blame on a singular mass called China.

To reduce what is at best the fault of a few independent manufacturers and at worse a misrepresentation of the situation into a sensational story that blames "China" is reckless.

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