This is their first communication on the issue since the outbreak last month. Expressing solidarity with the “Chinese President and the people of China”, Modi, in a letter to Xi, offered his condolence at the loss of lives due to the outbreak.
Sources said Modi offered India’s assistance to face the challenge, and also conveyed appreciation to the Chinese government for facilitating the evacuation of Indian citizens from Hubei province.
In April 2018, the two leaders had met in Wuhan for the first informal summit.
According to the latest data released by the Chinese authorities, 89 deaths were reported on Saturday — the highest single-day death toll — taking the total toll to 811, and there were 2,656 new confirmed cases. The number of confirmed infections has now touched 37,198.
China’s National Health Commission said in its daily report that the coronavirus toll has surpassed the number of fatalities in the 2002-03 SARS epidemic, that started in southern China and killed over 700 people in the mainland, Hong Kong and elsewhere.
Almost four months after Modi and Xi, at their meeting in Mahabalipuram, agreed to enhance strategic communication on all matters of mutual interest, India is invoking the “Chennai connect” as it reaches out to Beijing. The offer of help is part of India’s diplomatic toolkit since it has robust experience in the medical and pharmaceutical sectors.
Modi’s offer of assistance came three days after the Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson said that, if asked, the Indian government would be ready to provide help to China.
Sources said that India, known for its pharmaceutical and medical expertise, is “well placed” to help China at this critical hour. Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla had conveyed the offer at a meeting with the Chinese Ambassador to India Sun Weidong on Friday.
“Glad to meet w/ Indian Foreign Secretary @harshvshringla. Discussed promotion of China-India relations, especially bilateral coordination & cooperation on combat against #coronavirus,” the Chinese envoy had tweeted after meeting Shringla.
Earlier this month, India evacuated 647 Indians and seven Maldivian nationals from Hubei province and its capital, Wuhan, on two special Air India flights. The government had also asked all Indian citizens to “refrain” from travelling to China.
In a clear clampdown on Chinese nationals travelling to India, India has cancelled all existing valid visas for Chinese and foreigners who visited the country in the last two weeks. On February 2, India had temporarily suspended e-visa facility for Chinese travellers and foreigners residing in China.
As New Delhi evacuated Indian citizens, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar had spoken to Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi. Chinese Ambassador Sun Weidong had quoted Wang as telling Jaishankar during their phone conversation that “all should play a constructive role. We don’t think it is helpful for a certain country to hype up the situation, or even create panic”.
Sun had quoted Jaishankar as saying that “it is important to evaluate the outbreak in an objective and rational manner and not take actions that may complicate the situation”.
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