NEW DELHI—When an Indian Navy aircraft landed in the archipelago nation of Seychelles last month, the country’s foreign minister and other senior officials lined up on the tarmac to welcome its precious cargo: 50,000 doses of Indian-made AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine.
Two weeks earlier, the Indian Ocean island nation—total population, 98,000—received a separate shipment of 50,000 doses of the Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine manufactured in China, which is seeking to make strategic inroads in a region long seen by India as part of its sphere of influence.
Covid-19 vaccines are becoming an important form of diplomatic currency around the world, as nations jockey for soft-power gains. China and Russia are touting their own vaccines, as are Western drug companies.
Now India, a pharmaceutical giant that manufactured some 60% of global vaccines before the pandemic, is joining the fray, seeking to strengthen ties and expand its influence in its neighborhood and beyond.
Beijing has for years sought to derail Indian efforts to establish a military outpost in Seychelles that would allow New Delhi to keep tabs on Chinese naval and civilian vessels in the area. India has worked to blunt Chinese intrusions and helped build a network of coastal radar stations.