The momentum from Delhi’s engagement with Abraham Accords, EU trade talks, Quad and Brexit will stand India in good stead as it seeks to make 2021 a year of global assertiveness and reinvigorated trade.
India’s massive diplomatic victory in June to become a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for the 2021-22 term will become a key cornerstone of its diplomatic activities as the country welcomes 2021.
India – which won 184 votes out of 192 valid votes in the elections held for the vacant non-permanent seats of the UNSC – also brought a laser-like focus on global policy initiatives in 2020 to deal with the complexity and pace of change in the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic – taking the lead in a new global power-play on the back of the consequences of Brexit, the Abraham Accords, fast evolving scenario in the Gulf and relations with the African continent.
It was a year in which India mounted a major diplomatic push while the pandemic rages, focusing on boosting ties with the US, Japan, the UK and France with a larger goal to increase its geo-political heft and soft power. In the process, Delhi succeeded in positioning itself as a credible embodiment of peace, stability and international law in the global order.
Those foundations and the untiring efforts of the PMO and South Block are likely to pay off with huge dividends in 2021.
Optimism is rife on the India-European Union front, with the EU already set as India’s largest trading partner. The bloc is in talks to expand India’s role in its trade policy in the aftermath of Brexit.
As the EU’s 9th largest trading partner, India helped advance the agenda with the India-EU summit in July – paving the way for a deeper and more strategic cooperation between the two. Both the EU and India agreed to intensify cooperation in areas like climate change, maritime security, digital economy, connectivity, research and innovation, water and climate action, and civil nuclear cooperation. 2021 also offers various opportunities in strengthening Indo-Scandinavian relations in areas such as innovation and climate change. Along with the broad sweep of the EU, India is thus fruitfully engaged in pursuing wide-ranging bilateralism with all EU members, as shown by the recent meeting with the envoys of the Visegrad group.
A new touchpoint in the coming year will be the India-EU Summit scheduled in Portugal. If global diplomatic travel resumes by summer, PM Modi will be headed to Portugal for the summit. Indian and Spanish foreign ministers have explored the possibility of holding the summit in May 2021. PM Modi was scheduled to travel to the India-EU summit in Brussels in March this year, but it was cancelled due to the pandemic.
On the other hand, relations with the UK are set to scale new heights in 2021 with vaccine collaboration between Serum Institute and AstraZeneca/Oxford University to make a billion vaccines in India being just the beginning of that.
“What I think we recognise is the possibilities of a deeper trading relationship. The contours of our economies would allow that and we, certainly, as foreign ministers see a very powerful strategic case,” UK foreign minister Dominic Raab said after his 4-day visit of India. UK PM Boris Johnson’s planned visit to attend India’s Republic Day parade as the chief guest would further consolidate ties between the two nations.
Against the backdrop of such robust diplomacy, there will of course be pitfalls to watch out for. “For India, the coming year heralds a phase of new uncertainties, necessitating deft diplomacy accompanied by a firm resolve not to yield ground on issues of sovereignty and national interest. An aggressive China, a malevolent China-Pakistan relationship and the growing strategic cooperation between Russia and China, with its attendant implications, will all be central to India’s strategic policy,” said Jayadeva Ranade, former Indian Additional Secretary at the Cabinet Secretariat, and president of the Centre for China Analysis and Strategy.
An important safeguard on that front will be India’s relations with the US – which are at its peak thanks to the Modi-Trump bonhomie and set to be carried forward by the new era of the Biden-Harris administration.
The strategic convergence of India and the US on China will only be further strengthened, according to analysts. While Biden will certainly not cozy up to China but rather retain the Trump administration’s hawkish stance, his approach is likely to be starkly different. Rather than enforcing an ‘America First’ approach, which ultimately saw America pulling out of world forums, Biden will engage in the very multilateral platforms that Trump disregarded – and India is expected to be a central figure in such a strategy.
With the happy convergence of so many factors, Indian diplomacy and foreign policy initiatives are thus set to transform the country’s international relations as well as global standing – efficiently leveraging diplomatic opportunities to advance the case for New India.