The India-EU Comprehensive Connectivity Partnership comes close on the heels of the Supply Chain Resilience Initiative (SCRI), launched by Japan, Australia and India. These agreements bind the democracies of Europe and those of the Indo-Pacific in a web of interconnected agreements.
As China steps up its belligerence against India – the latest provocation is Beijing’s brusque and blunt demand that Bangladesh, arguably India’s closest ally in the sub-continent, stay away from any engagement with the Quad, which Beijing considers an anti-China bloc but in which India is a key partner – New Delhi is quietly moving its own pieces on the geo-political chess board of Asia to ensure that it can hold its own against its northern neighbour.
Last weekend, it signed the Comprehensive Connectivity Partnership (CCP) with the EU that reiterated their commitment to creating connectivity nodes in India and in regions like Central Africa, the Indo-Pacific. Incidentally, this is India’s first connectivity agreement with a foreign partner covering three regions.
“This partnership, concluded between the EU and India in the presence of our 27 member states, begins a new chapter in our relations. While the coronavirus still causes terrible devastation, we must also focus on building back better. This Connectivity Partnership will guide our actions over the coming years, providing for joint efforts in creating a greener, more inclusive and prosperous future for the EU, India, and regions around the world,” said Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, soon after the signing of the agreement.
“There are rival models for development, infrastructure, trade and governance. The European Union is the most integrated region in the world, and we are proud of the way in which we have enhanced the lives of European citizens with an approach founded on international standards, sustainability and common rules.
“It provides for stability, financial and environmental responsibility, and brings direct benefits to the populations involved. India shares our vision, and we are looking forward to working together not just in our respective countries but also elsewhere, to help shape the world of tomorrow,” added Josep Borrell, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission.
Significantly, the only other country with which the EU has such a pact is Japan, which like India is a member of the Quad.
The India-EU agreement also comes close on the heels of the Supply Chain Resilience Initiative (SCRI), launched by Japan, Australia and India (JAI), the three largest democracies in the Indo-Pacific and members of the Quad.
The goal of this initiative is not even thinly disguised; it is right there, out in the open. “We are three like-minded democratic countries who believe in transparent rules-based trading and we will also invite other countries who believe in honest, rules-based business to be a part of this JAI initiative. We have discussed the broad contours of this initiative; we have not yet worked out the specific details. But going forward, our officials will work on how to strengthen the SCRI and truly provide to the world a trusted partnership between these three countries and other like-minded countries to expand global engagement with trust,” India’s Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal had said when this initiative was unveiled last year.
Just consider the optics: The democracies of the Indo-Pacific are aligning with the democracies of Europe (caveat: the UK is not part of the EU anymore) to draw up a blueprint of a trans-continental connectivity project that could challenge China’s debt trap-fuelled Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) that is facing significant pushbacks in several countries such as Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Nepal and even Pakistan.
At a time when India’s production-linked incentive (PLI) schemes for 13 sectors is seeing significant traction from companies looking to diversify their supply chains away from China, these connectivity pacts, and the US agreeing to provide emergency Covid aid that could add up to $1 billion by the end of May, could have major strategic implications.
The geo-political game is tantalisingly poised. Who will cast the next stone? The strategic communities in New Delhi and several other global capitals will be waiting with bated breaths for the answer to that question.