India and the Gulf states re-invigorate their strategic partnership at a time of crisis

SNAP ANALYSIS
India and the Gulf states re-invigorate their strategic partnership at a time of crisis
External Affairs Minister meets H.H. Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the United Arab Emirates. The UAE rushed in complimentary LMO supplies to India to aid the country in fighting Covid.Courtesy: Ministry of External Affairs, India

Several GCC nations are assisting India as it fights off a deadly second wave of Covid-19 infections, thanks to the diplomatic investments that were made between New Delhi and its Gulf partners since the onset of the pandemic.

Historic relations between India and the Gulf Coordination Council states scaled new heights last week when several of the nations scrambled supplies of liquid medical oxygen (LMO) by the shiploads to help India in its battle with the surge in COVID-19.

"Had close consultations during the last week with my counterparts from Saudi Arabia,UAE & Qatar on ways to increase import of LMO into India. Deeply appreciate the initial gesture of goodwill with complimentary LMO supplies particularly from UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia,” Indian oil minister Dharmendra Pradhan said to express the Indian government’s gratitude.

Steady commercial supply

In a series of tweets, Pradhan also welcomed offers by Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar to supply containers for the next six months and for an assurance of a steady commercial supply of LMO to India.

The contingency action is the latest in a series of initiatives that have brought New Delhi closer to its Gulf partners since the onset of the pandemic. While India rushed a retinue of medical aid and nurses last year during the first wave of the pandemic, Indian foreign minister Dr S Jaishankar travelled to the UAE, Qatar and Kuwait while his deputy, V Muraleedharan, went to Oman as part of India’s continuing outreach to Gulf countries. In a landmark visit, Indian Army chief General MM Naravane toured Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Described by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as India’s extended neighbourhood, New Delhi’s close and multi-faceted relations with the Gulf has always been underpinned by cultural, social and economic linkages. But the Modi government’s strategic outreach has strengthened the government-to-government bond like never before.

“India’s diplomacy may, thus, also be described as skillful relationship management. Traditional or long-term links have evolved into strong, strategically-important relationships, based around development, economic, defence and energy needs, and expatriate workers,” said Dr Auriol Weigold, Associate Professor at the University of Canberra.

A shipment of 282 oxygen cylinders, 60 oxygen concentrators and other medical supplies comes into India from Kuwait. Several GCC nations have rushed supplies of liquid medical oxygen (LMO) by the shiploads to help India in its battle with the surge in COVID-19.
A shipment of 282 oxygen cylinders, 60 oxygen concentrators and other medical supplies comes into India from Kuwait. Several GCC nations have rushed supplies of liquid medical oxygen (LMO) by the shiploads to help India in its battle with the surge in COVID-19.Courtesy: Ministry of External Affairs, India

Refiners cut import caps

That strategic relationship was evident last week with the rapid rush of LMO and other consignments sent by the Gulf states to India – which came a day after Indian state refiners reversed steep cuts in Saudi oil imports for May at the directions from oil ministry, and placed orders for regular purchases in June.

Indian state refiners buy about 15 million barrels of Saudi oil in a month from Saudi Aramco. India, the world's third-biggest oil importer and consumer, imports more than 80 per cent of its oil needs and relies heavily on the Middle East.

An Indian oil industry source told Reuters that the federal oil ministry has not asked refiners to cut Saudi oil imports after Riyadh supplied liquid medical oxygen and cryogenic tanks. The refiners had cut purchases by more than a third in May.

Indeed, the backbone of trade and investments between India and the Gulf has been the hydrocarbon sector. For 2019-20, India’s hydrocarbon trade with the region was worth $62 billion, which is 36 per cent of total hydrocarbon trade. Saudi Arabia and the UAE have partnered India in the Strategic Petroleum Reserves (SPR) programme, while in a historic agreement during PM Modi’s visit to the UAE, a consortium of Indian oil companies were awarded a 10 per cent interest in Abu Dhabi’s offshore Lower Zakum concession.

India imports more than 80% of its oil needs and relies heavily on the Middle East. The federal oil ministry has not asked refiners to cut Saudi oil imports after Riyadh supplied liquid medical oxygen and cryogenic tanks
India imports more than 80% of its oil needs and relies heavily on the Middle East. The federal oil ministry has not asked refiners to cut Saudi oil imports after Riyadh supplied liquid medical oxygen and cryogenic tanksCourtesy: Reuters

Look West policy

"The relationship today has moved much beyond being a function of an organic historicity. Indeed, it has traversed more in the last six years than it has ever before. Under Modi’s vision, the leadership has made assiduous efforts to fortify relationships with countries in the Gulf region through its “Look West” policy. With some of these countries, our relationship has upgraded to the strategic partnership level, which is a higher level of commitment than bilateral relationships,” Pradhan wrote in a column with Times of India.

As shiploads of oxygen equipment and cryogenic containers arrive in India, it’s reassuring to see that strategic relationship at work in the service of humanity.

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