Sheikh Abdullah's trip comes at a time when boosting trade, energy security and strategic defence is high on India's agenda.
The UAE Foreign Minister’s recent visit to India is yet another boost to the strategic partnership between the two countries against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic.
Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, met with Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, Indian Minister of External Affairs, to discuss the historic friendship between the two nations – one that has been on a high trajectory of growth in the past 6 years.
The visit not only provided an opportunity to both sides to constructively build on the vision of the comprehensive strategic partnership that was signed by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, in 2017, but also to broaden cooperation in several key areas.
Apart from discussing ways to boost joint cooperation, the two ministers also reviewed the coordination between the two countries in facing the COVID-19 pandemic and ways to support global efforts to ensure the delivery of vaccines to all corners of the world.
While India’s Vaccine Maitri initiative has seen the world’s largest democracy rush supplies of vaccines to countries around the world, the UAE and Dubai have served as a critical gateway and logistics hub for the global distribution and delivery of the same.
Sheikh Abdullah’s visit comes just over two months after Dr Jaishankar visited the United Arab Emirates on a two-day visit in November last year. During the talks in November, Dr Jaishankar had discussed further opportunities to work together with the Gulf kingdom in a "changing world".
“Thank HH @MohamedBinZayed for receiving me on arrival at Abu Dhabi. Conveyed the greetings and good wishes of PM @narendramodi. UAE’s care and consideration of its large Indian community is deeply appreciated,” Dr Jaishankar had tweeted at that time. “Discussed advancing our strategic cooperation in the post-COVID era. Exchanged views on important regional and international issues,” he added.
Sheikh Abdullah's visit to New Delhi less than 3 months later not only demonstrates the fact that the two sides are staying engaged at high levels, but also comes at a time when boosting trade, energy security and strategic defence around the Indo-Pacific is high on India's agenda.
As India's third-largest trade partner and fourth-largest energy supplier, the UAE plays a vital role in safeguarding geostrategic energy interests, while bilateral trade has hit a new high despite the pandemic.
More than 38,000 Indian companies, for example, are currently registered with Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry – a steady increase over the decades, accounting for nearly 25% of the chamber’s total membership.
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Similarly, there was a surge in interest and demand from Indian companies following the opening of Dubai Chamber’s representative office in Mumbai two years ago.
India and the UAE have also firmly set their sights to substantially increase trade by 60 percent by 2022, with the UAE invited to be a partner in India’s growth story, and to participate in projects creating mega industrial manufacturing corridors, such as the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor as well as the Digital India and Make In India projects. The UAE has been a keen investor in infrastructure development in India, especially in areas such as ports and shipping – and the two countries have reiterated a $75 billion target for UAE investments in India’s infrastructure development plans.
But beyond trade and commerce, India and Gulf states – especially the UAE – have collaborated on a range of strategic defence issues.
The Indian Navy, its partners in the QUAD, and its strategic allies France and the UAE, will all be part of complex interoperability exercises involving carrier strike groups, anti-submarine warfare aircraft and attack submarines next month – a move aimed at projecting their dominance from the Gulf to the Malacca Straits.
The UAE will be joining India and France for the first time in a trilateral naval exercise in the strategically important Arabian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman in late April under the Varuna banner. This exercise is scheduled between April 25 and 27. While dates of the naval exercise has to be firmed up, India, the US, Australia, and Japan (the members of QUAD), with France will showcase their naval strength and commitment to freedom of navigation in the Bay of Bengal from April 4 to 7 with missile-guided destroyers, frigates, submarines and surveillance aircraft practising complex manoeuvres under the La Perouse banner.