The announcement that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson will be the chief guest at the next Republic Day celebrations comes at an opportune moment for Delhi and London. Both sides have multiple reasons to revamp their relationship as they look to come out of a pandemic stricken year. Visiting British foreign secretary Dominic Raab alluded to this when he and foreign minister S Jaishankar agreed on a 10-year 360 degree road map for upgrading bilateral ties. Raab listed an enhanced trade partnership next year and a future FTA as the top priority. The latter should be finalised as soon as possible, and used as a template for an FTA with the EU as well.
Such a focus on economic relationships is indeed sensible. The experience of the last six years shows that Prime Minister Narendra Modi investing a great deal in personal diplomacy with world leaders yielded little by way of economic or trade benefits for India, even though there was a clear uptick in some security relationships (accompanied by a sharp decline in some others, such as with China). The problem with personalised diplomacy is that at the end of the day, countries follow what they see as their own interests. Therefore, personal relationships without an economic ballast risk becoming transient – the equivalent of icing without the cake.
In this regard, with UK’s economy taking a big hit due to the pandemic and bracing for Brexit’s impact, London is looking to ties with Delhi to offset the double blows. There already exist many areas of strong cooperation between the two sides, as exemplified by the partnership between Oxford University-AstraZeneca and Serum Institute to produce a Covid vaccine. But more can be done in IT, financial services, manufacturing, climate change and green technology.
Plus, the Johnson administration has been willing to take a more proactive approach to the Indo-Pacific, and earlier this year along with France and Germany submitted a Note Verbale to the UN challenging China’s expansive maritime claims in the South China Sea. China’s draconian national security law affecting Hong Kong and ending the “one country, two systems” understanding with the UK, as well as London’s move to effectively shut out Huawei from its 5G networks, have put an end to London’s tendency to flirt with Beijing. Both India and the UK have been affected by terrorism too. There are thus many reasons for the two nations to work together.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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