Foreign policy: India

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This is a collection of articles archived for the excellence of their content.


“Informal” summits

2018: Modi- Xi

Indrani Bagchi, Meet of this kind rare, could reset Asian track record, April 28, 2018: The Times of India

The attention of global politics is trained on Asia as two crucial summits get under way. While the summit of the two Koreas is a very big deal, the Modi-Xi “informal” summit also has the capacity to shape Asia’s future.

An informal summit of this nature is rare. These happen more often between friendly countries or allies. Last week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called PM Narendra Modi to drop by for a quick summit since he was flying over Germany. But they are in the nature of friendlies — you need to discuss something pressing, want to dispense with bureaucratese and seek an informal summit.

On the other hand, its a mistake to club extras as summits — for instance, the boat ride on the Seine, or the amble through the MLK Memorial in Washington DC, Ganga Aarti with Japanese PM Shinzo Abe or the Modi-Xi swings in Gujarat — these are add-ons, quality interactions in addition to regular summitry. Instead, the three days Modi spent with Bibi Netanyahu in Israel last year probably yielded more in terms of strategic content.

This century, India has done one other “informal” summit — between Atal Bihari Vajpayee and former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf. That went down rapidly. China has done two unstructured meetings — both under Xi — with former US President Barack Obama and more recently with his successor Donald Trump. Both did not end too well.

Diplomatic historian David Reynolds writes in his book ‘Summits: Six Meetings that shaped the 20th Century’, that these were nothing short of great human dramas and actually a test of character at the top level. He lists the Chamberlain-Hitler summit at Munich; Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill at Yalta; Kennedy and Khrushchev in Vienna; Brezhnev and Nixon in Vienna; Gorbachev and Reagan in Geneva; Sadat, Carter and Begin in Camp David as meetings that determined course of events in Europe and the world.

Asia, however, is different, and informality in the western sense doesn’t come easily. In short, neither India nor China actually “do” informal summitry very well. Both official cultures are too formal to actually believe just putting two leaders on a boat with a cup of tea will solve intractable problems.

In Wuhan, despite officials from both sides calling the meetings “informal”, a lot of preparation is evident.

This summit has been in the making since the Xiamen meeting in September 2017.

It has also been revealed that the last session between Modi and Xi in Wuhan on Saturday morning will include a small, high-level delegation from each side. This means some structure has been built into the meeting, even if there is no announcement this weekend.

NDA’s foreign policy

‘NDA foreign policy vibrant, assertive’: Chinese think-tank

January 31, 2018: The Times of India


India and China are both partners and competitors, said a think-tank affiliated to Chinese Foreign Ministry

Modi govt was not averse to crossing the border to attack the base of the anti-Indian organisation in PoK: Rong Ying, vice president, CIIS

'Over the past three years, India's diplomacy has formed a distinctive and unique "Modi Doctrine", a strategy for the rise of India as a great power'

India's foreign policy has become vibrant, assertive: Chinese think-tank

India's foreign policy has become vibrant and assertive under the Modi government with its risk-taking ability also on the rise, according to a top official of a prominent state-run Chinese think-tank.

Rong Ying, vice president of China Institute of International Studies (CIIS), a think-tank affiliated to Chinese Foreign Ministry, said over the past three years, India's diplomacy has been vibrant and assertive, and has formed a distinctive and unique "Modi Doctrine", a strategy for the rise of India as a great power in the new situation.

In an article in the CIIS journal, the first of its kind by a Chinese think tank on the Modi government so far, Rong, who also served as a diplomat in India, took a critical look at India's relations with China, South and South East Asia, India's closer relations with US and Japan, saying Indian foreign policy under him has become increasingly assertive while offering mutual benefits.

On India-China ties, Rong said since Modi took office, the development of overall relations between the two countries has maintained "steady momentum".

"The Dong Lang (Doklam) incident taking place at the Sikkim section of the China-India borders has not only highlighted the border issue, but also for a time seemed to imperil the overall relationship between the two countries," he said.

Rong, also a senior research fellow at the CIIS, said India and China should stick to the strategic consensus of mutual support for each other's development.

On the future formula for ties, he said as major countries on the rise, India and China are both partners and competitors.

"There is competition in cooperation and cooperation in competition. The coexistence of cooperation and competition will become the norm. This is the status quo of China-India relations, which cannot be evaded," he said.

"We must implement the strategic consensus of the two leaders," he said, adding that China is not a "hurdle" for India's development but a major opportunity for India.

"It will not and cannot stop the rise of India. The biggest obstacle to India's development is India itself," he said.

For China, India is an important neighbour and a big emerging country, an important partner in promoting the reform of the international system.

"India's huge market potential will bring about opportunities for the successful transformation of China's economy, especially for Chinese enterprises going global," he said.

He said from the 'Gujral Doctrine' to the peaceful diplomacy between India and Pakistan proposed by former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, all previous Indian governments have regarded the South Asian region as their diplomatic priority.

"After his election, Modi invited leaders of all neighbouring countries in South Asia for his swearing-in, chose to visit Bhutan, the smallest country in the region, highlighting his policy of giving priority to the development of relations with neighbouring countries," Rong said.

The concept and practice of the 'Modi Doctrine' reflected in South Asia diplomacy, when compared to previous administrations, has highlighted both its own authority as well as the benefits it can provide to its neighbours, and is more concerned about its dominance in South Asia, he said.

While continuing to provide massive assistance to neighbours, the Modi government paid more attention to its control over them, he said alleging that India imposed an economic blockade on Nepal on the constitutional issues relating to Madhesis.

"In order to exert pressure on Pakistan, the Modi government was not averse to crossing the border to attack the base of the anti-Indian organisation in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir," he said.

Rong said Modi's strong and decisive governing style and pragmatic governance philosophy paid special attention to delivery of projects committed by India in the neighbourhood.

Also "under the influence of Modi's governing style, the risk-taking and practicability of India's diplomacy are also on the rise, he said, pointing to Indian troops crossing the Myanmar border to destroy rebels bases.

"In 2016, India risked a conflict with Pakistan and crossed the border to attack a militant camp in PoK, at one point causing great anxiety both at home and abroad," he said and criticised India's policy towards Pakistan saying the confrontation will consume India's energy and diplomatic resources and create new problems for India in South Asia.

East Asia

Sachin Parashar, NDA @3 - Act East a mainstay of India's foreign policy, May 27 2017: The Times of India

In 2002, while delivering a lecture in Singapore, then PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee declared India's position in the Asia Pacific to be a geographical reality and a political fact. In many ways, the Modi government has worked to bring Vajpayee's perceptive declaration to fruition.

A few months into his term, PM Modi sought to start with a bang by renaming India's Look East policy as Act East policy . After it was launched in 1992, then finance minister Manmohan Singh had described the policy not just as an external engagement with Asean but also as marking a strategic shift in the way India viewed the world. Unlike Look East which was Asean-centric, Act East is an outreach to the wider Asia Pacific extending from Japan to countries in the South Pacific. Act East is also different in that it is not limited to economic ties but also focuses on enhancing defence and security ties barely veiled eye on China.

Nowhere is this more manifest than in the way in which India has sought to deepen security links with Japan and Vietnam. Defence cooperation is now seen as a major pillar of India's strategic partnership with Vietnam with Indian naval ships making frequent friendly port calls to the country .

After it announced a $500 million line of credit for Vietnam to boost defence cooperation between the countries, India was also said to have discussed supply of Akash surface-to-air missiles earlier this year. China's Global missiles earlier this year.China's Global Times responded by declaring that Beijing would not sit arms crossed if India went ahead with supply of missiles to Vietnam.

Similarly , India's fast growing relationship with Japan, with special focus on defence and security , is central to India's Act East policy.

According to strategic affairs expert Brahma Chella ney, Act East has helped India to be seen internationally as being integral to the Indo-Pacific region and the Asian neighbourhood and add greater strategic content to its warming relationship with Vietnam. It also must build closer ties with Indonesia, with which it shares a sea frontier, he said.

With India seeking to raise its profile in the region, the government has also sought to internationalise the South China Sea disputes by namechecking SCS in bilateral documents with bilateral partners like the US and Japan.

With the Trump administration mired in internal conflict, and its foreign policy still being deciphered, the government may be faced with its toughest challenge in executing its Asia Pacific outreach.Until now, Act East converged almost seamlessly with the US Rebalance to Asia as both sought sustainable balance of power in the region.

Any dilution under Trump could change all that, leaving India, as some believe, to plough a lonely furrow. As former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal warned, a US withdrawal from the region would mark the end of the US as the world's pre-eminent power and India needed to hedge its bets by deepening its ties with Japan. Other assessments hold the US will remain a factor despite any recalibration.

India's strained ties with China will continue to be further exacerbated by Beijing's intransigence on three issues in the near future, namely Pakistan-based terrorist Masood Azhar, CPEC and NSG. With China still seeing India as acting in cahoots with the US, Beijing is unlikely to relent on any of these issues.

India's Act East policy rightly seeks to realign Indian foreign policy along its historical axis. As Chellaney said, historically , invaders and plunderers came from the west but India never faced

Indo - US relationship

Sarang Shidore , Higher order “India Today” 15/12/2016

India's greater prominence on the world stage over the past two decades has spawned a wealth of material originating in Washington analysing its foreign policy, global orientation and strategic culture. The latest in this long list is India at the Global High Table: The Quest for Regional Primacy and Strategic Autonomy by two veteran US diplomats, Teresita and Howard Schaffer.

The volume does not lack ambition. In just over 300 pages, it attempts to dissect the many facets of India's foreign policy-making-its core principles and rival schools of thought, its multiple foreign policy institutions, Indian negotiating strategies in defence, nuclear weapons, trade and climate change and bilateral relationships with China, Pakistan and smaller South Asian states. Each of these topics is deserving of a book-length treatment in itself, but the authors tackle them largely successfully without losing sight of the common thread that forms the core of their argument.

The volume's grounding in practice rather than theory and its disproportionate focus on the Indo-US relationship as permeating almost all chapters is but natural given the authors' background and expertise. Therefore, it is not altogether surprising that the most insightful sections of the book relate to India's foreign policy institutions, the analysis of Indian negotiating culture and a blow-by-blow account of the tortuous negotiations over the Indo-US nuclear deal. The latter chapter, in particular, provides an excellent window on how political will at the highest levels can overcome even the most daunting structural barriers in crafting an agreement of strategic import.

Except for an inexplicably essentialist foray (p. 121) on the lack of a culture of sin and forgiveness in Hinduism and Buddhism, the authors' description of Indian negotiation styles is illuminating and largely on the mark. They illustrate in detail how Indian negotiators are meticulously prepared and demonstrate a mastery over their subject matter, thrive on symbolism, are deeply hierarchical and prize loyalty and personal ties.

The Schaffers' central thesis is that Indian foreign policy is marked by three core elements, namely strategic autonomy, regional primacy and economic diplomacy. Undergirding these elements is a strong belief in the uniqueness of Indian civilisation. This civilisational identity lends a certain exceptionalism to Indian attitudes to world affairs. Indian exceptionalism, in turn, leads to a negotiating style that is highly sensitive to sovereignty, abhors the perception of being a supplicant and often takes a moral rather than a bargaining approach to key disputes.

The three core elements are all common to the three schools of foreign policy thought identified by the authors, namely the non-alignment firsters, broad power realists and hard power hawks. As the authors acknowledge, this classification is essentially a variant on scholar Kanti Bajpai's definition of Nehruvians, neoliberals and hyperrealists.

The United States, of course, also possesses a sense of exceptionalism and moralism, though as a far stronger power, it operationalises it differently. The authors do identify this congruence on more than one occasion. However, they do not highlight it sufficiently in one critical case, namely US pressure on India to jettison its Iran relationship as a price for the Indo-US nuclear deal. The pointed language of the Hyde Act indicates that US lobbying in New Delhi on Iran was not simply a case of routine diplomatic 'advocacy' as the authors suggest (p. 63). Extra-territorial mandates may originate in the US Congress, but the US diplomatic corps is the frontline actor in ensuring their compliance. This forces Washington's partners to adopt a zero-sum approach to their relations with America's major adversaries, and militates against India's principle of strategic autonomy.

The authors lay great stress on strategic autonomy as a persistent principle of India's foreign engagements. They see strategic autonomy as the direct intellectual heir of non-alignment in the post-Cold War era. It is certainly true that the two share a core characteristic, namely maximising freedom of action. However, there are important differences. Non-alignment was a project aimed at fundamentally transforming the Cold War-era international system with its existential conflict between two nuclear-armed blocs and the North-South divide. By focusing mainly on foreign policy independence, the aims of the strategic autonomy doctrine are much more modest.

Another important difference lies in the revisionist nature of non-alignment. Strategic autonomy, while revisionist in terms of India's place at the global high table, in many ways reveals a status quoist bent towards the existing international system. India in the post-Cold War era does not seek a fundamental transformation of the system as much as being accepted into its elite core in order to enhance its own power and prestige. The Indo-US nuclear deal is a good example of this major shift in India's orientation. Instead of its traditional argument that the non-proliferation regime was fundamentally discriminatory in its entirety, India sought and obtained an 'India exception' to the regime, substantially admitting it into the club of legitimate nuclear powers. This, of course, may have been a practical adjustment to the contingencies of a new era. But it is an analytical oversight to not highlight the major discontinuity it represents from the much more ambitious doctrine of non-alignment.

India's strategic autonomy is, however, constrained by two major factors. First, its operationalisation in a world of economic interdependence presents a challenge, especially for a country running a persistent trade deficit. India's massive dependence on arms imports presents the second constraint. Defence indigenisation, a goal of every Indian government since Independence, seems no closer than it was several decades ago. It is, therefore, legitimate to ask, as it was for non-alignment post-1971, whether Indian strategic autonomy lies more in the realm of aspiration than practice. The authors take note of these complications, but do not explore them in sufficient detail.

Regional primacy, the second core Indian foreign policy element, is dissected more convincingly in the chapter summarising India's relations with smaller South Asian neighbours, particularly Nepal and Sri Lanka. The principle, with strong parallels to America's own Monroe Doctrine, looks unfavourably upon the entry of outside great powers into the region, with China being the most recent entrant. Moreover, as the authors note, the principle has had mixed success, failing most spectacularly with respect to Pakistan. The authors' analysis of the India-Pakistan relationship, however, covers little new ground in what is a well-trod topic in the literature.

The authors are relatively coy about analysing the India-US-China triangle and Indian and US motivations in this regard. At one point, they state that the Indo-US strategic convergence is motivated primarily by a common bond of democracy (p. 159). However, India has been a democracy since 1947 and that has not prevented a near-adversarial relationship with the US at some critical junctures such as 1971. Elsewhere, they speak of the drivers being "future contingencies" and "shared strategic interests" in the region (p. 136) and a move toward "implicit balancing" (p. 301). All these references are to China, but the authors do not develop their analysis much further. The reader's appetite is whetted for more. Going forward, what exactly could be the nature of Indo-US strategic coordination in Asia? What would be the costs and benefits to India and the United States? Could it fundamentally weaken India's strategic autonomy doctrine? In hindsight, these questions have become even more urgent in the wake of what appears to be a sharp departure in China policy under an incoming Trump administration.

The volume rightly spends considerable effort in analysing India's economic engagements, in bilateral settings with the US, multilateral settings at the WTO and in the use of Indian foreign aid as a tool in South Asia. Here, the third core element of Indian diplomacy, namely the use of its newfound economic power, comes into play. Case studies include Enron's Dabhol power plant project, agricultural trade and food subsidies at the WTO and the Indo-US bilateral investment treaty. The analysis of the Dabhol fiasco brings an insightful perspective of fragmented governance as a key barrier to the deal's realisation. Equally pertinent questions about the ethical practices of Enron and the Indian government that led to some of the controversies are delicately skipped over. The authors' narrative on climate negotiations is interesting but unfortunately stops short of the crucial Paris Agreement timeline.

There are a few other oversights in the book. For instance, there is virtually no reference to the vital India-Israel relationship, with all its sensitivities and implications for India's engagement with West Asia. Newer (though no less critical) global governance issues such as cybersecurity, internet governance, renewable energy and space are also omitted. With all its lacunae, however, India at the Global High Table is a cogent, insightful and original contribution to India's foreign policy discourse, and well worth a read.

Sarang Shidore is a researcher and consultant in international relations and energy/climate policy and currently Visiting Scholar at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, University of Texas, Austin

Military Drills With US, Russia and China

Rajat Pandit, India tries to do a balancing act with combat exercises, December 1, 2018: The Times of India

Schedules Drills With US, Russia And China In December Alone

India is trying to strike a fine balance between the US and Russia, in terms of strategic ties and defence deals as well as combat exercises. Apart from this counter-balancing, India is also stepping-up military ties with the third pole, China, amid the ongoing geopolitical churn.

“India has been a latestarter in defence diplomacy but is now making all-out efforts despite budgetary, bureaucratic and other constraints. Indian Navy warships, for instance, have made 113 foreign port calls and held 16 exercises/coordinated patrols with different navies this year,” said a senior defence official.

In fact, by the time this year ends, India would have held exercises with all the P-5 countries (US, Russia, China, France and UK), apart from other powerhouses like Australia, Japan, South Africa and Brazil as well as Asean

countries like Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. “I don’t think any other country has held such a staggering number of exercises with so many nations this year. The exercises promote strategic cooperation, military outreach, confidence-building and interoperability,” said the official.

In December alone, the Indian armed forces have chalked up a hectic schedule for exercises with the US, Russia and China, among others. First off the block will be the “Cope India” between the Indian and American air forces at the Kalaikunda and Arjan Singh airbases in West Bengal from December 3 to 14.

While the IAF is deploying its fighters like Sukhoi-30MKIs, Jaguars and Mirage-2000s as well as other aircraft like Phalcon AWACS, C-130Js and IL-78 refuelers, the USAF has dispatched 12 F-15 jets and three C-130H planes for Cope India.

Next, the IAF and Russian Air Force will conduct the second leg of their “AviaIndra” exercise at Jodhpur from December 10 to 22 after the first was held at Lipetsk in Russia in September. India and China, in turn, will resume their annual “Hand-in-Hand” land exercise at Chengdu military region from December 10 to 23 after the freeze due to the Doklam troop stand-off near the Sikkim-Bhutan-Tibet trijunction last year.

That’s not all. Russian warships will head for India’s east coast to hold the “Indra” wargames towards end-December, even as the Indo-UK “Konkan” naval exercise is currently underway off Goa.

China, India, Russia trilateral after 2006

December 2, 2018: The Times of India

At Meet, Call For Reforming UN, WTO

Leaders of India, China and Russia have called for reforming multilateral institutions, including the UN and WTO, as they underscored the benefits of a multilateral trading system and an open world economy for global growth and prosperity during a trilateral meeting they held after a gap of 12 years.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin held the trilateral meeting on Friday, the second among the three countries after a gap of 12 years, on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Buenos Aires to discuss cooperation in various areas.

“Excellent meeting of the RIC (Russia, India, China) Trilateral. President Putin, President Xi Jinping and I discussed a wide range of subjects that would further cement the friendship between our nations and enhance world peace,” Prime Minister Modi said.

The Russia-India-China (RIC) meeting came hours after Prime Minister Modi, his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe and US President Donald Trump held their first trilateral meeting on the margins of the summit.

2020: an assertive foreign policy

May 2, 2021: The Times of India

India, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, pursued an assertive foreign policy in 2020 aimed at demonstrating the country’s strength and its perception as a net provider of security in the strategically vital Indian Ocean Region, a top American intelligence agency has said.

The Defence Intelligence Agency also told lawmakers that New Delhi also hardened its approach towards an aggressive China. “Throughout 2020, Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi’s government pursued an assertive foreign policy aimed at demonstrating India’s strength and its perception as a net provider of security in the Indian Ocean Region,” Scott Berrier, director of the agency told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee during a Congressional hearing.

In the first months of the Covid-19 pandemic, New Delhi played a leading role in delivering medical equipment to countries throughout South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, facilitating the evacuation of Indians and other South Asians from virus hotspots, he said.

He added: “India hardened its approach towards China following a deterioration in bilateral relations...” India also implemented economic measures meant to signal its resolve against China, he said. PTI

‘Naysayer’ image of India

2018: attempt to change that image

Indrani Bagchi, India looks to change global ‘naysayer’ image, March 19, 2018: The Times of India

Likely To Project ‘Flexibility’ At Mini-Ministerial

A growing part of India’s foreign policy these days is for New Delhi to work hard to change the way the country is perceived around the world. In key areas of multilateral engagement like trade and environment, India is famous as the “naysayer” and the “country that loves to say no”.

Countries negotiating the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) have expressed frustration at India’s negotiating attitude, some going as far as to wish India was out of it.

As India plays host to commerce ministers of over 40 countries on Monday and Tuesday in New Delhi in a “mini-ministerial”, the primary idea, top government officials said, was to change India’s image — from the “no” country to one that was open to engaging others on old and new issues, becoming a facilitator for discussions leading to a consensus, being a problem solver. All of these are new areas for India’s trade officials who have earned their spurs being the international obdurate.

In April, India will host the International Energy Forum, again a ministerial meeting with similar intentions — to bring producers, consumers, technology and climate change

experts together for what is billed as a “forward-looking” conversation on the future of global energy security.

At the Buenos Aires’ ministerial conference, India’s approach drew a lot of criticism. Officials said it wasn’t as if India was in the wrong, it was the “negatively aggressive” negotiating stance that was described as being counter-productive. India wants permanent solutions for the food security issues that were partially resolved with an India-US agreement back in 2014, but until that is done India refused to talk about other emerging issues that have global relevance, like e-commerce, reinforcing its image of being the neighbourhood recalcitrant.

Meanwhile, the US has blocked consensus on populating the dispute settlement body. With trade wars looming on the horizon, junking the WTO is not believed to be in India’s interest.

It is in this backdrop that New Delhi decided to host the mini-ministerial — it would provide a platform for commerce and trade ministers to talk about the important issues in an informal setting. Any convergence of views would then be taken up by negotiators in Geneva.

“We’re trying to be a facilitator, a problem-solver,” said an official involved in the meeting. It will not change India’s trade strategy, but it hopes to use the event to persuade more countries to its side. The IEF in April will “focus on how global shifts, transition policies and new technologies influence market stability and future investment”, energy minister Dharmendra Pradhan said this week, introducing the forum to envoys of different countries.

Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)

Why India did not join

November 13, 2020: The Times of India

Didn’t join RCEP as it doesn’t address concerns: MEA

New Delhi:

As 15 countries prepare to sign the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) on Sunday, the world’s largest free trade bloc, India on Thursday said that it is committed to “deepening our trade relations with Asean”.

MEA’s secretary (east) Riva Ganguly Das said, “Our position is known. As far as India is concerned, we did not join RCEP as it does not address our outstanding issues and concerns.”

In a statement, Malaysia’s international trade and industry minister Mohamed Azmin Ali announced that the 15 nations “have concluded negotiations and will sign the RCEP agreement this Sunday”. According to a news report, membership to the group would not be open for a while, with the exception of India which could join at its will.

India has been a participant in the RCEP negotiations since 2013, but in November 2019, the Modi government pulled out of the last round. India feared the agreement would become a free trade deal with China through the back door, even through other countries, which is one of the reasons New Delhi is currently reviewing a number of Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) in the region. TNN

South Asian countries and India

1996/ The Gujral doctrine

Shyam Saran, Dec 4, 2019 Times Of India

Neighbourhood first has been a key principle of India’s foreign policy for some time. This is born out of a realisation that though the Indian subcontinent is divided into several independent and sovereign states, India as by far the largest and most powerful country in the region cannot but have a security perspective that encompasses the entire subcontinent.

Its borders with neighbours can serve as “connectors” linking India with a larger landscape beyond the subcontinent. These borders may, in different circumstances, become transmission belts for security threats such as cross-border terrorism, contraband trade or drug trafficking. The latter situation may end up creating a perception of a hostile environment beyond our borders and hence a sense of siege.

An integrated regional economy transcending borders where a dynamic Indian economy becomes an engine of growth for the entire neighbourhood, where a free flow of goods, ideas and peoples becomes a reality, enabling the people of the subcontinent to celebrate their shared history and deep cultural affinities, is the counterpoint and more elevating vision. There has been a constant tension between these two opposing impulses in India’s foreign policy.

There is no doubt that for India to aspire to a larger regional and global role it is the more elevating vision which must prevail. This has been articulated by successive Indian leaders. Inder Kumar Gujral, one of India’s most cerebral and far sighted external affairs ministers and later prime minister understood the over-riding challenge of the neighbourhood most clearly.

The “Gujral Doctrine” enunciated in September 1996, sought to put in place key principles which must guide relations among states of South Asia. These are that no South Asian country will allow its territory to be used against the interests of another country of the region; that none will interfere in the internal affairs of another; that all South Asian countries must respect each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty; and that they will settle disputes through peaceful bilateral negotiations. For India specifically, Gujral also declared that it “does not ask for reciprocity but gives all it can in good faith and trust”. These principles continue to be relevant for India’s neighbourhood policy.

There is no doubt that the challenges which India must deal with in its neighbourhood have become more complex and even threatening compared to two decades ago. China’s footprint in the subcontinent has expanded and India’s heightened security concerns over terrorism have led to a revival of a siege mentality. The logic of improved connectivity within the subcontinent is often trumped by heightened security concerns.

The current slowdown in the Indian economy has meant that there is less willingness to further open the Indian market to our neighbours. Development cooperation as an instrument of India’s neighbourhood policy is weakened by stringency of resources and the undeniable fact that India is unable to match the scale of resources China is able to deploy in our neighbourhood to win influence.

There is little doubt that in an age of shifting geopolitics and altered balance of power India will need to restrategise its neighbourhood policy. There may be a need to redeploy scarce resources available from more distant development partners such as in Africa or Latin America to the subcontinent. Connectivity must be pursued with greater vigour while security concerns are addressed through cost effective, efficient and reliable technological measures which are in use in other parts of the world.

India should become the transit country of choice for all our neighbours by extending national treatment on our transport network and at our ports. Above all, “neighbourhood first” must be anchored in sustained engagement at all levels of the political and people to people levels, building upon the deep cultural affinities which are unique to India’s relations with its neighbours.

Year-wise history


Indrani Bagchi, Foreign policy takes an unconventional route, May 24, 2017: The Times of India 

India Keeps China, Pakistan Off Balance

By doing foreign policy differently -as the Modi government completes its third year in office -India has challenged conventional thinking even though the effects of these actions in the longer term still need to be assessed.

Working backwards chronologically , India's recent decision to skip the much-hyped `Belt & Road Forum' (BRF) in Beijing, was contrary to India's traditional reluctance to publicly confront China's hegemonic ambitions. India clearly articulated objections to OBOR and CPEC (China-Pakistan economic corridor) on the basis of sovereignty.

India laid out why it believed OBOR to be exploitative, colonial in its lack of transparency and the way it created unsustainable debt in “partner“ countries and caused environmental damage. While some nations were gearing up to praise China's massive utilisation of excess capacities, India's reaction proved to be a dampener for the Chinese.

For some in In ND dia, signing up for OBOR would have been less painful, @ and apparently pragmatic.The Modi government concluded its unusual reaction was in keeping with India's traditional opposition to China-Pakistan activities in POK. And that going by Sri Lanka's experience and perhaps even Pakistan's, the openly mercantilist policies of China need to be publicly opposed. As it turned out, the EU too backed away from a trade statement using similar arguments.

Political ties with China have gone steadily downhill in the past couple of years though interestingly FDI from China has risen significantly in the Modi years. China has emerged as one of the fastest-growing sources of FDI into India -it was 17th largest in 2016, up from the 28th in 2014 and 35th in 2011.

Matters have not been hel ped by China stymying India's bid for NSG membership and protecting Pakistan-based Jaish terrorist Masood Azhar from sanctions. Early this year, foreign secretary S Jaishankar promised China would get a lot more attention from India, in order to put the relationship back on the rails. The two countries continue working to gether on some areas, A but the promise held out when Chinese 3 President Xi Jinping and Modi swung gently on a Gujarati swing in 2014, has dissipated.

India has paid much greater attention to its near neighbourhood, sans Pakistan.Bangladesh has been the template for a new kind of engagement. While neighbours traditionally get a large chunk of Indian assistance, it was largely unstructured.India has now decided to focus on around 20 visible projects for Bangladesh, which will utilise the $4.5 billion in LOC assistance. India will follow a similar approach in Sri Lanka, which recently saw a second Modi visit.

India has also worked hard to create a Saarc minus Pakistan, in order to beat its clasp on India's neighborhood outreach. In 2016, the BRICS summit saw the revival of BIMSTEC, while a sub-regional cooperation initiative, BBIN, is slowly coming together, creating transport and power networks in the east. Earlier this month, India launched the south Asia satellite that signalled cooperation without a direct quid pro quo.

One of Modi's signature initiative has been westwards, in his new `Link West' policy , to mirror the `Act East'. As Modi prepares to travel to Israel, his visit comes as virtually the last stop after unexpectedly intense engagement with UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Iran, in addition to Oman. Strong economic imperatives, infrastructure investment and India's desire to play a greater security role over shared concerns over threats like the terror group IS drive India's outreach. This is also intended to wean these nations away from Pakistan as India peddles a “better narrative“.

The India-Pakistan relationship is in deep freeze, with little daylight visible. Again, Modi used surprise as a tactical weapon. After a series of terror attacks against Indian defence installations from across the border, India retaliated with surgical strikes on terror launch-pads in POK. The upfront announcement of the strikes highlighted a “proactive“ stance on terror. To Pakistan, India signalled that the calculus of terror under a nuclear umbrella would not work. India made its response unpredictable and raised Pakistan's costs.

On August 15, from the Red Fort ramparts, Modi uttered the forbidden “B“-word, speaking of the “oppression“ of the people of Balochistan. Pakistan choked in anger and later arrested Kulbhushan Jadhav, a former Navy man, as an alleged spy . After a military court announced a death sentence on Jadhav, India adopted a creative and bold approach -upending decades of conventional wisdom yet again by going to the International Court of Justice and pulling off a vital win.

2017: Israel, Doklam, ICJ- a year of many firsts in foreign policy

Indrani Bagchi, From Israel to Doklam, a year of many firsts in foreign policy, December 31, 2017: The Times of India

In 2017, India’s foreign policy tried to defy precedents and confound expectations. The result — India venturedinto areas ithad not dared before.

The Doklam crisis was a defining moment in ways more than one. Quite apart from military lessons, India chose this time to object to a creeping action by China that has gone unmarked by Indian governments for years. Doklam has placed India and China squarely on opposite sides, no matter how the two countries try to dress it up. The standoff and its resolution showed maturing of the two rising Asian powers, but also showed once again the precarious nature of Indian defence preparation. India was lucky the crisis happened in an area where its forces are at a situational and military advantage.

There are two takeaways — first, how would India have showed up against China in a different theatre? On the other hand, India showed it was willing to go far, very far, in its stand against China. That was an inflexion point for both India and China.

New Delhi’s opposition to ‘One Belt, One Road’ put it in a minority until other countries gradually discovered OBOR was another mode of Chinese colonialism. Here, India was again willing todefy its tested precedent of not seeming to be isolated in world affairs. In the coming years, India will need to put teeth to this opposition, either by presenting a credible alternative, or by getting China to change its ways.

The decision to take the Kulbhushan Jadhav case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) surprised even Indians because it is an article of faith in India’s foreign policy templateto nottakebilateral issues to the international level. Successive Indian governments have made

“internationalisation” a bad word. The early success of getting the ICJ to stay Jadhav’s execution will draw attention to the final arguments and verdict in the coming weeks. But the ghost has been slain.

India’s multilateral appetitehas only grown in the past year. The campaign to put Dalveer Bhandari back as ICJ judge was brutal to say the least, but once again defied conventional practice that India did not go up against a P-5 member (the UK). The MEA and the PMO burned phone lines and pumpedflesh in thekind of outreachthat is normally seen in Indian domestic elections. It was tough work — even India’s closest ally, Japan, voted against Bhandari in these elections!

Ironically, India’s victory might make it much more difficult for it to get into the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) — a consequence of the Indian determination to plod along its trajectory to becoming a “leading power” appears to have convinced the Chinese system to double down on its opposition to India. According to sources, their calculation appears to be this — If India gets into the NSG, it would have overcome the “non-proliferation treaty hurdle” and its path to a permanent seat in the UNSC would become easier. China will, therefore, contest India’s determination with its own. So, the jury remains out on whether it’s a good thing for India to have an open global appetite. Some say India should “bide its time”, but proponents of this policy in the government say New Delhi should take what is available and wait for the next level to open up.

In 2018, the Indian system will go all out once again to get back into the Human Rights Council and one can expect another high-energy campaign. This is also one of the reasons why India voted the way it did in the recent UN General Aassembly resolution on Jerusalem. On one level, India believes, like most others, that Jerusalem’s fate is tied to a final resolution. On another level, India could have defied precedent and changed its vote for two best friends — Israel and the US. It did not. In the final calculation in the government, the top leadership decided it made sense for India to stay in the “space” it occupies in the UN — with the developing world and Islamic world.

Similarly, India took a decidedly leftturnwhen it refused to take up the opportunity of walking out of the Paris accord after Donald Trump opened the way for a cop-out. Instead, India is now a champion of climate change policies, and the forthcoming International Solar Alliance summit will demonstrate it, sources said.

Modi became the first Indian leader to visitIsraelthis year, a sign of the growing relationship between the two countries. But the important piece of signalling was the dehyphenation — something no previous government had the political courage to do.

2019 at the UNSC

Indrani Bagchi, Dec 27, 2019: The Times of India

India’s diplomatic battleground through most of 2019 turned out to be the UN, particularly the UN Security Council, as it countered repeated challenges from China and its all-weather ally Pakistan.

The year closed with China being compelled to withdraw a request for a discussion on Jammu & Kashmir in the UNSC, but this was only the latest in a string of provocations. The year opened with a request by Pakistan to the UNSC’s counter-terrorism committee to delist Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Mohammed Saeed from the 1267 terror list. It took a critical report by the committee’s ombudsman as well as support by four of five permanent members for the UNSC to reject the delisting. However, in September, Pakistan succeeded in getting the UNSC to allow Saeed to access his bank accounts which had been frozen following the sanctions against him.

After the Pulwama terror attack on February 14 by Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorists, it took the UNSC an unprecedented one week to issue a condemnation. But when it did, it was the first time ever that the UNSC criticised a single terror attack in J&K, which actually targeted security forces and not only civilians. The statement itself reflected the heavy lifting that had to be done by Indian diplomats and India’s friends.

In May, with the prospect of renewed conflict between India and Pakistan continuing to loom large, the UNSC decided to list JeM chief Masood Azhar as a global terrorist. Four attempts in the past decade were unsuccessful in getting Azhar on the list, as China stayed the course in blocking the listing. “Big, small, all join together. Masood Azhar designated as a terrorist in UN sanctions list. Grateful to all for their support,” India’s representative to the UN Syed Akbaruddin had tweeted.

With the new Modi government making Article 370 a dead letter on August 5, the threat of conflict once again hovered over India-Pak relations. Worse, China came out guns blazing against the reorganisation of J&K into two Union Territories to be run by the central government. On August 16, China called for closed door discussions on the Kashmir issue, pushing for an “outcome” — diplomatese for a public statement or even a presidential statement condemning India’s actions.

It was the first time Kashmir was being discussed in the UNSC in decades, which was seen as a dampener for India.

While India did a lot of the heavy lifting, the US led two other permanent members — France and Russia — to bat for India and prevented any public outcome of the discussions. China, in an unprecedented move, actually read out their national statement for TV cameras, compelling Akbaruddin to address the media, also very unusual, after the meeting where India was not actually in the room. This was high stakes diplomacy but it showed, among other things, a growing convergence between India and a new strategic partner, Indonesia. With Indonesia a member of the UNSC this year, India has relied on it to play the role of a “bridging power” in the world body, often on its behalf.

That China was not going to take this lying down was made clear. In December, China attempted once again to open a discussion on J&K under an informal agenda item. It was the US, which is president of the UNSC this month, to tell the Chinese it saw no reason for such a discussion, forcing China to withdraw its request. Pakistan was very active in the UN and its affiliated bodies all of 2019. Pakistan wrote 14 letters to the UN calling for action against India through the year.

Pakistan also tried to list four Indian nationals, all working in Afghanistan, as terrorists with the UNSC, without success. At every stage, Indian diplomacy and its clout was tested.

2019: An overview

Indrani Bagchi, Dec 30, 2019: The Times of India

There is no more polite way of saying this: India ended 2019 on a dismal note. It isn’t every day that we get frozen out by two of our closest strategic partners, Bangladesh and Japan, within the space of a single week. The chill isn’t only in the weather.

The year opened with Pulwama, Balakot and Masood Azhar’s overdue terror listing, which segued neatly into Narendra Modi’s security-heavy campaign that resulted in an unprecedented victory at the hustings. Since then, Modi checked off boxes on a political agenda that began with negating Article 370 and reorganising Jammu & Kashmir into two union territories, and ending with the alphabet cocktail CAA-NRC-NPR.

The better part of diplomacy this year has been to dodge bullets and fight fires in global capitals, with Modi’s image needing a drastic makeover. The effort to convince the world that this was not some diabolical Hindu plan to turn Kashmir into Xinjiang, start a war with Pakistan or annex PoK; turn Muslims into second class citizens or stick them into detention camps has not been entirely successful. Kashmir will remain a diplomatic challenge in 2020, until a political process can be started and the unconscionable act of keeping elected politicians under detention is reversed.

Nevertheless, Modi 2.0 has come with a more aggressive, risk embracing foreign policy, as articulated by S Jaishankar, Modi’s most inspired appointment. Describing the aim of his policy as “persistent striving to expand space and options”, Jaishankar sees a “combination of greater diplomatic activity, more intensive development partnerships, stronger security engagements and growing global profile” as essential tools for a robust foreign policy palette.

Jaishankar observes, presciently, change is upon us as never before. “What defines power and determines national standing is no longer the same. Technology, connectivity and trade are at the heart of new contestations. In a more constrained and interdependent world, competition has to be pursued perforce more intelligently. The global commons is also more in disputation as multilateralism weakens”.

Risk is best played with an economic cushion, or as Jaishankar says, “the economy drives diplomacy.” India turned away from trade when it left RCEP at the altar, a decision we will rue for a long time. We negotiated in bad faith and cowardice for six years, ultimately leaving the government little choice but to back off. Frankly, it makes more sense to disband the commerce ministry, which is little more than a honey-pot for protectionists and vested business interests. Instead, we should create a separate trade negotiating office tied to MEA and MoF.

Post RCEP the operative word is “bilateral”, but with a sluggish economy and popular turmoil in the country, little movement is discernible. Brexit is about done, we should move on a trade deal with the UK and revive the EU sleeping beauty from its 2013 slumber. Hell, we can’t even get a trade deal done with our best buddy, Israel, though we’re complementary economies. A “limited” trade deal with the US is struggling to be written. We might be real close on defence and security, but the Trump administration is really interested in the trade part, which India is not.

Washington’s patience with India is wearing thin. Peter Navarro – the ideological brain behind Trump’s China trade policy – told US media this week he’s preparing for a “showdown” with India. This will make 2020 much more challenging than we believe today.

On the other hand, India moved decisively to shape its Indo-Pacific and Indian Ocean policies, bringing both together quite nicely to span multiple geographies. Jaishankar presided over the first upgraded Quad this year, which gives a whole new weightage to this grouping. India is now openly engaging with the other top Indian Ocean powers – France, Indonesia and Australia. We will see more activity with all three countries – France is a staunch ally, while Australia is moving up the pecking order very quickly. Indonesia is a partner India should nurture. India worked very well to engage a new Maldives government but Sri Lanka will be the key to India’s successful oceans policy.

South Block is also looking at Europe with new eyes, and both sides are trying to go beyond an FTA towards a deeper economic, security and technology relationship. As Europe begins to worry about China, India could be the go-to Asian power. In fact, on climate change, India and Europe are converging like never before. However, Europe is probably the only continent where soft power matters along with a performing economy – so Kashmir and CAA will matter.

Some things won’t change in the new year. China will remain India’s topmost challenge and America India’s big opportunity. Both will need a relook from this government. If we have to change one thing on the China front, let’s do away with the informal summit. It serves no purpose apart from sending strange signals – India thinks China appreciates it more and China believes it is kowtow-lite. Neither works. In US, India has to find a new language to engage the Democrats with – this party of Jayapals and Omars is more than a group of liberal jihadis, they continue to be the party of choice for many Indian-Americans.

Finally, the arbiter of effective foreign policy is and will be technology. That includes, but is not confined to how India decides on 5G. China is moving at a fast clip to set the rules at global bodies like ITU. If we’re not careful, the only compliant hardware might be Chinese! The choice is actually not Huawei or someone else. It’s a strategic choice going beyond telecommunications to strategic, defence and space.

We can like the promiscuity of multi-alignment, we just don’t have to believe it.

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