Recently, India pivoted its foreign policy towards westwards embracing partners and relationships that, if taken at the flood, could have interesting implications for India’s future
A Quad leaders’ summit in March drew the curtains from the new focus. For years the Indian system downplayed the importance of the Quad giving it some sort of an airy-fairy feel. It took the reality check of a Chinese virus coupled with a Chinese invasion for the Indian system to smell the coffee. The Quad summit was a seal on the India-US relationship, and a determined statement of how India sees its future with China.
In the recent months, India took two big steps in the domain of foreign policy viz. crafting a post-Brexit relationship with the UK and reinvigorating the India-Europe relationship.
Improved trade is the bedrock of both the deals. This is significant after India decided to exit the RCEP in 2019 and calls for Atmanirbhar Bharat and resilient supply chains became the dominant narrative. Moreover, India and the US are also negotiating a mini trade deal.
Apart from trade engagement, India’s strategic convergence with the EU, UK and US signals the formation of India’s western pivot. This growing relationship between India and the West is also a result of rising China.
In this scenario where the global economy has been hit by the pandemic, India must seriously consider reforms that make the relationship with the western countries permanent in nature.
India’s Western Pivot
Swift Action post Brexit
Taking advantage of Brexit, the enhanced trade partnership between India and the UK will start with market access to confidence-building measures (CBMs) before graduating to a Free-Trade Agreement (FTA).
Reinvigorating India-EU Relationship
In a recently held virtual summit, India and the EU have decided to resume negotiations for a comprehensive trade agreement. Further, the summit witnessed the launching of an ambitious “connectivity partnership” in digital, energy, transport, and people-to-people sectors, enabling the two to pursue sustainable joint projects in regions spanning from Africa, Central Asia to the wider Indo-Pacific.
Engagement with Independent European Countries
For years, India has treated the EU as an anomaly, preferring to build independent ties with France, Germany, the UK etc.
For example, France has become India’s go-to partner in Europe, cutting across sectors such as defence, strategic, nuclear and multilateral spheres, to the extent that it can almost replace Russia.
The Nordics countries are India favourites in areas like smart cities, 5G, AI and semiconductors.
Further, India’s interest in things like clean water, sanitation, and smart cities naturally gravitated towards European countries that had solutions on tap.
As a member of the Quad and at the geopolitical heart of the Indo-Pacific, India is a strategic opportunity for the West.
- The UK deal is likely to be much faster because of vested interests on both sides. However, the EU is much more rigid and more demanding of reciprocity.
- The US and Europe were collectively instrumental in the growth of China. Their idea was a prosperous China would become a more democratic China, not a threatening China. However, today China’s actions are a prime strategic challenge for these countries. So, India should not expect that its transformation as a result of its engagement with the EU, US and UK will be anything but hard won.
- There is a resistance from China as it sees Quad as a small geopolitical grouping that wants to divide Asia and contain China.
Due to this narrative, preventing the emergence of any countervailing Asian coalition is very much the top strategic priority for China now.
India is already a robust democracy and a market economy. India can leverage a lot of its strengths: Technology advances; a western-oriented pool of 21st century talent; a climate change believer. Also, building domestic consensus, India should bridge the supply-chain gaps and build domestic consensus on the big issues: Goods, services, agriculture, government procurement, international arbitration. India should supplement its partnership with the US with a network of multilateral groups with other middle powers, such as the India-Australia-Japan forum and the trilateral dialogue with France and Australia. At current rates, India, aiming for 450GW in renewable energy would single-handedly move the needle on global climate change goals. As a member of the Quad and at the geopolitical heart of the Indo-Pacific, India is a strategic opportunity for the West. From Indian perspective, collaboration with the western countries can provide regional stability, promote peace, bring economic growth and enhance sustainable development.