Treading tough terrains
Modi is managing complex diplomatic relation with elan, so far.
International relations among nations have probably never been so intense and complex as they are in the present times. Known allies such as the United States of America and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation members, the European Union and the United Kingdom, Turkey and Germany and Qatar and Saudi Arabia, have lately turned adversaries for one reason or the other. The possibilities of improved Iran-US and Cuba-US relationships sparked off after former US President Barak Obama's initiatives, now look rather remote.
Few will disagree that engineering a good diplomatic bonhomie with each of such countries along with others harbouring traditional mistrusts is a big challenge. And, it is to the credit of the PMO, External Affairs Ministry and the personal initiative of Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself that India has so far been able to tread through such uneven, if not hostile, global diplomatic terrains with reasonable ease.
This is despite the fact that the Indian Prime Minister's initial personal bid to endear Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif failed to produce a reciprocal response. Pakistan continues to be highly hostile towards India. Modi's attempt to get personally closer to Chinese President Xi Jinping, who came to India on a three-day visit within a few months of the former's installation as India's Prime Minister in 2014, is yet to prove to be a diplomatic success although in terms of trade and commerce, the two countries are much closer today. China is now India's biggest trade partner.
India continues to try to improve diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China. As former Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi was able to set up a working relationship with China. After he became the Prime Minister in 2014, Narendra Modi received Chinese President Xi Jinping in Ahmedabad. Xi became the first Chinese leader since Zhou Enlai to be feted at a civic reception. It was also the first time an Indian Prime Minister received a foreign head of the state outside Delhi. Relations with China, which nosedived after the 1962 war, improved in later years, but not to the extent where an Indian Prime Minister would make a public show of engagement with a neighbour, of which people remain suspicious and wary.
Narendra Modi tried. And, initially, Xi responded positively. However, a cordial diplomatic relation between the two big Asian neighbours is yet to come by. Trust is still missing in the relations of the two countries. Beijing's One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative has not gone down well with New Delhi. Understandably, there are misgivings about the support extended to Islamabad through a $46-billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as part of the OBOR. Incidentally, the Asia-Pacific region and West Asia cover a good part of Modi's foreign policy framework. In the Asia-Pacific region, Modi has travelled to Australia, China, Japan, Laos, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam, and Fiji.
Modi's recent trips to Germany, France, Spain, Russia and the United States, and official engagements with such important world leaders as Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Saudi Arabian King Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani among others in the last three years have all seem to been productive. India has major trade and strategic relations with countries in West Asia and Europe. This month, Modi's three-day Israel visit, the first ever by an Indian Prime Minister, is aimed to hold strategic dialogue with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Thereafter, Modi will attend the G20 summit in Germany, and meet informally several heads of states to discuss important trade and diplomatic issues.
Suffice it to say that maintaining good diplomatic relations and enjoying trusts of political heads of countries with global economic and strategic clouts, many of whom do not see eye to eye with each other, is not easy. The most positive aspect of the relationship between India and these countries is that India's diplomatic ties with a nation are seen as harmless and uninvolved towards the latter's strategic adversaries. India's non-partisan foreign policy strongly believes in non-interference. The relationship is based on mutual benefit and trust. India is non-aggressive and seeks to pursue progress with peace, honesty, and innovation. A country of 1.30 billion people and one of the world's largest economies, democratic and secular India needs the world as much as the world needs this country for progress and development.
For the PMO, MEA, and Modi's close aides, it must be real hard work to balance the country's relationship with the multi-polar world. For instance, NATO members Germany and Turkey, both friends of India and part of its top 15 export trade partners, have diplomatically fallen apart. Turkey is out to embarrass Germany during the G20 summit as President Erdogan planned to address Turks in Hamburg, Germany, during the meet. Germany, thereafter, banned the rally. India's top export trade partners include countries such as the United States, the UAE, Hong Kong and China, the UK, Singapore, Germany, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Belgium, Saudi Arabia and France. Not all of them are friendly with each other. Similarly, among India's top import partners are China, the US, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Switzerland, Indonesia, South Korea, Germany, Iraq, Australia, Iran, and Israel. Not all of them are on the same page. It is to be appreciated that India enjoys reasonably good diplomatic relations with all its trade and economic partners. India's growing security engagements with countries such as the US, Russia, Germany, France, Israel, Japan and Australia have internal implications rather than external applications.
The most refreshing as well as a significant aspect of this government's foreign policy initiative is its economic thrust, inviting foreign investment and technology to 'Make in India' and participating in economic and infrastructure development in neighbouring countries such as Iran, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. IPA
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)