Thursday, July 29, 2021

India’s Baltics Outreach

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In a key milestone in India’s ties with the Baltic countries, Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu paid a visit to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. This was the highest level of Indian diplomatic engagement with the Baltics till date. Apart from meeting their top leadership, Mr. Naidu chaired business forum meetings, engaged with Indian diaspora and inked several MoUs for cooperation in the fields of agriculture, cyber security, e-governance and education. Indian Vice President also addressed the Estonian Heads of Mission Conference. A key theme of these interactions was the reiteration of India’s regional civilizational linkages with Sanskrit, Yoga and Ayurveda deeply embedded in the Baltics national consciousness. These linkages have historically assisted in building closer bilateral ties and reflect the true spirit of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’, meaning “the world is one family”, in Sanskrit. Notably, there exists Hindi Chairs in all the three Baltic countries.

The Vice President highlighted the importance of building connections beyond the capital cities by visiting Lithuania’s second largest city of Kaunas. With rapid changes in both India and the Baltics, there is a greater need for their states and provinces to understand each other better.

The importance of Baltics lies in its geographical location as it is the gateway to the Nordics, Russia and CIS countries, anchored in Riga’s all-weather port. As European Union (EU) members, a robust engagement with the three countries also enables India to cultivate constituencies within the EU, beyond the traditional European powerhouses. The Baltics continue to be islands of impressive economic growth in a slowing European continent. Despite their smaller geographical size, they continue to pack a punch vis-à-vis innovation and development of cutting edge technology.

Today, there exists a range of global and bilateral issues where India’s and Baltic countries interests converge. The world remains in flux marked by unpredictable and volatile faultlines. Shifting of great power rivalries, inherent tides of dominance, undercurrents of geo-economic and geo-strategic competition, and growing traditional and non-traditional security threats, including terrorism, cyber security and climate change, have muddied the global strategic environment. Globalisation, a key anchor of the 21st century, has acquired a pejorative connotation. Nationalism has gained traction with a growing tendency among nation states to look inwards. Technology is often misused even as we enter the age of the fourth industrial revolution. These developments call for new partnerships and alignments. India’s growingrelevance on the global stage and the Baltic countries’ membership of the European Union and NATO put them in a position to combine their strengths to tackle these global upheavals.

Similarly, Baltic States robust national innovation ecosystem and a knowledge based economy is of particular relevance to India. They continue to make giant strides in the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, block chain and e-governance. Their digital prowess ties in with Prime Minister Modi’s development motto of modernising the Indian economy through integration of cutting edge technology, capacity building, sustainable growth and maximising India’s human and intellectual potential through creation of new spheres of world-class technology. Baltic companies, thus, retain the potential to play an key role in India’s transformative projects such as Make in India, Digital India, Start-up India to name a few.

Clearly, economic and technological partnerships remain a vital cog in bilateral ties. In a win-win partnership, India gains access to sophisticated technology while the Baltics can tap into the colossal Indian market during a period of slowing global growth. It is fascinating indeed that trade between them, which stood at US$ 800 million in 2018-19, took place despite the absence of resident Indian missions in these countries. Evidently, the potential for stronger India-Baltic partnership is immense. Tourism, pharma, education, manufacturing and health care have been earmarked as the new pillars of a more robust partnership for the future. The challenge, however, is to continue the momentum and keep the wheels of change rolling.

Script: Rajorshi Roy: Research Analyst, IDSA

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