Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla visited 3 major European countries with whom India has a strategic partnership – France, Germany and the UK from October 29- November 4. The visit has significance in the context of the growing COVID 19 impact and the increasing standoff with China in the region. The trip focussed on reviewing bilateral relations and enhancing trade and investment. France was first on the agenda and it is important to note here that it is playing a vital role in India’s defence upgradation with the induction of the Rafale aircrafts in September this year that seeks to enhance the firepower of the air force especially given the current standoff with China. Speaking at IFRI, the leading French Think Tank in Paris, he outlined India’s Foreign Policy in Post COVID World. He spoke about how the pandemic has spurred innovation and enterprise in India leading it to produce high quality cost effective medical items for the pandemic. The speech at IFRI clearly laid out India’s Foreign policy priorities in the backdrop of the global transition spurred by the pandemic which has resulted in increasing geopolitical competition and tension. From New Delhi’s perspective, multilateralism and a rules based order is essential and it “attaches great importance to Europe and France, as independent poles in the emerging multipolar order”. Mr. Shringla’s visit to France came on the heels of a terrorist attack which was strongly condemned by India and Prime Minister Modi expressed solidarity with the French people.
On the second leg of the tour, Mr. Shringla met Jan Hecker, foreign and security policy adviser to Chancellor Merkel. The talks focussed on the reform of multilateral institutions, Germany’s newly launched Indo-Pacific Strategy and the convergence with the Indian approach and its role in India’s modernisation programmes. India is one of the few countries with which Germany has a high level intergovernmental talks held every two years led by the respective prime ministers and it is also our largest trading partner within the European Union. Germany’s Indo-Pacific strategy brings new frames of security into its foreign policy and highlights it own concerns with a rising China in this area. India along with Germany is also part of the G4 group that has been strongly pushing for the reform of the UN Security Council. This meeting also holds significance as India will assumes membership of the Security Council next year.
In the final leg of his European tour, Mr. Shringla visited the UK, and as it exits the EU, New Delhi seeks to ramp up the bilateral relations and strengthen this strategic partnership. Along with high level talks, he also delivered a lecture at the leading Think Tank- Policy Exchange laying out India’s vision of the Indo Pacific. He focused on four key points: First, situating the Indo-Pacific as a large maritime space of critical significance for India and highlighted the creation of a new Indo-Pacific and Oceania Division in the Foreign Ministry. Second, the region has been part of India’s long maritime history as it assumes new significance and the need for a rules based order here is vital for all stake holders. Third, he underlined that the SAGAR Doctrine announced by PM Modi in 2018 and expanded in 2019 is the bedrock of India’s inclusive vision for the region. Fourth, as a net security provider, India is working with diverse partners be it in military or humanitarian and disaster relief areas. It is clear that, enhancing supply chain resilience and a free and open Indo –Pacific are now high on New Delhi’s policy agenda. Given that virtual meetings have been the norm since the impact of COVID around the world, the visit of the foreign Secretary is being seen as ‘proactive diplomacy”, and a boost to the strategic equation with Paris, Berlin and London.
PROF. Ummu Salma Bava, Professor and Jean Monnet Chair, JNU