Script: Prof. UMMU SALMA BAVA, Professor and Jean Monnet Chair, Centre for European Studies, JNU
Indian External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar was invited as a guest to attend the G7 Foreign Ministers meeting held in London and for bilateral talks with the UK, this week Although not a G7 member, India was invited along with Australia, South Africa, South Korea and Brunei, being the Chair of the ASEAN. This Foreign Ministers meeting was in run up to the 47th Summit of the G7 planned for next month in the United Kingdom, when US President Joe Biden is also expected to be present.
An informal group of the advanced economies founded in 1975, the G7 members are Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States. The European Union is an Observer. On the agenda in London this week was the Pandemic, Russia and China. The G7 meetings presented an opportunity of the respective leaders to meet and interact on critical global issues. Being invited as a guest is not only a sign of the importance attached collectively as a group by the G7, it also reflects the growing status that India assumes within the context of the changing global order.
Conducting face to face meetings have assumed a new meaning in a pandemic engulfed world. As a first step to return to the normal mode, the G7 Foreign Ministers meeting can be seen as a way to navigate through the critical period, where cooperation with likeminded states assumes an increasing significance.
This visit of Dr. S. Jaishankar to the UK came even as Prime Ministers Modi and Johnson held a virtual summit on 4 June 2021 and adopted the Roadmap 2030 to elevate the India- United Kingdom bilateral relations to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP) with a focus on people-to-people connections, investment, technological collaboration, defence and security cooperation in the Indian Ocean and Indo-Pacific and climate, clean energy and health. In effect, the CSP seeks to not only upgrade the bilateral relations but also create new avenues to expand cooperation in a changing geopolitical environment.
In order to implement the CSP, a Strategic Review would be conducted at the level of the foreign minister annually. Dr. Jaishankar’s visit assumes importance as India holds the non-permanent UN Security Council seat from 2021-2022 and both sides seek to expand the cooperation within the UN and other multilateral fora. In particular, given Britain’s exit from the European Union and its newly launched ‘tilt’ to the Indo-Pacific, New Delhi seeks to diversify the content and scope of the bilateral relations.
The G7 meeting assumes criticality as it gives India the opportunity to strengthen cooperation with this group. The G7 Foreign Ministers committed themselves to work with industry to expand the production of affordable vaccines. However, they did remove the intellectual property rights of the pharma companies. One of the concerns of doctors and scientists globally has been the urgent need to distribute affordable vaccines in developing countries so as control and arrest the spread of the pandemic and create vaccine equity.
A big push for the India-UK bilateral agenda was the signing of the Migration and Mobility Partnership Agreement that would facilitate legal travel and talent flows between the countries. In a Press conference in London, Dr. Jaishankar fielded questions on the Pandemic and New Delhi’s response. He sought to dispel doubts that India was accepting ‘aid’ from other countries and underlined that New Delhi was seeking cooperation during the ongoing crisis with other countries who had similarly experienced the pandemic and emphasised that the ‘global pandemic required a global effort’. Further, in an interaction under the Global Dialogue Series with India Inc, he emphasised that India has been helping other countries with the ‘Vaccine Maitri Programme’ and with medicines and investing in its own health infrastructure through the Ayushman Bharat Initiative and ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ which is part of ‘national security’.
Commenting on relations with China, he indicated that he is open to finding a resolution however, there has to be de-escalation at the border. On the upswing in the India-UK partnership, he said it showed that ‘the two countries are at an inflection point’ in their relations.
The External Affairs Minister’s participation in the G7 meeting and the bilateral UK visit underscores that India is making strong policy choices as it repositions itself in the changing global order.