Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday held the first-ever India-Luxembourg bilateral summit with his counterpart Xavier Bettel. Besides reviewing bilateral relations, the summit, the first in two decades between the countries, focused on increasing investments. The two Prime Ministers decided to ramp up relations in the financial sector, digital domain, green financing, and space applications. They also took stock of the global situation arising out of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Significantly, barely a fortnight back, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla’s first visit out of the South Asian region was a week-long tour of Europe — France, Germany, and the UK. After bonding with the US, Japan, and Australia, it is evident that India is looking at Europe with a renewed sense of camaraderie.
India and many European nations find themselves on the same side of the fence. While India is negotiating the new geopolitical order, Europe too had its own share of setbacks — the coronavirus pandemic, Brexit, migration issues from West Asia, tumultuous relations with the US, and the aftershocks of the 2008 economic crisis. The year 2020 has been one of the revelations for many a European country—the spread of Covid, technology wars, an unending flow of Chinese sarcasm-laced hostility during Europe’s most vulnerable moment at the height of Covid deaths.
The communist nation’s geopolitics has been an eye-opener globally. Fed so liberally and benevolently by the liberal democracies of the West, China bared its fangs to the smug and traditional European nations. No wonder, the Ministry of External Affairs put it so succinctly: “India’s relations with France, Germany, and the UK are built on a foundation of shared democratic values and are informed by a commonality of interest in issues such as sustainable development and climate change.”
The Europeans too are responding to India’s overtures. The European Union (EU) is looking at India as a more suitable alternative than China for strategic concerns and economic relations. India enjoys substantial trade ties and large investment flows with the EU. Moreover, India and many European countries work closely at multilateral and plurilateral platforms on various issues of common interest.
Shringla’s first pit-stop was France, where he met up with Alice Guitton, France’s Director-General of International Relations and Strategy (DGRIS), to discuss the Indo-Pacific region as well as maritime security and growing defense partnership. France is supplying the Rafale fighters and also helping it design its latest submarines. The two countries discussed a wide range of issues spanning terrorism, global warming, sustainable development, climate change as well as technology and innovation.
Owing to a fast-changing global scenario, many European nations have reworked their political outlook and are looking keenly at rapprochement with Asian nations, particularly those in the Indo-Pacific region. Germany released its new Policy Guidelines for Indo-Pacific Region in September this year, which stresses strengthening relations with Asian countries other than China.
As Germany shifts from a China-centric policy, India fits into German crosshairs. Shringla met up with German Foreign Minister of State Niels Annen besides senior diplomats and think tanks. India has seized the opportunity to remind the country how it fits as a reliable and strategic partner into the former’s vision of the Indo-Pacific.
The German reaction to the changes in the Indian Ocean region and the South China Sea is stark. Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said recently that her country would like to send its navy to patrol the Indian Ocean trade routes next year. She was speaking at an event organized by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAF), where she added that Germany would also like to have closer defense cooperation with Australia.
In London, Shringla urged the British government to come up with its own strategy of the Indo-Pacific in line with that of the European countries. He also said: “We would like the UK to come in as a major investor and innovation partner; a range of activities in the digital and cyber age which may not have been even possible to conceive earlier…”
He clearly hinted at the new-found relevance of the Indo-Pacific. Shringla said: “The rise of China and the imperative for a global rebalancing have added to the mix. A rules-based international order is achievable only with a rules-based Indo-Pacific.” It was a clear statement that China has transgressed well-defined boundaries of peace and understanding that define mutual relations between nations.
Europe is learning its lessons fast. Countries have begun to revise their understanding of China and one after the other they are looking afresh at the vast Indo-Pacific region. France was the first one off its feet, followed by the Netherlands and, lastly Germany, which finalized its Indo-Pacific strategy. India fits in well into that new strategy. It only has to up its own game and look outwards.