There are many tangibles to indicate that the year 2013 would go down in the Indian diplomatic chronicle as one that engendered a Sino-Indian strategic conviviality and partnership as well as the sedimentation of the BRIC format that defines geo-strategic lines of cooperation between India, Brazil, China and Russia. Even as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Barack Obama held their third bilateral summit in September 2013, marking 67 years of Indo-US diplomacy, New Delhi’s aspirational approaches towards Tokyo also bore a degree of fruition in that India’s ties with Japan could even strengthen further with the impending visits to India of Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko as well as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
The Indian PM’s visit to Durban for the BRICS summit on March 25 this year was followed by a trip to Germany on April 10 for further development of ‘strategic and global’ partnership with Germany. The visits to Thailand and Japan that followed reinforced India’s Look East approaches. In Bangkok, Singh signed the Indo-Thai Spatial Co-operation Agreement besides a clutch of administrative agreements, including one on extradition. In the course of his diplomatic dialogue, it was duly conveyed to political interlocutors that Thailand was the veritable ‘springboard’ for India’s engagement with South East Asia and East Asia.
The Tokyo visit saw the two countries affirming their commitment towards freedom of navigation and unimpeded commerce based on international law and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. The Japanese Premier also prioritised the future processes that would define the entailing political and operational contours of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan integral to the Tokyo Conference on Afghanistan. Matching the evolving spirit of interface, Indian PM in his focused enunciations reaffirmed the significance of restructuring the UN’s Security Council (UNSC) through open, balanced and rule-based processes. Both premiers were more than directly implying the non-viability of the extant UNSC structure that is heavily tilted in favour of the five veto-weilding powers—the US, Britain, France, Russia and China—that disproportionately influences global decision-making within the UN.
In the course of Singh’s next engagement with G-20 in St Petersburg, India and Japan reinforced their bilateral synergy and raised the current currency swap level from $15 billion to $50 billion to sustain financial relations. Singh also delved on the theme of international labour mobility and expressed aversion to restrictive practices adopted world over against Indian professionals and skilled workers. What Singh didn’t say was that compared to the member countries within the folds of ASEAN, BRICS and the G-20, India lays out one of the most liberal visa regimes in the modern world.
Singh’s next major visit was to the US during which President Obama maintained that Washington had pledged to make the “the next decade of US-India links as transformative for realising the full potential of the relationship”. The two leaders thus explored possibilities in crafting new modules of bilateral cooperation in the spheres encompassing security, trade and investment, energy and environment, higher education and ‘global architecture’. President Obama and Indian PM also took due cognisance of the continuing threat posed by terrorism and called for dismantling of terror-support structures in the countries that provided safe havens for terrorist outfits. In the realm of defence synergy, it was decided that Indian Navy would participate in the RIMPAC Naval Exercise in 2014.
The reference to ‘global architecture’ perhaps includes the proposition to recast the UNSC edifice, specifically the P-5. So far, any proposal on the subject often tends to be bypassed in the big five. Elements therein remain deft enough to respond with the right terminology and nuances when leaders from aspirant countries like India, Japan, Brazil, Indonesia and South Africa demand expansion of the group. This is an issue the P-5 can’t ignore for long as there are too many claimants for permanent membership of the UNSC.
The last of the PM visits in 2013 so far were to Moscow and Beijing. During his interface with President Vladimir Putin, the two leaders acknowledged close synergy in the defence segment and decided to prioritise investment collaboration as well. Special working groups were set up to identify future priority investment projects for collaboration and to explore possibilities of oil exploration in the Arctic Region. Teaming of Indian and Russian expertise on exploring outer space is also likely to be worked out.
During his sojourn in Beijing, Singh met Chinese President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Keqiang, former Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and the Chairman of the National People’s Congress, Zhang Dejiang. He also addressed the Central Party School in Beijing, which is the crucible for training select upward-mobile party cadres.
Diplomats sought to exaggerate the importance of the trip that marked the first time in 60 years that the Indian and Chinese PMs had exchanged visits within a year, and the invitations to meals extended by Xi and Wen. Not unexpectedly, however, Singh’s China visit was high on hospitality and short on tangible.