NEW DELHI: One of the key foreign policy challenges that India faces in the year ahead is juggling its relationship with the US and the west on one hand and Russia and China on the other. Though Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s two back-to-back trilateral meetings —with US President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping —on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Buenos Aires December 1 is proudly touted as a sign of India’s “strategic autonomy”, the fact remains that navigating an increasingly polarised world will require deft diplomatic handling.
This will be particularly difficult when it comes to multilateral forums such as the UN Security, the WTO, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and even the G-20, where India will have to juggle conflicting positions and opinions.
“There’s talks of unilateralism, authoritarianism and lack of transparency. We have to navigate carefully through this while retaining our space,” admitted a senior source privy to the government’s thinking. “We have very good relationships with both sides, and hence there are also expectations which we will need to address. We don’t intend to get caught in the crossfire, but there will be crossfire,” he said.
Other challenges mostly involve economic diplomacy, which includes India’s push to revive the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership or RCEP, and the BTI, a Broadbased trading and investment agreement which involves the EU, and its refusal to join China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Ensuring China walks the talk re market access and addressing President Trump’s concerns over trade issues will also require economic and diplomatic finesse.