India's Foreign Policy 2.0: Towards Global Engagement

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Since the time of the end of the cold war and India’s adoption of liberalized economic policies in the early 1990s, India’s foreign policy has been tilting towards closer strategic partnerships with the developed democratic states of the world. India has since emerged as a fast developing economy and there is global recognition of the role that India is destined to play in the world economy and politics. Despite China’s economic and military superiority as at present, it is India that will lead the world as a powerful state precisely because of its democratic credentials and the past heritage of adhering to principled stands on issues that matters for orderly and peaceful international relations. It is precisely for this reason that the major powers of the world look to India as a respectable partner for strategic security purposes. The trust and confidence in India’s strength and ability to be an important state to wield controlling power in the emerging new world order have been evidenced by the fact of the US’s courting of India as a major defence partner as highlighted recently during the high level visit of the US defence Secretary to New Delhi in March 2021.
The US, Japan and Australia have found the need to team with India to revive and revitalize the Quadrilateral Security Dialog (QUAD) group for ensuring free and peaceful conduct of maritime trade and free and open regional order, security and stability in the Indo-pacific region in the face of the threat of persistent unruly and aggressive behavior on the part of China in the South China Sea and beyond. It is true that presently China is the main trade partner of Australia and many of the South-East Asian countries and the ASEAN group of countries as a whole. But there is fear among them of security and strategic threats posed by China to their economic development and freedom, territorial integrity and political sovereignty and security. For this reason, the ASEAN group wants India’s partnership to pursue common strategic objectives. This is the result of the Narendra Modi government’s resolute redirection of the earlier “Look East Policy” initiated in the 1990s to “Act East” policy, which expanded focus from economic relations with South East Asia to include institutional and defence links not only with South East Asia but with the entire Asia-Pacific.
With the impending withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, it is the expectation from India from the world that it will play an important and constructive role in Afghanistan. Though the military factions of the Taliban and the Haqqani group especially discounts any role for India in Afghanistan after the US withdrawal, the political factions of Taliban are keen to receive the help of India for the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan. India has already spent about $3 billion dollars on different projects in Afghanistan such as the Salma dam, the Parliament building, hospitals, road and power stations.
The growing strategic and diplomatic clout of India is evident from these high expectations from India from leading states of the world especially in stalling the rise of militancy and ensuring rule-based conduct of global affairs. This indicates the success of India’s foreign policy focus under the Narendra Modi government to promote the power of India on the global stage. India’s strength in foreign relations is also manifests in the maintenance of its strategic independence by its resolve not to forego its long-standing relation with Russia in different areas including in defence despite pressure being exerted by the US through threat of sanctions if India goes ahead with purchase of Russian surface to air missile systems. At another level India’s cooperation with China, despite the inadequacy of mutual trust between them on account of the unsettled boundaries and China’s bolstering of Pakistan’s geopolitical interests, at several multilateral forums and institutions like BRICS, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) bespeaks of India’s foreign policy commitment to cooperative efforts for all-round human progress in different fields.
The Indian political leadership is conscious of the advantage that China presently enjoys because of its economic strength which has helped it to have influence in the countries in India’s immediate neighbourhood through the project of Belt and Road Initiative. The India leadership is therefore committed to the rapid boosting of India’s economic strength, which is an essential part of India’s foreign policy initiatives. One important development in this regard is the formation of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) with membership of Bangladesh, Myamar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Nepal and Bhutan. India’s embrace of BIMSTEC signals its withdrawal from the SAARC on account of its perceived incongruence in cooperating with Pakistan in so far as it pursues the goal of aiding and supporting militant terrorism against India in Kashmir. Through regional economic and other cooperation with BIMSTEC countries and with its key partners in the Asia-Pacific, namely, Japan, Vietnam, Australia and ASEAN group, India aims to boost its own economic growth. At the same time India under Narendra Modi is concerned with safeguarding the national economic interests. For this reason India has taken a conscious decision to opt out of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) recently signed by China with the 10 ASEAN States, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand mainly because of the unwillingness of China to address the concerns of India regarding non-tariff trade barriers for Indian exports and China’s export of subsidized goods to India which have resulted in huge trade deficit for India vis-à-vis its trade with China.
Domestic economic policies like Atmanirbhar Bharat and several economic and financial sector reforms also cumulatively aim to boost India’s economy, the stated objective being achieving a 5 trillion-dollar economy by the year 2024. Fulfilling this objective will further boost India’s strategic clout at the global stage in the very near future.