India's Foreign Policy : News, Views and Discussion


Staff member
Nov 30, 2017
When the Asean festival is over - 10 heads of state and government will be our chief guests for Republic Day - we may find that 2018 is more of 2017. That may not be a bad thing. Three big developments stood out in India's foreign policy that will continue their trajectory in 2018.

The China challenge was the real McCoy and put hair on India's chest (sexism alert) this year. India picked up many silent brownie points over how she stood her ground on the Doklam crisis, but a bigger play happened on that account.

Doklam was a unique moment - restricting the Chinese in an area where India is militarily at an advantage was important, and, as a nation, we crossed the 1962 hump. More important was how India played the greater game.

The much hyped Chinese strategy of san zhong zhanfa ('Three Warfares') was exposed. It is PLA's brainchild for winning a war without fighting through a set of three complementary strategies: media warfare, as in the daily briefings by the Chinese foreign ministry and threats on official media unfortunately picked up by our own brain-deprived TV channels; legal warfare where China brandished real and not-so-real domestic and international law, and threatening military action; psychological warfare, reminding us that 1962 would be upon us again, we would be reduced to dust, etc. By refusing to engage, a remarkable feat for such a vociferous and argumentative nation, official Indian silence robbed China's campaign of so much oxygen even they didn't realise it until the very end.

However, New Delhi took a bigger foreign policy leap in May when India stood up against OBOR, on the grounds of sovereignty, principles of equity and transparency, calling it out as a colonial enterprise.

The effect around the world was much like at a Delhi traffic light - you know you should ignore that red light and bribe the cop if he stops you. Suddenly a guy actually stops at the red light. You think twice. You stop. What does he know that you don't, you wonder?

In the months since India's terse statement on OBOR dropped on the world like the proverbial 800 pound gorilla, different forums in the EU, US, Japan and Australia have flagged the same uncomfortable questions for the Chinese. Rex Tillerson called it "predatory economics", EU snobbishly told China its connectivity projects should conform to principles and just voted against China's application for market economy status.

After years of being "exposed" to Chinese influence and money, Australia's PM Malcolm Turnbull roared "stand up". India may not have been the reason for everybody to find their spine on China, but New Delhi can certainly claim to be that guy at the traffic light.

China won't forget this in a hurry, and New Delhi should expect that there will be huge temptation to "teach India a lesson" in 2018. That's when we will know whether India can play a better game, because it will take a lot - and more - out of our South Block mandarins.

Second, America may be reeling from the swing from Obama to Trump, but surprisingly, India is probably the only major country that currently has a "normal" relationship with Trump's America, which leaves you scratching your head - both countries are increasingly upfront about their growing closeness, particularly in the defence, strategic and security domains. India and US are coordinating positions on more global issues than ever, and no, Nikki Haley's threat to "shame" did not affect India's decision on the Jerusalem vote (though one suspects it may have cost them a few abstentions).

Certainly in south Asia the Trump strategy fits in well with India's own, even if it puts Pakistan's nose out of joint. For Trump's strategy to succeed, India has to take the lead here - in 2018 India needs to maintain the pressure on Pakistan to detox itself from its terror addiction. It's crucial for the health of this region, particularly Afghanistan, which we cannot afford to lose to jihadis again. China will be compelled to put more good money after bad in Pakistan, which will be oxygen to the army - therefore more important for India to step up opposition to CPEC.

Third, look out for more trilaterals and minilaterals in 2018 featuring India as a pillar. The new Indian foreign policy mantra is to move where we can, use stronger bilateral relationships for regional and global goals, or as a strategist explains "exploit the space between bilateral and multilateral".

The "quad" and Malabar is a classic one - India's initial hesitation unwittingly drew attention to Australia's China vulnerabilities which Canberra is fixing speedily. The India-Australia relationship is ready for take off, keep your eyes peeled for more action outside cricket.

India-Japan-US, India-Australia-Japan, etc to look at the Asian theatre, India-Russia-China to reassure Russia, India-France, India-US, India-Australia and others in the Indian Ocean, BBIN in the south Asian mohalla ... the list goes on.

On the world stage, India is fighting elections much like Modi in Gujarat - look at the bruising battle for the ICJ, where we stayed more than the British candidate. India put away more sedate successes in ITLOS, UNESCO and IMO. This gluttony will increase, because we are stepping out to own global governance institutions with the appetite of a rising power.

This year India played on the front foot with some success. But it means increasingly India's actions on the world stage have to be thought through beyond visual range. The playing field has changed.

India took several foreign policy leaps this year, expect 2018 to be like 2017
PM Modi to pitch for stabiliser's role for India at Shangri-La Dialogue
Narendra Modi, the keynote speaker at the 2018 edition of the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, will attract all the attention as the first ever Indian PM at the eminent security dialogue. He is expected to outline Delhi’s role in bringing sense of order amid tumultuous global narrative and non-belligerent approach in South East Asia.

US Defence Secretary James Mattis will also be giving his address wherein he will outline US' role in the Indo-Pacific region amid rapprochement with North Korea, tensions in the South China Sea region, concerns over the Belt and Road Initiative and an ongoing trade spar with China.

Against this backdrop, the Indian PM is expected to define India’s role and he could put forward suggestions that could bring a certain degree of normalcy in the international order, hinted persons familiar with the issue.

Modi is participating in the dialogue in the backdrop of India-ASEAN commemorative summit that brought all the 10 leaders, from South East Asia to Delhi, here. It is, therefore, yet another occasion for him to emphasise the significance of the region on a global platform. His visit to Indonesia preceding Singapore would contribute to that vision.

The dialogue also gives the PM an opportunity to articulate his thoughts about India's policy on peace and security in the Indo-Pacific region, according to Secretary (East) MEA Preeti Saran.

The Shangri-La Dialogue was conceived by the current International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Director-General and Chief Executive Sir John Chipman in 2001, in response to the clear need for a forum where the Asia-Pacific defence ministers could engage in dialogue.

The move was aimed at building confidence and fostering practical security cooperation among leaders. Defence ministers from the region as well as from some European countries besides military chiefs from various countries with stake in Indo-Pacific region will address the dialogue.

Some of key sessions at the 2018 edition of Shangrila Dialogue will be devoted to North Korea, Asia’s evolving security order, maritime security, Indian Ocean Region, Rohingya crisis and counter-terrorism.

During his meeting with his Singaporean counterpart on June 1, Modi might discuss issue of Singapore’s reservations against joining the India-US-Japan-Australia quadrilateral as the Indian government is of opinion that it acknowledges Singapore’s position and need for ASEAN unity.

Besides the Shangri-La Dialogue, Modi’s trip to Singapore will be heavy on engagement with the business community and start-up ventures. Several B2B initiatives will be launched on May 31 – day one of the PM’s visit to the city state. Besides he will engage in number of speaking engagements with the business community. Besides he will attend the India-Singapore Enterprise event followed and hold meetings with 20 CEOs of Singapore.

During the visit there would be an MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) between India and Singapore in the field of Personnel Management and Public Administration. A statement issued by the Ministry of Personnel of Indian government said, "The MoU aims at improving the current system of governance, particularly in the areas of workforce, workplace and jobs, public service delivery, human resource management, public sector reform, leadership or talent development and e-governance or digital government.

On June 2, Prime Minister Modi will inaugurate a plaque at a place where Mahatma Gandhi's ashes were immersed. In 1948, Gandhi's ashes were sent to various parts of India and the world, including Singapore.
PM Modi to pitch for stabiliser's role for India at Shangri-La Dialogue
Netherlands Queen Maxima arrives in India for four-day visit
Days after Netherlands Prime Minister visited India, Queen Maxima of the Netherlands arrived here for a four-day visit, as per the Ministry of External Affairs.

On the first day of her visit, the Queen will be meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi later in the day at the Prime Minister’s Office.

The Queen is scheduled to take part in a meeting with development partners at the United Nations house followed by a meeting with Co-Founder and Governing Council Member of iSpirit Sharad Sharma.

She will then meet Vice-Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of NITI Aayog Rajiv Kumar and Amitabh Kant respectively at the NITI Aayog at noon.

During Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s visit to India, the former became an official partner of the International Solar Alliance.

The two Prime Ministers also discussed multiple agreements in various fields including the Clean Ganga mission and providing assistance to Kanpur and Unnao-based leather industries to help to adopt eco-friendly technologies and promote water conservation by following efficient agriculture practices in the sugarcane industry of Uttar Pradesh.

Earlier Prime Minister Rutt attended the Indo-Dutch CEOs forum that was held here.

As per a release by the Ministry of External Affairs, Indian Netherlands have a bilateral trade worth USD 5.39 billion.
Netherlands is the 5th largest investor in India with a cumulative investment of USD 23 billion for the period 2000 to December 2017. Further, the country is home to around 2, 35,000 Indians, the highest in Europe’s mainland.
Netherlands Queen Maxima arrives in India for four-day visit
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Modi addresses Putin’s Quad concerns in Singapore
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi made India’s first major Indo-Pacific policy statement at Singapore on Sunday, he took special care in addressing Russian concerns that President Vladimir Putin had brought up in Sochi during their informal summit. Those familiar with the details toldET that Putin had specifically raised concerns arising from the proposed Quadrilateral grouping comprising India, US, Japan and Australia. He is believed to have also underlined Chinese concerns at India’s inclusion.

Modi made it clear to Putin that India’s meetings under various formats should not be construed as alliances, an aspect he assured would be clearer after his speech in Singapore. And this was done with a firm assurance that New Delhi does not ascribe to alliances of containment. “It is normal to have partnerships on the basis of shared values and interests. India, too, has many in the region and beyond. We will work with them, individually or in formats of three or more, for a stable and peaceful region. But our friendships are not alliances of containment,” said Modi He went on to add: “We choose the side of principles and values, of peace and progress, not one side of a divide or the other.”

On the question of China, however, Modi told Putin that India will pitch for a rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific. In this context, India made it clear that Russia will have to distinguish its interests from that of China because Beijing has indeed destabilised the existing order in the Indo-Pacific.

“We should all have equal access as a right under international law to the use of common spaces on sea and in the air that would require freedom of navigation, unimpeded commerce and peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with international law,” Modi said on Sunday.

As for Russia-specific concerns, Modi told Vladimir Putin he should view India as its partner to safeguards its interests in the Indo-Pacific just like India views Russia as its key partner in central Asia.

The third specific concern, which had again arisen from the US-backed Quadrilateral idea, but conveyed this time by Asean countries, was whether the Quad would replace Asean as the core referral point for the region.

On this score, Modi had assured both leaders of Indonesia and Malaysia that India had no intent to challenge Asean’s centrality in the Indo-Pacific. This was articulated specifically as one of the policy principles in the PM’s address.

Southeast Asia is at its centre. And, Asean has been and will be central to its future. That is the vision that will always guide India, as we seek to cooperate for an architecture for peace and security in this region,” he said.
Modi addresses Putin’s Quad concerns in Singapore
India can re-energise its engagement in Central Asia amid Iran sanctions
Central Asia represents an area of considerable strategic interest for India due to its geographical location, mineral and hydrocarbon wealth, and prospects for the development of multiple trade corridors through land and sea routes. The five Central Asian economies of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, hold nearly 31.26 billion barrels and 415.4 trillion cubic feet of oil and gas reserves respectively. Given the enormous and ever increasing energy demand of India and the significance of Central Asia in connecting India to Russia and Eastern Europe countries, the region appears as a natural geo-strategic partner for India.

India's trade with Central Asia was valued at $1.48 billion in 2017-18, and total foreign capital expenditure from India to the region, as tracked by fDi markets, amounted to only $1.31 billion during January 2003-June 2018. Although trade and investment with the region has been limited, Exim Bank analysis indicates that India has an untapped export potential of nearly $1.2 billion in the Central Asian region, and realisation of this potential could more than double the existing exports from India to the region. Clearly, there exists significant scope for enhancing commercial engagements.

Connect Central Asia: Developing alternate transport corridors

India's exposure in Central Asia has been predominantly limited by geopolitical factors with issues of territorial sovereignty blocking prospects of a direct land corridor between Northern India and Central Asia. Recognising the need for direct connectivity with Central Asia, the government launched a broad-based 'Connect Central Asia' policy, which has been gathering considerable momentum. Development of Iran's Chabahar and Bandar Abbas Ports form crucial links in the mosaic of initiatives undertaken by the government under this policy.

Upon completion, the Chabahar port is expected to serve as a transit hub connecting Indian ports with Afghanistan, Central Asia and Russia. This has been complemented by plans to link Mundra Port, Gujarat with Bandar Abbas, which shall connect India directly with the Iran-Turkmenistan-Kazakhstan railway network towards Russia and Eastern Europe.

The development of these infrastructure projects are critical for the deployment of the India-led International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC). While the renewal of US economic sanctions on Iran could derail India's progress in establishing physical linkages with the region, a recent US decision to grant India a waiver from the sanctions will present considerable maneuvering space for India-Iran engagement.
Emerging multilateral route

While sanctions on Iran pose a barrier to India's economic interests in the Central Asian region, the country is increasingly exploring the multilateral route for strengthening trade and investment linkages with the region. Indian firms have secured nearly 1.9% of World Bank contracts (by value) for projects in Central Asia. India, in July 2018, also joined the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) as its 69th shareholder. This is expected to increase the prospective business opportunities for Indian suppliers, contractors and consultants in Central Asia where EBRD has a cumulative investment of approximately 9.6 billion.

Contracts awarded through open tendering constitute majority of the EBRD contracts, and Indian firms can leverage its EBRD membership for securing these contracts. Concomitantly, Indian financers could explore opportunities for co-financing with the EBRD. Presence of EBRD as a co-financier could considerably mitigate cross-border and payment risks for Indian financiers, and help promote Indian business interests in the region.
China-India: Competing interests, similar channels

India's economic interests in Central Asia are similar to those of China, a strategic competitor of India in the region. China is currently the region's largest trade partner and foreign investor, substantially enhancing its role. China has also undertaken substantial infrastructure investments in the region, which was once the epicenter of the ancient Silk Route. Xi Jinping's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) looks to revive the traditional trade route through both bilateral and multilateral trade connectivity initiatives.

The multilateral route has also been explored by Chinese firms for imparting momentum to China's trade and investments in the region. Chinese firms have secured nearly 7.1% of total World Bank contracts in the region. China also became a member of the EBRD a year before India, in January 2017, and its success in effectively leveraging the EBRD membership is reflected in Chinese firms securing nearly 83.2 million worth of contracts during 2017, making it the country with the fourth highest share in total contract value during the period.

Both China and India are vying for the geo-strategic and economic advantages which the region offers. India's INSTC is analogous to China's BRI, its foothold in Chabahar finds resonance in China's development of Gwadar port, and its pursuits through the multilateral channel meets more fervent project bidding by the Chinese. While the channels of engagement are similar, India needs to significantly scale up its efforts in order to engage more constructively in the region.
Way ahead

India's trade and investments in the Central Asian region has been restrained by geopolitical factors. However, the Connect Central Asia policy, coupled with India's growing engagements with multilateral institutions operating in the region and the INSTC initiative, provides India with a unique opportunity to overcome geographic and geopolitical obstacles that have hitherto limited the presence of Indian commerce and business in Central Asia. Alongside, India needs a deft balancing act in Central Asia—matching China's steadfast progress, while concomitantly using diplomatic dexterity to alleviate challenges posed by the US sanctions.


  • The five Central Asian economies hold nearly 31.26 billion barrels and 415.4 trillion cubic feet of oil and gas reserves respectively
  • India’s exposure in Central Asia has been predominantly limited by geopolitical factors
India can re-energise its engagement in Central Asia amid Iran sanctions
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Ports and Partnerships: Delhi Invests in Indian Ocean Leadership
India has begun to invest heavily, albeit quietly, in expanding its naval and air power across the Indian Ocean. The effort is driven by two factors: a desire to improve maritime domain awareness and maritime security throughout the vast region, and New Delhi’s growing anxieties about Chinese inroads in its strategic backyard. As Chinese naval forces operate more frequently in the Indian Ocean, military planners in New Delhi increasingly worry about a day when China could present a security threat not only on its Himalayan frontier but also from the sea. Meanwhile piracy, illegal fishing, and other maritime crimes remain serious concerns and potential sources of instability around the entire Indian Ocean rim. India is tackling these concerns along four tracks.

The Indian military is upgrading its naval, coast guard, and air capabilities in order to better monitor and project power farther from shore. Much of this work has been focused on the Lakshadweep archipelago off India’s west coast and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the east. India has also constructed a listening post in Madagascar to monitor traffic in the southwest Indian Ocean. Explore the map below for more details on these facilities along with India’s other efforts to expand its capabilities in the region.

A second line of effort is focused on boosting regional maritime domain awareness and creating a common operating picture through the work of the Indian Navy’s Information Fusion Centre for the Indian Ocean Region, or IFC-IOR. The center, which was launched in 2018, processes radar and sensor data from participating countries and offers the data to partners, including all members of the Indian Ocean Rim Association. India is helping smaller neighbors upgrade their radar arrays and feed them into the IFC-IOR. France recently became the first partner nation to post a liaison officer to the center.

New Delhi is also expanding military ties with other major players in the Indo-Pacific. This includes the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement signed with the United States in August 2016. That agreement facilitates each side’s access to the other’s military facilities for refueling and replenishment. It is widely expected to include the U.S. naval base at Diego Garcia, though no Indian vessels have so far made use of the facility. In 2018, New Delhi signed similar agreements to gain greater access to French facilities, especially its naval base on Réunion, and to Singapore’s Changi Naval Base. India inked a fourth logistics arrangement with South Korea in September 2019 and is reportedly close to finalizing similar deals with Australia, Japan, and Russia.

Finally, New Delhi has grown concerned about Chinese investments in important ports like Hambantota in Sri Lanka and Gwadar in Pakistan which grant Beijing a degree of leverage over the host countries and could serve a dual function as future logistics hubs for the Chinese military. In order to secure future access and cement its role as a regional leader, India is investing in the development of commercial ports and airports in the region. Some of these projects could provide the kind of access and logistics support that the Indian Navy has recently negotiated at the port of Duqm, Oman.

Explore the map below for more information on New Delhi’s military and strategic investments around the Indian Ocean.

Ports and Partnerships: Delhi Invests in Indian Ocean Leadership | Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative
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