One Of The Most Defining Relationships
The twice postponed much awaited visit of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s two-day visit has served the purpose of giving the necessary additional push to implement the 10-year India-UK roadmap to transform the relationship and take it to another level by 2030. Prime Minister Narendra Modi termed the visit of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to India as “historic” since it came during a time when India is celebrating “Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav” to mark the 75th year of its independence.
Describing Modi as a “special friend” and India-UK ties as “one of the most defining relationships” in the current times, Johnson signed US$1.3 billion worth of investment deals with Indian businesses and tried to draw India closer by offering lucrative trade and defence arrangements. The talks focussed on further intensifying the multi-faceted ties between India and UK. An immediate end to the violence in Ukraine, deepening of climate and energy partnership and keeping the Indo-Pacific region “free and open” figured among the discussions.
At the top of the agenda is the effort to conclude an agreement on Enhanced Trade Partnership (ETP). Johnson wants to get the deal done by Diwali and Modi promised that India will demonstrate the same speed and urgency that it did in concluding recent free trade agreements with the UAE and Australia in recent months. Complementing the political push for a historic trade liberalisation agreement is the decision by the two leaders to deepen bilateral defence and security cooperation. While India welcomed Britain’s Indo-Pacific tilt, Britain has announced the decision to ease the transfer of defence equipment and technology for India. The two sides are also determined to begin joint research, development and production of advanced weapons and related technologies. Modi and Johnson also issued a statement on strengthening their partnership in the cyber domain to deliver results on governance, deterrence, resilience and capacity building. Beyond defence, security and advanced technologies, they announced plans to boost cooperation on mitigating climate change and promoting clean energy.
India and the UK have a shaky economic partnership, given their historical contexts. An independent India has never been able to completely shed the hatred towards its erstwhile coloniser, while many powerful lobbies in the UK haven’t been able to give up their “rulers of the region” attitude. The political relations between both have punctured pursual of any significant economic cooperation, even though, both sides maintained a fairly upwardly mobile bilateral trade relation. The colonial ghosts from the past including geopolitical issues such as Kashmir, Pakistan and Partition always shadowed any bilateral economic ties. The UK, after severing ties with the European Union and facing threats to its liberal economy from China, decided to steer its focus towards the Indo-Pacific for strategic and bilateral reasons. It has already entered into a military alliance with Australia along with the US (AUKUS)that focusses on security in the region. The growing closeness between China and Russia, along the current aggression in Ukraine has forced the UK to make the Indo-Pacific a key element of its foreign, trade, political and economic agenda. The only country from the QUAD group with whom the UK doesn’t have a significant economic partnership such as a trade agreement is India. A trade deal with the aim to double bilateral trade between India and UK to about $100 billion by 2030 seems a focus area for “Global Britain”.
As India seeks to carve out a new role for itself in the evolving global order as a ‘leading power’ and the U.K. recalibrates its strategic outlook post-Brexit, this is a unique moment in India-U.K. ties. The top leadership in the two nations remain committed to building a lasting partnership and in the process, older issues like Pakistan have become marginal in the bilateral discourse. New geopolitical realities demand a new strategic vision from London and New Delhi. It is time to seize the moment and to lay the foundations of a partnership that can respond adequately to the challenges of the 21st century. The visit of Mr. Johnson to New Delhi signifies the importance of India’s role in the dynamically changing global order as New Delhi prepares itself to host multiple foreign leaders in the upcoming months and the G20 presidency in 2023.