A New Dawn In Indo-UK Relationship

In Persian there is an old proverb: “Amad’an, nashist’am, ghuft’am, barkhas’tam’”, meaning “they came, they sat, they talked and then dispersed”. It actually means to say that nothing substantial was achieved by the visit or the talks. The same could be said about UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s recent visit to India, after his two previous trips scheduled last year were cancelled due to Covid-19 pandemic.

The diplomacy nowadays, thrives on optics. On this count the BoJo visit clicked all the boxes, but was also marred by angry reactions on the social media on photos showing him in the driver’s seat at a JCB bulldozer. Perhaps his advisers were unable to connect the continuing controversy over bulldozers being used by the establishment against the minorities across India, or his close connections with the owner of the JCB, Anthony Bamford, an old Conservative Party donor and supporter, overweighed the local sensibilities.

The Gujarat leg of his visit, a carbon copy of his Home Secretary Priti Patel’s 2015 trip to the state, was in essence aimed at garnering the support of the Gujarati electorate back home, keeping an eye on his uncertain political future.

In Gujarat he also met Gautam Adani at his company’s head quarters. BoJo described the feeling of being in Ahmedabad similar to as those of Sachin Tendulkar and Amitabh Bachchan, two Indian icons used for boosting his own public image and trying to resonate or connect with the Indian audiences.

In New Delhi, he referred to Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a “khaas dost” and continuously as Narendra during his speech at Hyderabad House. But no more “khaas” treatment to the Indian demands of a relaxed visa regime and post study work for the Indian students, an indication towards which was given in Ahmedabad, but not granted finally.

Bilateral Cooperation

His main focus remained the FTA between the two countries, as he expected to take back home something substantial in economic terms, particularly after his failed Brexit strategy. He urged the negotiators on both sides to hasten the pace of negotiations so as to have a final document ready for signing by Diwali in October. Certainly an over ambitious demand for an agreement, which has been under negotiations for more than last ten years.

Though the Indian side stated that it would demonstrate the same speed and urgency that it did in concluding recent FTAs with the UAE and Australia in recent months, yet nothing can’t be said for sure about an Indo-UK FTA, as there are many thorny issues on both sides.

British trade with India, the world’s second-most populous country with nearly 1.3 billion people, was worth 23 billion pounds ($29.93 billion) in 2019, much lower than the UK’s trade with some much smaller economies such as Ireland and India’s trade with smaller countries like Belgium which stands at 18 billion pounds.

Russian-Ukraine War

In addition, though not expressed overtly by the British side and neither by BoJo, the Russia-Ukraine war had an ominous shadow over the visit. Though his foreign secretary was very firmly told by New Delhi just 22 days before his visit that India is not going to change stand on its ties with Russia, BoJo thought he might be able to convince New Delhi to do so.

However, predicting the Indian response he had set the tone for this when even before meeting Modi he had said that he understands India’s historic ties with Russia, but still chose to lecture New Delhi on its relationship with ‘autocratic’ states, though this time also New Delhi politely stood its ground.

The manner in which the visit was seen by both sides, was remarkable by the manner in which the two prime ministers delivered their speeches at Hyderabad House. While BoJo avoided mentioning Russia, Modi reaffirmed the ties with Russia.

India-focused issues

Though the British side is referring to a host of agreements signed in different sectors, and BoJo’s statements on counter-terrorism task force being constituted and against the Indian economic fugitives currently at home in the UK, everyone is certain that they are just mere words, nothing substantial. His announcement of One billion pounds trade deals and creating 11,000 jobs is just peanuts for India.

Both sides also agreed to deepen bilateral defence and security cooperation. India welcomed Britain’s Indo-Pacific tilt and joining the Indo-Pacific Economic Initiative; on its part Britain announced the decision to ease the transfer of defence equipment and technology for India and also for developing an advanced jet fighter. But overall, nothing concrete was inked down by both the sides and the technology transfer could be viewed as just a gimmick to wean India away from Russia.

Overall, the two sides showed commitment to joint research, development and production of advanced weapons and related technologies. The two Prime Ministers also issued a statement on strengthening partnership in cyber-security domain, and plans to boost cooperation on mitigating climate change and promoting clean energy. But these agreements should be seen as just part of a normal bureaucratic visit.

The visit seems to be a hastily stitched plan, with no long-term goals and no narrative setting, and was unable to achieve anything bilaterally. In the end BoJo was unable to get anything substantial from India and his political troubles back home persists. The coming days will show how he’ll be able to deal with them and survive as even his closest Asian origin lieutenants like Rishi Sunak and Priti Patel, who were predicted to take over from him, are facing politically damaging controversies of their own.

G-7 Summit: Reality And Expectations

The upcoming G7 Summit in Cornwall, UK from June 11 to 13 is perhaps the first international event, in the backdrop of the continuing Covid pandemic, when the leaders from the worlds wealthiest countries — the US, Japan, Germany, the UK, France, Italy and Canada — will be meeting with leaders from India, Australia, South Africa and South Korea face to face for the first time in the last one-and-a-half year.The leaders from the most advanced nations of the G7 meet regularly to try to determine the course the world will follow, with their own interests taking a backseat.

Expectations from the summit

There is a lot of optimism ahead of the gathering in Cornwall. US and UK government sources have briefed that the G7 will demonstrate that “the West ain’t over just yet”. The optics are bound to be promising. For the US it’ll give a chance to prove that ‘America is back’, while for the UK it’ll help to give a boost to its ‘Global Britain’ strategy.On the agenda are the autocratic challenge from Russia and China, climate change, the global vaccine rollout and trade. In addition Myanmar, Indian democracy and its minorities, instability in Sahel region, Israel-Palestinian conflict and change of guard in Israel are also expected to occupy the agenda.

A move, spearheaded by US President Joe Biden, to set a minimum global corporate tax rate to help states reclaim resources lost to tax havens seems promising. Also the British proposal to transform the G7 into a “D10” of democracies has been achieved, the participation of guests from India, Australia, South Korea and South Africa will reinforce a sense that the West is open to alliance-building again.Meanwhile, the G7 finance ministers reached a “historic” deal on taxing multinational companies, last week in London. They agreed to counter tax avoidance through measures to make companies pay in the countries where they do business., besides ratifying a global minimum corporate tax rate to counter the possibility of countries undercutting each other to attract investments. UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak described these as “seismic tax reforms” and said that it will help create a fairer tax system fit for the 21st century.

Preparations for the summit

The foreign ministers from D-10 met face-to-face for the first time in two years in May earlier, following a coronavirus-extended pause, to prepare for the summit and in the communique issued after the meeting listed 82 points which will try to grab the attention of G7 or D10 leaders. In addition the issues discussed were NATO’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, Iran, China and the threat posed by Russia.Meanwhile, Britain’s Foreign Office has said a key part of the June summit will be plans to boost girls’ education and women’s employment after the Covid pandemic would be a key topic.

G7 nations are expected to sign up to new global targets that aim to get 40 million more girls into school in low and lower-middle-income countries by 2026. The aims also include getting 20 million more girls reading by the age of 10. The countries are setting up a $15-billion fund, to be administered by developing countries over the next two years.However, the trade unionists and the wider environment movement in the UK have sounded the bugle against G7’s inability to take any concerted action on climate change. In a statement they asserted that the vaccine apartheid response to the Covid threat might be replicated in their approach to the climate crisis.

They further assert that if the world’s wealthiest countries continue to move too slowly to curb their own carbon emissions, continue to invest in and boost fossil fuel energy and production, fail to make a just transition at home while denying the global South the resources it needs to deal with climate impacts, their pretensions to “global leadership” will fail the test.A $100 billion a year transfer to the developing world to make transition possible was pledged at Copenhagen and built into the Paris Agreement to be met by 2020. But it has not been done.They further assert that this commitment is a tiny fraction of the $3.8 trillion that global banks have invested in fossil fuels since the Paris Agreement, and less than a tenth of the combined G7 military budget of $1,043bn last year.

Post-summit scenario

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans to use the G7 Summit to increase cooperation between the world’s democratic and technologically advanced nations. Between them, the 10 leaders represent more than 60 per cent of the people living in democracies around the world.The UK will also host several meetings throughout the year between government ministers from the G7, both virtually and in different locations across Britain. These meetings will cover economic, environmental, health, trade, technology, development and foreign policy issues.

Observers are of the view that post-summit the western world may be transformed into one where it may lose its supremacy and China may pull ahead of the West technologically and economically, secondly the West could reassert itself by investing in green industries to renew its economies and societies in the backdrop of the lessons learnt from the Covid pandemic and thus China might be neutralised, thirdly a more Eurasian Europe may emerge, due to the eclipse of both the US and UK and it’ll be drawn towards Asia’s growing economic influence. For India, the summit offers a chance to further reinforce its relationship with the UK by signing a trade treaty and for Mr Modi to establish a rapport with Biden to ensure a fruitful bilateral relationship, and to some extent this seems possible. (IANS)