India’s foreign policy in 2021: From selective to universal engagement

News: India’s foreign policy in 2021 followed a style of openness and readiness to deal with friends and foes alike. From selective alignment, India moved to universal engagement, even to the extent of convening meetings with antagonists.

About India’s foreign policy in 2021

Relations with the US and its allies: India took active engagements with the U.S. and went beyond familiarisation with the new government to increased commitment to Quad and acceptance of AUKUS and formation of the ‘western Quad’, with the U.S., Israel and the UAE.

Relations with Russia: Major agreements were signed with Russia, despite the American threat of CAATSA against S-400 missiles and the Russian inclination to align with China in the days to come.

Relations with China: The relations with China met with limited success. China is confident that the growing hard power — economic and military — gives it the luxury to dispense with diplomatic niceties. Hence,

1. China has not shown willingness to disengage in Ladakh and withdraw to the previous positions behind the Line of Actual Control, 2. Recently, changed the names of various places in Arunachal Pradesh, 3. Building villages on the unpopulated border with India, 4. Trying to create a wedge between India and its close Himalayan neighbours — Nepal and Bhutan, 5. Seeking to undermine Indian influence in the Maldives and Sri Lanka and, more broadly, in the Indian Ocean.

Taliban in Afghanistan: American notion of bringing in some civility to the Taliban in Kabul has failed. Now it is a high priority for India to face a Pakistan-China-Taliban axis with some support from Russia and Iran.

Relations with Myanmar: In 2021, the Foreign Secretary visited Myanmar to engage the military junta at a time when Aung San Suu Kyi and other opposition leaders are in prison.

Climate Change: India decided to stand out of the line on the matter of net-zero emission target years but succumbed to the pressure to commit more to promote renewable energy and phasing down coal.

United Nations: India took the presidency of the UN Security Council in August 2021 and provided significant contributions. But, India showed less interest in the demand for United Nations reform in 2021.

Other issues: India has been charged as “India only a part-democracy” received less Indian interest. As for Indian democracy, the Prime Minister’s assertion that India is the “mother of democracy” went uncontested at the political level.

How to address the challenges in India’s foreign policy in 2021?

The extraordinary efforts made by India have not been fruitful in Afghanistan and China.  Among them, China remains the most important national security task for India in 2022 and beyond. To redress the power imbalance with China, India has to

1. Along with diplomatic relations, India has to rush the military modernisation and strategic coordination with its Quad partners, 2. At the economic level, India will need to move rapidly to end its isolation in the global trade domain, 3. India has to stay out of a China-dominated Asia-wide free trade agreement, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), 4. Negotiate bilateral free trade agreements with strategic partners like the United Kingdom, Australia, UAE, and Israel.

Source: This post is based on the following articles

“From selective to universal engagement” published in The Hindu on 3rd Jan 2022.

“The China hand” published in Indian Express on 3rd Jan 2022.

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