NEW DELHI: A day after high-level engagement with the US, India is turning its attention to its key strategic partners in Europe.
Harsh Shringla, foreign secretary, heads out on Thursday to London, Paris and Berlin where he is expected to hold wide range of consultations with foreign offices, parliamentarians and academia.
The idea, according to sources familiar with developments is to restart intensive engagements in European capitals after over six months of Covid-imposed isolation.
In its second term, the Modi government has placed special emphasis on Europe for its foreign policy outreach. That was tested after the Indian decision to abrogate Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir and the consequent imposition of restrictions in the union territory, particularly on the issue of human rights, detention of political leaders and cutting off of communications.
However, India has still to help shape the European view on a couple of key foreign policy and security issues — China and Indo-Pacific, while building up greater development and security relationships on defence, climate and energy. Covid has sharpened the need for closer cooperation on healthcare, officials said, as well as global economic recovery post-pandemic.
The growing closeness between India and US also means that India is taking a greater interest in transatlantic relations. The Trump administration had an on-again-off-again relationship with Europe, but a potential Biden administration could recast the US-Europe relationship, opening up many more opportunities for India.
Shringla will address think tanks Policy Exchange in London and IFRI in Paris, as part of his public outreach, as well as meeting business leaders in these countries.
From a virtually uncritical embrace of China, European countries have been nuancing their positions, particularly on the issue of technology access and 5G communications. From France to Poland, Sweden to UK, there is an open rejection of China’s Huawei for 5G. From France to Germany and UK, there is also a greater understanding and acceptance of the Indo-Pacific as a geo-political reality.
In the past new months, both Modi and Jaishankar have engaged with Europe virtually, holding a virtual India-EU summit after it was cancelled in March due to Covid. India signed a green strategic partnership with Denmark, a rising partner in India’s development ambitions. There have been regular virtual consultations both at the official and political level.
But it is believed in government that the time has come to go back to old-fashioned physical meetings and diplomacy.