Boris Johnson’s visit creates good atmosphere, but momentum needs to be maintained

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited India last week after his two previous trips were postponed

Prime Minister Modi Boris Johnson meets at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi – Twitter/@narendramodi

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s visit to India, which finally took place after two postponements, is significant in several respects. In India’s 75th year of independence, a British Prime Minister’s visit to a profoundly altered partnership has its own significance. In 75 years, India has evolved from being the jewel in Britain’s crown to a jewel with which Britain and others are vying to engage. It should be noted that Johnson, as a leading critic of Russia and a strong supporter of US and NATO action on the Ukraine crisis, found time for a two-day visit to India.

Given the many crises around the world on Covid, energy, Ukraine and climate, the British Prime Minister has plenty of time for India. This is mainly because, post-Brexit, the UK has India as a strategic pivot. With Japan, Australia and ASEAN, its Indo-Pacific policy is revitalized. Johnson was clear that despite Ukraine, functionally the UK was pivoting to Asia.

The virtual Modi-Johnson summit took place in May 2021. After which they met at COP26 in Glasgow and at the G7 and G20. Last year saw a major interaction in which the British engaged with India on several levels. A diplomatic disadvantage of such frequent meetings and summits is that you cannot keep writing the same joint statement and have to show its implementation. The joint statement “Towards Shared Security and Prosperity through National Resilience”, issued after the April 22, 2022 summit, significantly reinforces the previous one and shows that it is taken seriously.

Three broad areas where increased interaction is taking place are defence, trade and investment, and people-to-people engagement. The defense part is perhaps significant. After exclaiming that India needed to diversify its sources of defense supply, Europe now seems to be waking up to the fact that India needs technology transfers and co-production in India like the Russians. The British now seem ready to do this for war planes, ships and engines and related fields. In addition, a dialogue of defense ministers has been established. The India-UK Electric Propulsion Capability Partnership with the objective of military and industrial collaboration in maritime electric propulsion systems and strategic collaboration including modern fighter jets and advanced core engine technology reaction, are major developments. The ‘Open General Export Licence’ for technology collaboration with India and India’s ability to participate in UK shipbuilding and aircraft programs are emerging ideas.

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The Indo-Pacific is an area where India and the UK agree, but Britain’s commitment needs to be demonstrated. Over the past year, the visit of their flotilla led by the aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth has been significant. He had several engagements in and around India, all the way to Australia. Britain has now agreed to be co-lead of India’s Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI) maritime security pillar. It’s a breakthrough. The UK’s willingness to criticize China is seasonal and requires consistency. The joint statement mentions principles but not the South China Sea in particular.

On new investment and trade, there seems to be a push for the FTA as Brits are shaken by how quickly the India Australia ECTA was secured. The British certainly want to have this before the EU passes. Some special measures have been taken, but they must be substantial. The India-EU BTIA issues cannot be allowed to mark the India-UK FTA and therefore the UK has to play on new ground with India as an equal partner. A target to conclude the majority of talks on a comprehensive and balanced free trade agreement by Diwali 2022 is envisaged.

The mobility deal for more students and work visas for Indians has a minefield for the return of illegal Indians from the UK whose nationality determination has always remained a challenge. It doesn’t seem to have been addressed in any meaningful way.

In terms of investment, Great Britain is setting up major financial arrangements. British International Investment (BII), formerly CDC Group, will provide up to $1 billion in green support. The India-UK Green Growth Equity Fund, anchored by India’s National Investment and Infrastructure Fund (NIIF), will mobilize $425 million for green infrastructure projects. The UK will provide $1 billion guarantees to the World Bank for the promotion of green infrastructure in India. These have significant implications for the development of infrastructure and related manufacturing and services in India.

On top of that, there is no mention of any new British investment, even though Johnson told his constituency that India would invest up to £1 billion and create 11,000 jobs in the UK. A similar enunciation from the Indian side is required. Private FDI flow cannot be only to UK from India. It must be two-way and British companies should be encouraged to establish production bases in India, which should then use neighboring ASEAN and African markets for new exports. Given that the UK has applied to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), it makes sense that the India-ASEAN FTA and CPTPP facilities will be used together for regional value chains.

How Britain will deal with Indian economic fugitives remains an unanswered question. They said that it is the British justice system that prevents them from extraditing them. However, while dealing with the Russian oligarchs during the Ukraine crisis, Britain did not shy away from confiscating their assets and sanctioning them with little regard for the niceties.

This is where Britain’s determination to deal with a democracy like India differs from the way it deals with other countries, particularly China, Pakistan and Afghanistan. British strategic interests must be in harmony with their quest for values ​​and they cannot pursue values ​​in Russia but ignore them in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Modi-Johnson summit created the right atmosphere and shows positive signs of further movement and progress over the past year. This momentum must be maintained. Then, the India-UK partnership will become an important node of India’s European initiative, which, within the framework of the multilateral world order, will continue to be of great importance for India.

The writer is a former ambassador to Germany. The opinions expressed are personal.

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