Being the largest democracy in the world, and a promoter of democratic values on international forums, India has been emerging as a political and economic power in the new multipolar world order. Standards like Rule of law, freedom of faith and expression, among others have made India a vital democratic partner for the West, at a time when the West has its eyes set on the Indo-Pacific region.
For the United Kingdom, India is even more important, as it is still governed by European Union rules – a position that will cease to exist when the transition period ends on 31st December, 2020. Less than a month later, when the Prime Minister of UK, Boris Johnson, is scheduled to visit India as the Chief Guest for the Republic Day celebrations, he is expected to go forward with the implementation of what his former Conservative PM, David Cameron, said about India and UK fashioning a “great partnership of the 21st century.”
Boris Johnson’s maiden visit to India, in the words of Foreign Minister S Jaishankar, “would be in a way symbolic of a new era, and a new phase of India-UK ties.” The incumbent British Prime Minister will become the second PM of Britain to get the honour of visiting as a guest of honour for the Republic Day celebrations.
In a statement given by PM Boris Johnson, he said, "I am absolutely delighted to be visiting India next year at the start of an exciting year for Global Britain, and look forward to delivering the quantum leap in our bilateral relationship that Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi and I have pledged to achieve."
The key words to notice here are ‘Global Britain’ and ‘Quantum Leap’, which signify that, in a post-Brexit world, the UK is willing to establish itself outside the purview of EU, and is ready to acknowledge India as a companion in its goal to increase its global footprint, both diplomatic and economic, in the Indo-Pacific, a region which is gaining importance, considering the current geo-political scenario.
“The British PM will use his visit to boost co-operation in areas that matter to UK, and that will be our priorities for our international engagement throughout 2021 - from trade and investment, to defence and security, and health and climate change”, the Downing No 10 said in the statement.
In order to achieve his ambition to work with a group of like-minded democracies to advance shared interests and tackle common challenges, Boris Johnson has invited PM Modi to next year’s G7 summit hosted by Britian as one of the three guest nations alongside South Korea and Australia.
PM Johnson has the idea of “D10” grouping of nations ideologically committed to combating the march of authoritarian states. The India visit of PM Johnson will mark a historic event as Britain is going to enter into the Post-Brexit world, leaving the single European Market after decades of economic success juxtaposed with neo-liberal policies of Thatcher and Reagan of ‘80s.
The reality of Global Britain would only come true if UK establish trade relations with other leading market economies like India, and emerge out from already suffering economy, increasing poverty, lowering social security and welfare schemes, especially in the aftermath of pandemic.
Boris Johnson’s plan to transform the G7 forum of leading industrialised nations into a broader grouping of 10 leading democracies capable of challenging China and other authoritarian states can be seen as a significant diplomatic move to deepen UK-India relations, and along with that, to symbolise the post-Brexit tilt to the Indo-Pacific.
The No 10’s Indo-Pacific vision is expected to align with the New Delhi’s vision of Indo-Pacific region as free, open, and prosperous. PM Johnson’s vision for ‘UK outside the EU’ and Indo-Pacific strategy will be given explicitly in the integrated foreign and security review, which was heralded as the “‘largest review of the UK’s foreign, defence, security, and development policy since the end of the Cold War”, according to the UK Parliament, due to be published early in the new year. It will also provide insights to the soundbite Global Britain that has become a mainstay of post-Brexit foreign policy talk.
UK Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, said Britain’s upcoming integrated strategic review will contain an “Indo-Pacific tilt”, and there is “no stronger partner” in the east than India.
In eastward looking strategy of UK, India is emerging as a key player, and recent shifts in global politics pave the way to serve both their interests, if they work together in the areas such as connecting people, trade and prosperity, defence and security, climate change, and health.
Johnson said, “As a key player in the Indo-Pacific region, India is an increasingly indispensable partner for the United Kingdom as we work to boost jobs and growth, confront shared threats to our security and protect our planet.”
Britain’s connection with Indo-Pacific world stretches back centuries, when it used to be ‘Great’ Britain. Relationship begun due to trade competition with the Portuguese and Spanish in the 16th century from the voyages of discovery by Captain Cook to the colonisation of India, and beyond into the 20th century.
The post-WWII 20th century turned out to be dramatic for Britain in Indo-Pacific region when it decided to pull back East of Suez in 1960s, resulting in the UK’s curtailed security presence in the region.
The UK leased out its strategically important military base at Diego Garcia island to the US in the cold war era which became crucial to safeguard the rule-based international system in 21st Century, as it sits astride crucial maritime trade routes from Gulf strait to the Strait of Malacca, which have seen a dramatic increase in naval traffic from China, India, Japan, and the United States.
Although UK is present in every Indo-Pacific country, even in Maldives and Seychelles, where US is absent, but it has failed to publicise its role in the region, or articulate its goal set for the region’s countries.
India is a major power in Indian Ocean, and has the potential to become the biggest trading partner in the region along with the security and strategic partner in the Indo-Pacific for Britain in coming years as this region would be new area for world dominance.
"The Indo-Pacific is all about looking at what are your options... We would like the UK to come in as a major investor and innovation partner; a range of activities in the digital and cyber age which may not have been even possible to conceive earlier," current foreign secretary Harshvardhan Shringla said, and hoped that UK would follow the path of France, the Netherlands, and Germany to formulate its Indo-Pacific strategy keeping with the new definitive shifts in the region as the Quad is emerging as a military alliance, and in the global economic trajectory from the Atlantic to the Indo-Pacific.
S Jaishankar said, “The Indo-Pacific is a reality because...it is an articulation of globalisation, the fact that you cannot deal with different theatres in a watertight way. The kind of challenges the world faces today – climate change, maritime security, terrorism, [and] the opportunity to increase connectivity – all these require a larger arena and more coordinated efforts.”
India and United Kingdom are examining ways to intensify the trade relations in the coming decade when Britain would finally leave the European Single market, and would proudly walk on the path to become ‘Global Britain’.
India and UK have agreed to announce the 10-year-roadmap for India-UK relations as well as an “Enhanced Trade Partnership”, which will be a prelude to the proposed Free Trade Agreement (FTA). Both the countries will speed up negotiations for a free trade agreement against the backdrop of Britain looking to enhance its trade ties, amid its troubled exit from the European Union, and can sign an early harvest deal as early as next month when British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, will visit New Delhi.
The No 10 highlighted the two countries’ burgeoning trade and investment relationship, which it said is worth £24 billion ($32 billion, 26 billion euros) annually, and supports more than half a million jobs. Bilateral Merchandise trade between the two countries has been in the range of US$15.45 billion in 2019-20, and trade in Services has been around US$ 9.5 billion in 2017.
Bilateral trade has remained in favour of India, but only during the FY20, in comparison to previous year. UK used to be the second largest trading partner of India in 1998-99, but it ranked 16th in the list of India’s trading partners during the year 2018-19.
India invested in 120 projects and created 5,429 new jobs in the UK to become the second-largest source of foreign direct investment (FDI), after the US, in 2019, according to the Department for International Trade (DIT) inward investment statistics for 2019-2020.
As per the CII-Grant Thornton India meets UK Report 2020, there are now a record 850 Indian companies operating in the UK, with combined revenues of almost £41.2 billion (£48 billion in 2019). Together, they paid over £461.8 million in corporation tax (£684 million in 2019), and employed 110,793 people (104,783 in 2019). This figure excludes employees of UK branches of Indian companies. If these were included, the employment numbers would be substantially higher.
The defence cooperation between India and United Kingdom remained below the par during the cold war due to the 1971 Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation between India and USSR, which virtually gave a status of Warsaw Pact member to India, creating an adversary for Britain in India as it was in opposite camp led by capitalist US.
The disintegration of USSR, and disappearance of communist fatherland from the world facilitated laying the foundation of broader UK-India defence cooperation in March 1995 with the decision to establish a Defence Consultative Group (DCG) headed by India’s Defence Secretary and the UK’s Permanent Under-Secretary for Defence.
The DCG in future intends to create two sub-groups, focusing on the joint environment including cyber and space, and defence reform cooperation. The Cameron-Modi summit in 2015 proved a significant milestone towards holding annual strategic dialogues at the defence minister level as well as the level of joint/integrated and single service chiefs. The defence cooperation is not limited to dialogues and meetings, but joint UK-India military exercises, notably the Konkan naval exercises held since 2004 on a bi-annual basis in the Indian Ocean, the Indra Dhanush Air Force exercises held since 2006, and the Shamsheer Bugle army exercises held since 2010.
The future military cooperation includes the mutual defence logistics support agreement which is an advanced stage of negotiation like India inked with US, along with the Government-to-Government (G2G) mechanism for defence deals. Defence training Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) is also in progress, hoping to get a push with the PM Johnson’s visit.
The two countries are close to signing a G2G agreement on jet technology development. They are already in partnerships and joint ventures in Armoured Fighting Vehicle engines, Firearms, Howitzers, Air defence systems in land domain, Air Cushioned vehicles, Critical warship navigation equipment in maritime domain, and Missile simulation systems in Air Domain. Moreover, the UK has approached India during Aero-India 2018 for joint technological development for sixth-generation fighters which can fit into India’s fifth generation Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA).
The UK Navy offered the design of its HMS Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers for Indian Navy’s proposed second indigenous carrier which would be in its maiden deployment arrive in Indian Ocean next year.
The scheduled visit by UK PM is already being seen as starting a new era between India and UK, at a time when both the countries are equally important to each other for fulfilling their international politics agenda in a multipolar world order.