Monday, June 27, 2022

When Boris Johnson lands in Gujarat, Beijing would be on his mind 

By Aditya Vashisht

Having been forced by the COVID-19 pandemic to cancel his maiden trip to India last year, British PM Boris Johnson will finally be able to visit the country for a two day trip commencing April 21. He brings with him weights of concern that include the Russian onslaught in Ukraine and the Beijing threat in the long run and the need to carve an independent space for the United Kingdom which is seeking to go global.

Increased trade partnerships in the form of a free trade agreement, and the achievement of the 2030 deadline which shall create a stoic framework for the relationship between New Delhi and London are expected to be on the cards. But looking beyond technicalities, which undoubtedly are building blocks of blooming relations, the need to look at perspectives from a larger point of view shall explain the rise of India’s position in the eyes of the United Kingdom, which for New Delhi, is a more realistic application of the policy of multi-alignment.

The current episode of the Russian attack on Ukraine has made it clear that international tensions are not going away and that apart from Russia, China is going to be a more formidable challenge and it is precisely relations with the latter that are straining the nerves of the UK’s leaders. While they seek to align themselves with the security umbrella engineered by the United States, at the same time, PM Johnson wants to restart high level trade talks with China. This balancing act of the United Kingdom will be instrumental in deciding the nature of its relations with India. It is clear that the UK would seek to enhance defence ties with the South Asian power and would increase its efforts to become a part of the game of the Indo-Pacific. While it may not gain an anti-Russian stance from India, it is bent on seeking utilizing the friction between India and China, which is not going to wither away so soon with Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar stating that ties between the two Asian powers cannot become normal unless the border issues stand tall and Beijing seems to be in no mood to abandon its aggressive attitude towards the LAC.

The Russian invasion required a clear cut response and provided PM Johnson an opportunity to boost his image by making the United Kingdom a major enforcer of sanctions on Russia. His visit to Kyiv was an appreciative gesture and it is evident that the UK has backed Ukraine well in some aspects. This also rules out any possibility of rapprochement with Putin’s Russia, which is more likely to find him dependent upon Asia and Africa for support at the international stage. India and China have implicitly backed Moscow in some respects and both are vital to the United Kingdom in Asia. China is still a major trade partner of the UK but this has been accompanied by hostilities and it is perfectly transparent that the ‘golden era’ of the UK-China relations is now a distant dream. Beijing’s belligerence isn’t going to be toned down as it seeks a bigger opportunity in the aftermath of the war between Russia and Ukraine, and the United Kingdom can in no way can afford China the ability to twist its arm.

Henceforth, the visit of PM Boris Johnson to India should be looked through the paradigm of the threat posed by China, and it is exactly why there has been a push to increase economic cooperation, to ensure more investments by the companies of both the nations so that the UK’s dependency on China could be slashed, not to mention that India is a major foreign investor in the United Kingdom. British Foreign secretary Liz Truss recently stressed upon the need for Britain to reduce its dependency upon authoritarian regimes. The stress upon democracy and authoritarianism in these times is a ploy to give UK’s desires an ideological backing, and one should mind that when Boris Johnson says the need for like-minded democracies to stand against autocratic countries when announcing his maiden trip to India, it is more pointed towards Beijing rather than Moscow.

There is no way that Russia’s relationship with India will dampen. The UK has realized that instead of concentrating its efforts upon making India stand with it on every relevant issue, it is better to think for the long term and it must be said that India’s cooperation is the best it can gain in the face of the rise of Chinese power. Thus, Boris Johnson’s visit is that of an assurance that India remains an ally of the UK and at least in the near future, New Delhi and London seem to contemplate to walk hand in hand.

(Author is student and blogger based in Lucknow. The views expressed are personal opinion of the author. He can be reached at [email protected])

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