Author : Vivek Mishra

Expert Speak Raisina Debates
Published on Apr 21, 2022 Updated 22 Days ago
Despite differing positions on the Ukraine crisis, both the countries are choosing to prioritise their bilateral relations 
Boris Johnson’s India visit: Prioritising bilateral agendas over timing The announcement of the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s visit to India on 21–22 April comes as a significant development, in the least because the visit comes on the back of two previous postponements.

Timing

PM Johnson’s visit to India may not be perfectly timed, especially with the public relations disaster back home for the Prime Minister and the ongoing war in Europe. Back at home, despite his unreserved apology to the Parliament, the Opposition is gunning for the British Prime Minister’s resignation on the issue of his ‘Partygate’—his violation of COVID-19 protocols for which he has been fined by the police. His Finance Minister, Rishi Sunak, has also been fined for the violations and is caught in a tax controversy.
With the UK having imposed economic sanctions on Russia and lent political, economic, and military support to Ukraine and India having remained neutral, India and the UK have clearly struck contrasting positions vis-à-vis Russia.
The backdrop of a heated Eurasian heartland and unprecedented western consolidation has added the element of the UK’s possible expectations from India apropos Russia. However, these concerns will not be the core purpose of the visit, even if they figure tangentially. With the UK having imposed economic sanctions on Russia and lent political, economic, and military support to Ukraine and India having remained neutral, India and the UK have clearly struck contrasting positions vis-à-vis Russia. As Johnson’s recent visit to Kyiv and the official ban by Russia on his entry to Russia could symbolically cast its shadow on the bilateral discussions, both sides are likely to keep discussions around concrete deliverables as a priority. His quip about threats from ‘autocratic states’ does signal that discussions may include threats in the Indo-Pacific from varied angles.

Serious agenda

If Prime Minister Johnson’s itinerary is any indication of the primary objectives of his visit, his choice of Ahmedabad as his first destination is being viewed as an important event for two reasons. First, it is symbolic as such a visit is the first of its kind by any UK Prime Minister, and the UK–India diaspora connect with Gujarat at its core binds the two countries through irrevocable people-to-people ties, an agenda which is also a part of the two countries’ Roadmap 2030. Second, Gujarat is an important destination for boosting the two-way trade between the two countries, even as the two countries are trying to negotiate a Free Trade Agreement (FTA). The FTA currently being negotiated between India and the UK could boost the annual trade for Britain by close to US $36.5 billion by 2035. There is some expectation that Britain will announce new investment deals and bilateral partnerships ranging across science, health, and technology sectors. Some new announcements are expected towards creating jobs through investments, which has been already hinted at by PM Johnson. Already, 95,000 jobs are supported by Indian investments in the UK.
Gujarat is an important destination for boosting the two-way trade between the two countries, even as the two countries are trying to negotiate a Free Trade Agreement (FTA).
Amongst the important agendas lined up, a review of the implementation of Roadmap 2030 set by both the countries in the interest of broadening the spectrum of the bilateral relationship across many sectors is also included. India and the UK had agreed to a decadal roadmap in May 2021 during the India–UK virtual summit. In many ways, Liz Truss’ visit to India a few days ahead of this important bilateral visit set the tone for improving bilateral relations across important sectors including food security, climate change, defence, energy, and food security. In the words of Prime Minister Johnson himself, jobs, economic growth, trade, and defence will be the key purpose of the visit. In the defence sector, an important step for both countries will be to review the progress of their agreement in May 2021 on the co-production of military hardware, technology collaboration for combat aircraft as well as the India–UK Defence and International Security Partnership framework. As such, the overarching purpose to chart a post-Brexit course for the UK is in full swing and an across-the-spectrum partnership with India is high on the UK’s agenda. With India projected to grow at 8.2 percent in the latest International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates, despite the slash by the agency, it is one of the highest growth expectations in the world. The economic potential of India is an important investment source and a huge market fit in the UK’s post-Brexit strategy, even as the EU remains critical in India’s economic-strategic map.
Liz Truss’ visit to India a few days ahead of this important bilateral visit set the tone for improving bilateral relations across important sectors including food security, climate change, defence, energy, and food security.
It is quite evident that Britain’s vision of a strong presence in the Indo-Pacific factors a strong partnership with India. The UK is a fast-emerging stakeholder in the Indo-Pacific region and is increasingly acquiring a strategic character with more deployments and patrols. Whether it is for strengthening the Indo-Pacific arc through resilient economic network, balancing against China, or restoring its own global prominence, the Indo-Pacific could prove critical. Last year in July, a British Carrier Strike Group was deployed in the South China Sea and the Western Pacific Ocean.  Before this, a UK Carrier Strike Group had its first engagement with the Royal Thai Navy and conducted maritime military exercises in the territorial waters of Thailand. This was the UK’s first such deployment since 1997 and marked a strategic recalibration in the Indo-Pacific region in line with the Johnson government’s goal to restore Britain’s position as  a leading naval power of Europe. Britain has also enhanced its military spending under the Johnson government through a multi-year funding package. The graph below shows that the estimated projections are going to rise. Source: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-42774738 The two countries are working towards a common vision in the Indo-Pacific region through their Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between the UK and India, as this ambitious roadmap is undergirded by a “shared commitment to democracy, fundamental freedoms, multilateralism and a rules-based international order.” Prime Minister Johnson’s vision of ‘Global Britain’ in his Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development, and Foreign Policy brought out in 2021 has a lot in common with India’s own vision in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond. Their logistics agreement which was finalised in May 2021 provides both countries with the opportunity to increase maritime cooperation in the Indo-Pacific. The invitation extended to the UK’s Liaison Officer to India’s Information Fusion Centre and the establishment of an annual UK–India Maritime Dialogue are steps in the same direction. Most importantly, both the countries becoming burden-sharing nation with a global perspective.
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Author

Vivek Mishra

Vivek Mishra

Vivek Mishra is a Fellow with ORF’s Strategic Studies Programme. His research interests include America in the Indian Ocean and Indo-Pacific and Asia-Pacific regions, particularly ...

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