During 2018, there were 73 outgoing visits at the level of the President, Vice-President, Prime Minister and External Affairs Minister of India to 58 countries, while India hosted 44 visits by world leaders. Almost half of these interactions focused on Asia, underlining the continent’s priority for India’s foreign policy.
In South Asia, the focus on connectivity projects illustrated India’s objective of creating a mutually beneficial, people-oriented, regional framework for stability and prosperity. The Arun III hydro-electric project and the Nepal-India Ramayana Circuit were launched in May; three railway and power projects with Bangladesh were launched in September; while in December, the India Ports Global Limited company assumed responsibilities for operations in Iran’s Chabahar port, which will provide sea-land connectivity to Afghanistan and Central Asia.
The decision of the newly elected leaders of the Maldives and Bhutan to visit India for their first foreign visits indicated a reciprocal interest in India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy.
India’s vision of the Indo-Pacific, articulated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Shangri La Dialogue held in June in Singapore, was of seminal importance. Reaffirming the ASEAN-centrality of the Indo-Pacific, which “extended from the shores of Africa to that of the Americas”, India integrated her Indian Ocean Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) policy into an “inclusive” Indo-Pacific framework. The India-Japan summit in October decided to implement this vision by converging the India-Africa engagement with Japan’s Expanded Partnership for Quality Infrastructure initiative in Africa.
A new thrust to interact with Africa on the basis of 10 principles was contained in Prime Minister Modi’s historic address to Uganda’s Parliament in July. Advocating “cooperation and not confrontation”, India proposed bilateral cooperation focusing on financing for development of Africa through lines of credit, transfers of technology including in the digital domain to accelerate development and expanding the training of Africa’s human resources.
India’s ‘Think West’ policy, coordinating her energy and security interests, yielded impressive results in a region witnessing increasing volatility, especially on the pricing of Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries’ (OPEC) oil exports to India. The Gulf Cooperation Council countries and Iran continued to account for the bulk of India’s energy imports, while 8 million Indians working in this region continued to contribute to its economic stability and prosperity.
India’s successful use of “informal summit” mechanisms with China at Wuhan and Russia at Sochi in April and May respectively was a major innovation. These summits facilitated direct, free-flowing and candid exchanges of views between the respective leaders to launch forward-looking strategic dialogues on domestic, regional and global issues. India and the United States held their first 2+2 dialogue between foreign and defence ministers in September, consolidating their global strategic partnership.
The General Assembly of the International Solar Alliance (ISA), co-sponsored by France and India, was held in March. The ISA became the first UN-affiliated inter-governmental organization to be headquartered in India. Prime Minister Modi received the United Nations’ Champions of the Earth Award in September for his “bold environmental leadership on the global stage”.
India’s international diplomacy focused on creating the building blocks for effective international cooperation, including in trilateral and plurilateral formats. The President and Vice-President’s foreign visits, and Prime Minister Modi’s participation in the World Economic Forum in January, the London Commonwealth Summit and the India-Nordic Summit in April, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit in June, the BRICS Summit in July, the BIMSTEC Summit in August, the ASEAN-India and East Asia Summits in November, and the G20 Summit in December enabled India to create a groundswell of interaction towards this objective.
The growing impact of India’s civilizational values on international cooperation, the core of the concept of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, was movingly manifested by artistes from 124 countries. Brought together by an Indian diplomatic initiative to mark the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, the artistes rendered Gandhiji’s favourite bhajan Vaishnava Jana To for a global audience on the International Day of Non-Violence.
Script: Amb. Asoke Kumar Mukerji, Former Permanent Representative Of India To The United Nations