India-New Zealand diplomacy to scale higher

New Zealand may also enhance its presence in India: Foreign Minister Winston Peters with India’s High Commissioner to New Zealand Neeta Bhushan at his office in Wellington on December 19, 2023 (MFAT Photo)

From Our Editorial: Indian Newslink, January 15, 2024

Venkat Raman
Auckland, January 15, 2024

A week after he was sworn in as the Minister of Foreign Affairs under the new Coalition Government, Winston Peters hosted a dinner (on December 11, 2023) for foreign diplomats represented in New Zealand.

Acknowledging the critical role played by diplomats, he said that their work sustains and grows the international connections on which New Zealand depends.

“You are in this sense critical enablers for New Zealand,” he said and added, “But we hold no illusions about the challenging international conditions. Taking the world ‘as it is’ and having our ‘eyes wide open’ to potential threats has guided New Zealand’s foreign policy ever since we began charting our own course.”

Independent Foreign Policy

Admitting that there are differences between ideologies between countries, he emphasised the need for an independent foreign policy.

“We do have an independent foreign policy, but the Coalition Government also believes you have independent foreign policies too, forged through your own national experiences and the cultural expectations that grew out of them. Differences lie in our geographies, geologies, economies, populations, political systems, histories, and cultures. So, an independent foreign policy means different things to different countries,” he said.

During his speech, he made an important reference, although fleeting, to India.

“We will increase our focus,” he said.

Coming as it does from Mr Peters, a veteran politician of almost 50 years and foreign minister twice before, the statement takes a deeper meaning: that New Zealand will multiply its efforts to get closer to India.

That would also mean perhaps opening Consulates in one or other major cities.

That augurs well with the decision of the Indian government to establish the Office of the Consulate-General in Auckland.

That is our front-page story in this issue. As mentioned, the efforts to establish this Office began in 2008 but it has taken some time to materialise.

Our story states that New Zealand is keen to improve its political and economic ties with India and the role of Mr Peters will be critical in the process. Although India is allergic to the reduction of tariffs on agricultural and dairy products, New Zealand can attempt to secure deals in the services sector, manufacturing and investment opportunities, promote the education and tourism sectors and seek better utilisation of India’s youthful and skilled population.

Mr Peters will soon be considering the next High Commissioner to India (with simultaneous representation to Bangladesh and Nepal) and we are sure that the next phase of bilateral relations will receive his foremost attention.

India’s Diplomatic Excellence

There are more than 950 officers of the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) employed in about 195 Embassies, High Commissions, Consular Offices and other offices outside India. They are supported by officials drawn from various other services as well as locally recruited staff. Among them are women who serve as High Commissioners, Ambassadors, Secretaries, Additional Secretaries, Joint Secretaries and officers at various levels.

While the Foreign Policy of India has been shaped and honed by various Prime Ministers since Pandit Nehru, the style followed by the current Prime Minister Narendra Modi is markedly different and refreshing. He believes in personal diplomacy and works closely with world leaders of various blocs.

As former Ambassador Bhaswati Mukherjee observed in a recent article, “Mr Modi believes that personal diplomacy could make a difference in world affairs and to a certain extent he has succeeded. He opted for course correction in Foreign Policy and like some of his predecessors, he tried to make a grand gesture to Pakistan by inviting former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to his first oath-taking ceremony as India’s Prime Minister in 2014 and then visited him in Lahore on his birthday in 2015.”

Diplomats become Ministers

Although not common, a few diplomats who have either headed the Ministry as Foreign Secretaries or diplomatic missions have become Ministers in the federal government. Among them are the current External Affairs Minister Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar (1977 Batch of IFS), Hardeep Singh Puri (1974), now Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas and Housing, Meira Kumar (1977), (daughter of former Deputy Prime Minister Jagjivan Ram), who was Minister of Social Justice, Empowerment and Water Resources, Natwar Singh (1953), who was External Affairs Minister in 1986 and 2004 and Brajesh Mishra (1951), India’s first National Security Advisor in the Office of the Prime Minister.

India-New Zealand Relations

India and New Zealand have enjoyed cordial diplomatic relations for almost 75 years, despite a short break (1982-1985) when the two countries shut down their respective diplomatic missions in Wellington and New Delhi. Successive High Commissioners have helped to promote political, economic, cultural and educational ties with New Zealand, although a Free Trade Agreement remains elusive.

We are confident that the establishment of an office of the Consulate-General in Auckland will boost the bilateral relations between the two countries.

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