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India woos global friends for strategic partnership

The increasing focus of India on countries of the Asia Pacific region is aimed at promoting closer economic cooperation in 2014 and beyond.

The country’s foreign policy is geared towards nations that have the potential for strategic cooperation in investment, education, tourism, industrial progress and infrastructure projects, to mention a few.

Vietnam Vision

The visit of Vietnam Communist Party Secretary General Nguyen Phu Trong to India in September 2013 is a case in point. Mr Trong signaled his country’s desire to leverage India’s expertise and experience in military technology and other areas to meet its requirements.

His visit resulted in agreement on a number of issues, the most significant of which were Delhi’s offer of US$100 million credit for purchase of four Offshore Patrol Vessels and protection of defense-related information.

Afghanistan Affinity

On another note, India signed an agreement with Afghanistan to strengthen defense and security cooperation to increase operational capabilities and mobility of the Afghanistan National Security and Defence Forces (ANSDF). This was the highlight of the two visits of Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai to India last year.

India’s increased presence in Afghanistan will interest policy-makers in New Zealand as Wellington prepares to withdraw its Defense Force from Afghanistan this year.

American Amity

US Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to India in July 2013 carried much weight on strategic cooperation and came on the heels of the visit of Secretary of State to Delhi a month earlier.

While Mr Kerry focused on security issues and the need to stabilise the political stability in Afghanistan and facilitate the New Silk route connecting South Asia and Central Asia, Mr Biden talked about phased withdrawal of the International Security Assistance Force from 2014.

India does not have a formal alliance agreement with the US but favours a strategic partnership which can be reviewed and modified on a case by case or temporal basis. This distinction affords greater flexibility, at least in theory, to the Indo-US bilateral relations.

Such flexibility would give India is diplomatic advantage. Delhi is always keen to preserve India’s strategic autonomy to avoid domestic voter backlash.

The Devyani Khobragade episode touched India’s raw nerve, creating a diplomatic incident but both countries know that tempers have to cool and that neither can afford fractured relations.

French Friendship

The Indo-French Defense cooperation also received a boost with the visit of the French President François Hollande and Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. The visits coincided with the 15th anniversary of the Indo-French Strategic Partnership signed in 1998 just after India conducted its nuclear test.

Differences between the two countries may be fueled in 2014, if the Canak Independence movement in New Caledonia continues to grow.

Japanese Join

The past year was also significant in India-Japan relations as Delhi hosted the visit of Emperor Akihito, the first Royal Visit from Japan in 50 years. Although the Emperor is not the administrative head of his country, the visit helped to look at new horizons of cooperation.

Although there was no explicit mention of a military alliance between the two countries, observers say that the recent spat between Japan and China, and the latter’s territorial dispute with India may help develop synergy between Delhi and Tokyo.

The New Year may spell importance between India and New Zealand with both countries facing a general election. There is talk in Delhi that the new Prime Minister may visit Australia and New Zealand either in 2014 or 2015.

Balaji Chandramohan is our Correspondent based in Delhi.

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