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Foreign minister S. Jaishankar. (PTI)
Foreign minister S. Jaishankar. (PTI)

Indian diplomacy moves into higher gear as covid-19 infects millions

  • Since 11 March, foreign minister S. Jaishankar has spoken to his counterparts in more than 40 countries
  • The China-US dynamic has opened up space for middle powers like India to show they can provide stability

NEW DELHI : Indian diplomacy has been on an overdrive since covid-19 developed into a pandemic that has infected millions and crippled the world economy.

Phone calls to leaders across continents, virtual summits with regional and other multilateral groupings, and supplying medicines to more than 120 countries are all part of “India’s efforts to build a place for itself in the post covid-19 world", said former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal.

To be sure, India had already stepped up its diplomatic engagement with the world after Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office in May 2014, but Indian diplomacy has definitely moved into higher gear in recent months. The reason: India senses a “leadership vacuum" in the covid-19-driven world, said Harsh Pant, professor of international relations, at King’s College London.

The “vacuum" is evident from the paralysis at the UN Security Council, as it was unable to muster a response to the pandemic, thanks to sniping between China and the US, he said. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) role is also under a cloud for its apparent delay in declaring covid-19 a pandemic.

While several international institutions have been under stress since US President Donald Trump took office in 2017—the World Trade Organization is a case in point, primarily due to his America First policy—“the US-China binary today is completely dysfunctional", Pant said.

“India has been making a point for some time now that we need global institutions that reflect today’s reality. Right now, the world seems to be at an inflection point and it has come at a time when India can project its capabilities—as the pharmacy of the world, for example", he added.

The reference was to India shipping drugs, such as the anti-malarial hydroxychloroquine and antipyretic paracetamols to Europe and Africa, besides the US. This comes at a time when China is being viewed with suspicion around the world for its possible role in the spread of covid-19.

Since the WHO declared covid-19 a pandemic on 11 March, Modi has spoken to more than 40 leaders with foreign minister S. Jaishankar interacting with an equal number of his counterparts. Modi has also addressed South Asian heads of government, leaders of G20 countries and a meeting of non-aligned movement conference via video-link.

“For the last two months, the US and China have been too involved in themselves to provide any global leadership," Pant said, adding that in contrast, India is seen as one of the prominent voices calling for global coordination. The current China-US dynamic “has opened up space for middle powers like India to show they can provide some kind of stability." In the future, there will be pressure on China for its approach to the pandemic, he said.

This was likely to give rise to “quadrilateral and trilateral and other arrangements with countries, such as India, Japan and Australia, looking to do things on their own, or maybe with US support," Pant added.

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