Home / News / World /  Europe can’t take India’s position on strategic issues for granted: Nico Luchsinger

Europe cannot expect to take India’s positions for granted if the two are to collaborate in the Indo-Pacific region, said Nico Luchsinger of the Asia Society in an exclusive interview with Mint. Luchsinger said India and Europe have not handled disagreements over the Ukraine war well and, in the near term, Europe’s policy towards China and the Indo-Pacific will remain in a state of confusion as countries disagree over a confrontational or accommodative stance towards China. Edited excerpts:

Could you give us a broad sense of where Europe and China are today in their relationship? How does India fit into Europe’s calculus?

A lot of Europe’s relationship with China in the last 10-15 years was characterised by the dogma of “change through trade". The fundamental shift that has happened over the last three to four years is the acknowledgment that this strategy has failed. That strategy, while it eventually failed, had some coherence to it. The problem is that it hasn’t really been replaced by something equally coherent. While there is an acknowledgement of the security challenges that emanate from China, Europe has not yet decided whether it wants to align itself with the US strategy on China.

What we’re seeing now is an increased interest in India from the European side because India is seen as a hedge against China. This is both in economic terms- as a country that can help reduce the reliance on Chinese supply chains - and also as a geopolitical partner in the region. For Europe, it’s important to understand that India is a big country with its own set of strategic imperatives. While it’s definitely a good idea to collaborate where interests align, Europe also needs to understand that those interests may not always align right so it would be foolish to in any way take India for granted as somebody who would always follow our position on China or otherwise.

Do you think that during the course of the war in Ukraine, India and Europe have managed their disagreements well?

No, I think the Ukraine war is a very good sign that for all the discussion that we have about India and the West coming close together, there are fundamental differences in viewpoints.The Ukraine war is just one where it seems very hard for either side to even acknowledge, let alone understand, the other side’s position. This is definitely a problem for both sides.

Have those disagreements damaged trust between India and Europe?

I can’t say with confidence how much trust there was before. Several people on the Indian side have told me that they see a difference between the lawmakers and public versus actual governments on the European side. I would say that the governments see the Indian position on the Ukraine war in a much more nuanced way. As such, the trust is still working. But I definitely think these disagreements complicate any broader alignment between Europe and India if their positions remain as far apart as they are,

In recent years, China’s outreach to Europe seems to have run into problems. Your view?

So my view is that Chinese soft power is surprisingly ineffective and limited. There was a lot of fear and anxiety generated on the European side with Chinese initiatives like the 17+1 Dialogue. Europe had for a moment believed that China was almost infallible, and that if Xi Jinping woke up one morning and decided to divide Europe he could just snap its fingers and do that. I think we can draw comfort from the fact that these initiatives totally failed.

Recently, China has been reaching out again and saying that they’re open for business. Some people analyse that as a way to drive a wedge between Europe and the US. Europe is definitely receptive to Chinese arguments that trade and collaboration and commerce should continue. However, I have my doubts about whether this dividing strategy will work.

What should those of us sitting in the Indo-Pacific be expecting from Europe? Will there be a constant policy over the next five years or should we expect confusion?

It’s never a bad thing to expect confusion from Europe. It’s a large and complicated place with a lot of countries that have an independent foreign policy. It takes Europe a while to come together and agree but I also don’t think that’s impossible. I think the increased interest in the Indo Pacific will continue and the most obvious example is the dramatically increased interest that Europe has in India. I also think Europe will never play a similar role as America in the region. Europe can play a role as the largest single market in the world and as a rulemaking player that shapes rules and institutions in the future. But I think the big challenge here is that Europe is used to making the rules since the world order is built on norms and values of the West. However, in the 21 century, Europe might have to accept more influence from places that do not come from a Western European mindset. That will be very challenging for Europe.

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