Beginning this week with the Brics summit at Fortaleza and Brasilia in Brazil, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has a packed foreign policy schedule over the next two months. His meetings will encompass leaders from US, China, Russia and Japan, among others. Foreign policy is usually marked by significant continuity despite changes in government. Yet, Modi’s forthcoming meetings will be closely watched to get a sense of his government’s priorities in bilateral relationships.
Some western countries’ diplomatic boycott of Modi when he was Gujarat chief minister, as well as his interest in East Asia, has triggered speculation on whether India’s foreign policy will tilt in that direction. The most sensible course would be to maintain a balance between East and West. India’s interests are too heterogeneous to be tied to rigid positions. Even in a limited area of engagement such as trade, friction between partners is not uncommon. Economic diplomacy is central to the Brics meetings, but it does not prevent Brazil from challenging Indian government’s subsidy to local sugar industry at the WTO. Even as Brazil and India discuss ways of challenging the established order among multilateral institutions, they are at odds elsewhere.
The world today is multipolar as Brazil’s recently hosted World Cup shows (see previous editorial). India’s foreign policy must reflect this reality. Modi, over the next few weeks, will meet with China’s President Xi Jinping and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, countries that have had a testy relationship recently. It is in India’s interest, however, to simultaneously strengthen its ties with both. Striking a fine balance in a multipolar world to further India’s interests will be Modi’s foreign policy challenge. Over the next couple of months, which will include Modi’s maiden trip to the US as prime minister, the government should set the course for a pragmatic and flexible approach to foreign policy.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.
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