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Event Report: 4 July: Modi’s Foreign Policy after the Election

5 July 2019

Event report - Modi’s Foreign Policy after the Election

The EU-Asia Centre held a panel discussion on Modi’s foreign policy after the election on 4 July. Opening the debate Fraser Cameron, Director of the Centre, posed the question – after the landslide victory of Narendra Modi and the BJP what might he seek to achieve in his second term? Strengthened at home, what will be his foreign policy priorities? How will he deal with the rise of China, Pakistan and relations with the neighbourhood, the US and the EU?

Gareth Price, Senior Fellow, Chatham House, considered that India would try and avoid a choice between the US and China. He thought there might be more engagement with Beijing in the coming period. On Pakistan, Modi would like to make a move but was constrained by the terrorist factor. India might, however, seek to achieve some breakthrough on Kashmir but it would need something in return from Pakistan.

Caroline Vinot, Head of Division, EEAS, said that the election was a good sign of the vibrancy of Indian democracy. The EU and India shared many values including support for the rules-based international order. Modi was pushing ahead with his reform agenda including a reduced cabinet. Climate change and water were top priorities as well as land reform and an improved business climate. There were on-going technical talks about an FTA but no one should expect a sudden breakthrough. Modi was likely to concentrate on his neighbourhood – Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Maldives – and also seek a balanced relationship with China. There were good prospects for EU-India cooperation on many areas including Africa, Afghanistan, Central Asia and Iran. The new foreign secretary knew the EU and she hoped there would be a summit once the new EU team was in situ.

Neha Yadav, Indian embassy, said that there would be much continuity in the second Modi term. The emphasis would be on the modernisation agenda and climate change. She noted the recent good cooperation on Euratom, the EIB and space. The multilateral agenda was ripe for closer cooperation. There were fewer supporters of free trade in India than in the EU.

Stefania Benaglia, Senior Fellow, CEPS, took a more critical approach stating that India was always the land of potential. She hoped this would now be the time for India to fulfil its potential but to do so there would have to be serious reforms to the economic and education systems. The labour market was different from state to state and few had considered the huge challenge poses by AI. Although India had a sound democracy there were concerns about populist attacks on the media and the position of minorities, including women. In moving relations with the EU forward both sides had to maintain the sustainability clause and adopt a more rational attitude towards migration. Europe needed skilled workers from India. She also considered there was much potential for cooperation on defence issues.

In the discussion there were questions about EU double standards on human rights, on SAARC, on Kashmir, China, and on India’s soft power potential.