Shyam Saran is a Senior Fellow at CPR. He is a former Foreign Secretary of India and has served as Prime Minister’s Special Envoy For Nuclear Affairs and Climate Change. In this interview as part of the Leading Policy Conversations series, he discusses the foreign policy challenges India confronts in 2022 and how policymakers should address them.
India will confront both familiar and unfamiliar challenges in 2022. Managing India’s immediate sub-continental neighbourhood will remain a key preoccupation. Relations with China are likely to remain tense, with new points of contention emerging at the India-China border. Concerns over China’s expanding influence in our neighbouring countries will demand effective responses. Pakistan regards the victory of Taliban as giving it renewed geopolitical advantage and there could be a revival of Pakistan sponsored cross-border terrorism and militancy in Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan’s alliance with China means that it will have a powerful shield in international fora when faced with allegations of being a sponsor of terrorism. This will be both a security and a diplomatic challenge for India.
Beyond the neighbourhood, India has done well to nurture closer relations with the Gulf states and the newly established Quad in the West, comprising of India, Israel, U.A.E and the U.S. is a promising initiative. The Quad in the Indo-Pacific is likely to see further consolidation as concerns over China continue to mount. In this context, India should re-energize its Act East policy and rethink its participation in regional trade arrangements such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). It should revive its application to become a member of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC). To think out of the box, India may consider its membership of the more ambitious Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership (CPTTP) in which China is not yet a member. This will strengthen the economic pillar of India’s Act East policy.
India is a maritime power and it commands the sea lanes connecting the Indian Ocean to the Pacific. It is important that India retains and enhances this geopolitical asset it possesses. It is hoped that in 2022 there will be a clear priority to maritime power and a strengthening of partnerships with other friendly maritime powers including India’s partners in the Quad.
2022 should see India augmenting its multilateral diplomacy capacities as most of the defining challenges in the new millennium are cross-cutting and global in dimension. These include global public health issues such as the pandemic we are suffering from and the looming Climate Change emergency. These are not amenable to national or even regional solutions. They demand global, collaborative responses, delivered through multilateral processes and empowered international institutions of governance. India has a tradition of activism in the multilateral arena and is well placed to play an active, even leading role in this respect.
2022 will be a year of continuing change. Some changes will be unexpected and uncertainty may be the only certainty we can count on. But periods of change create risks but also generate potential opportunities. Indian foreign policy will need the capacity to manage risks but without foregoing the chance to profit from opportunities which may also emerge. Diplomacy will need to be marked by both prudence and agility.