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What are the diplomatic challenges and opportunities for India in 2021?

Understanding the strategy of India to counter China and overcome COVID-19 distress


Despite a disastrous year, India has a list of diplomatic achievements in the year 2020. Be it the calling Australia for the Malabar Naval exercise, strengthening bilateral relations with Vietnam, defeating Pakistan at UN on multiple occasions and more. As we jump into the new year, let’s look at the challenges and opportunities ahead of India in the year 2020.


Countering the Chinese aggression at Ladakh border

India’s response at the Ladakh border along the Line of Actual Control has been guided by the thinking that one has to stand up to the bully, but it has come at a cost. Military assets are deployed on land, at sea and in air, soldiers are braving the harsh winter. The standoff has reinforced the belief of India’s first Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru in 1963 that India needs “external aid inadequate measures”. India would need continued support from the United States, Australia, Japan, the United Kingdom, France and Germany to counter China.


Bilateral relation with the United States Friendship with the US

Biden administration is about to take over the office on 20th Jan. India is expecting to build a stronger bond with the United States, but a lot will depend on how the US sees China in a larger scheme of things. The foreign ministry would have a close look at the possible US-China trade deal. India would need to take forward the goal of Quad, and the Indo-Pacific strategy with the Biden administration. The country would also look to strengthen its defence ties with the United States and would want to resolve the visa and trade issues.


Read more: Biggest Diplomatic achievements of India in 2020 that shows India’s increasing power


High table at UN

India has entered the United National Security Council as a non-permanent member for the 8th time. Stakes are high for India in the wake of leadership contest between China and the rest of the world. India would need to take a tough stand on issues it has carefully avoided so far – From Iran-Saudi rivalry, from Tibet to Taiwan to the refugee crisis between Myanmar and Bangladesh. Cross-border terrorism remains a concern for the nation and will look towards isolating Pakistan further. However, India would need to avoid limited fixation on Pakistan as it will distract the country from its aspiration of being a world leader.


Wooing Europe

The United Kingdom officially existed the European Union this year after striking a trade deal. India wanted to strengthen its ties with the United Kingdom by calling the PM of UK, Boris Johnson as the chief guest in the Republic Day celebration. However, Boris Johnson won’t be able to participate in the Republic Day celebrations as the country is witnessing a huge number of coronavirus cases with the new strain.

There is a possibility of India- EU summit. Germany and France have come up with their Indo-Pacific strategy, soon a European strategy is a possibility, but an EU-China trade deal would be dissected by Indian negotiators.


Engaging with neighbours

The growing economic footprint of China in India’s neighbourhood is a concern. India would keep a close look in Nepal where China’s influence in the top decisions of the Nepal government has been pivotal. The country also has its eyes set on China-Iran relations as Presidential elections are to take place this year.

There could be a political crisis in Nepal where KP Oli’s government is not stable. But almost every South Asian country has had elections in the last couple of years which means that the government is stable in these countries. India would look to gain from the Vaccine diplomacy with neighbours in 2021 by supplying vaccines to them at a lower cost or free of cost.


Global, not just aspirational

India has been playing the role of an emerging power for a long time with ambitions to play the role of world power. India will host the BRICS summit and prepare for the G-20 summit in 2023. India-Africa Forum Summit is also on the calendar this year as it was not held in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. India has an opportunity to articulate and be vocal on issues that are important for the world and be proactive to proceed with its interests.


Middle East equation

The Middle East equation has changed since the United States has brokered rapprochement between Israel and four Arab countries – UAE, Sudan, Morocco and Bahrain. Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran are competing for leadership of the Islamic countries. India has been ahead of the curve by cultivating a good relationship with UAE, Israel and Saudi Arabia. However, it would need to be careful to not let its gain get impacted by polarizing politics – be it through religious fault-lines or CAA-NRC.


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