Anchor: Frank Rausan Pereira
Speakers: Niraj Srivastava, Former Diplomat; K.P. Nayar, Strategic Analyst; Professor Harsh V. Pant, Head, Strategic Studies, Observer Research Foundation
Importance of this Episode:
- Vice President Venkaiah Naidu has said that corruption, discrimination, exploitation and violation of basic human rights continue to erode the social fabric across the world, triggering unrest, anger, rebellion and extremism. Addressing, diplomats and students in Panama City, the Vice President, and expressed serious concern over the growing disconnect in the present world and called for intensified, collective, global effort to address the basic problems such as poverty and inequality. He asserted that India is seeking a new world order and action based on the countries ancient wisdom and values that advocated harmonious existence and common good. Ambassadors of about 40 countries to Panama later interacted with Naidu and appreciated the major initiatives and the implementation by the Central government of India and the fast-growing Indian economy.
- Later in the day, Vice President Naidu arrived in the Peruvian capital of Lima, after visiting Panama and Guatemala for 2 days each.
- This episode will take stock of the Vice President’s three-nation visit across Latin America.
Analysis by the Experts:
The visit of the Vice President signifies the importance that we are giving to Latin America; there has been a feeling for a very long time, that India does not pay enough attention to the countries in this region. Further, it is very appropriate that he has started his visit in Guatemala, because it is Central America’s biggest economy and also the biggest population. There is an Indian community there, in terms of tourism, it is a developing area. Further, these countries are also very important to us, distance notwithstanding. This is because there are over 30 countries in the region. For example, in our efforts towards getting a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), this is a big step. In the UN, the US has one vote, and Panama also has one vote- thus the countries are equal. Thus, 30+ odd vote makes a big difference. Further, economically also, these countries are resurgent as many of the countries in Latin America have shed the past when economic growth was slow, hence this visit of the Vice President is a very timely visit.
As far as takeaways from this visit is concerned, there were agreements that were signed. There have been two agreements that have been signed with Panama (spanning across a large number of areas), and one agreement that has been signed with Guatemala (regarding training of diplomats). Further, from the Indian side, this is perhaps the highest level visit to these countries in many, many years. For Guatemala, it is the highest level of engagement seen so far. Thus, it is a visit that signifies outreach, despite the geographical distance. Further, there has been some neglect in the past as far as this region is concerned. Thus now, the government is trying to make up for lost time and to renew contact with these nations.
One of the takeaways from the visit to Panama was that they would support our candidature in the Human Rights Security Council in Geneva. Further, in Panama, there is a strong Indian diaspora of about fifteen thousand people. They are essentially the descendants of the people who had gone to Panama to build the Panama Canal and the Panama railways more than 100 years ago. One of the signals of the importance of this visit has been that during the Vice President’s visit to the Panama Canal, the President of Panama broke protocol and himself accompanied our Vice President to the Panama Canal. This shows an appreciation on their part that they value our visit.
Why has this region been neglected in the past?
There have been a couple of factors. There is a feeling that despite the fact that we visit America so often, that somehow southern and Latin America is at times neglected. When we think about how similar we are in our cultural attributes, how similar we are in terms of our cuisine, how similar we are in terms of our orientation, in many ways and domains, it is perhaps quite ironic that we have not given the kind of attention that the region deserves. As India’s global confidence and global profile grows, it stands to reason that India would certainly take advantage of a region that can perhaps play a very vital role in terms of economics, trade, mineral resources, and also in terms of the fact that other countries, for example, China is also increasing her footprint. The combined total of around 30+ odd countries makes this region very important as far as geographical reasons are concerned. But, also, this is also important in terms of their approach towards global politics: As America is turning inwards, and China is becoming more outward in its orientation, there is a desire on the part of many of these countries to engage other emerging countries, and thus India can, therefore, position itself as a player where India’s rise coincides with their desire to engage with certain countries. Thus, in that sense, the convergence between our ability and our willingness to engage with Latin America, South America, is certainly congruent with their desire to reach out to other emerging countries.
Is the world heading towards a protectionist mindset? Can countries like India and China take the lead as far as globalization is concerned?
Well, the world is definitely heading towards protectionism, especially under Donal Trump. This is the reason why, almost ironically, Xi Jinping has now become the great globalizer. The ground for the Vice President’s visit was actually prepared much earlier- this was when the Prime Minister went to Brazil where he invited the heads of state of several counties. Thus, India has not been sitting idle, and has been busy making preparations. The Vice President’s visit is like the icing-on-the-cake in that sense. A high level visit such as the Vice President’s visit sends a message of political will which other visits cannot do. In a sense, the Vice President’s visit to Guatemala has been very lucky for the Guatemala leadership, as few minutes after Vice President Naidu met with the Vice President of Guatemala, he became the acting President. This is because the incumbent President went to attend the swearing in of the new President of Costa Rica. Under the Guatemalan Constitution if the serving President is out of the country, then, the Vice President is the acting President.
What is it that India stands to gain from Central American countries and South American countries?
In terms of trade and investment, there is definite potential for gain and a win-win situation for both. Many of these countries are important exporters of commodities and minerals which India requires. Further, Indian companies can set up production units and other centres in these countries. Thus, not surprisingly, trade and investment have been among the top points of the agenda of this visit. Secondly, greater cooperation in the international for a; in particular, the UN and its related agencies where if countries like the USA are becoming more inward-looking, then countries like India and other large countries would have to play a bigger role. Also, it needs to be pointed out that many of these countries are members of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), and as far as the foreign policy outlook is concerned, there are common elements between India’s foreign policy and their foreign policy. These common elements act as natural points of convergence.
There are also very few areas of divergence. Thus, it wouldn’t be surprising that India along with these group of countries can play a bigger role in International fora not only in the UN, but also on the international stage which is required. This is because the world is becoming more inter-dependent. Terrorism doesn’t know any border, money-laundering doesn’t know any border, etc. There have been some Sikh separatist activity in Equador some time back, thus terrorism has also become global in its scope, and we never know as to where it might suddenly show up. Thus, if you have good relations with these countries and high-level visits tend to focus attention and bring out the best; it fosters greater understanding between the two sides. Further, most of these countries would favour a greater role for India in the United Nations. Thus, these are all common elements that we can build upon.
Would geography come in the way?
Geography should not come in the way, especially when we see the kind of linkages that China is trying to establish, then the argument that Geography can be a barrier in this day and age, may not be that big an issue. The trade numbers between India and these groups of nations are very low, thus, there is enormous potential. Our focus areas should be: Energy, Food Security, Security. Latin America is key to how this landscape is going to shape up in the future. China has a very ambitious target of around USD 200 Billion over the next decade or so; India is starting at a very low base, thus, it should not be that difficult to expand on her own trade volumes. But, if you look at just the trade numbers, they don’t look very good at this point. So, to generate the kind of momentum that we are looking at is going to be very important.
Interestingly, during this visit, Panama has said that they can be the logistics base for India. This is something that India should definitely leverage. If India can find local partners who are willing to give you leverage in that part of the world, then that would certainly help in alleviating some of our concerns about Geography. But, largely, what we are looking at is that we tend to be over-focussed on the big countries. For example, in our society we don’t talk much about Latin America as a unit which is so vibrant in every way, and if we start comparing the two cultures, we find many commonalities. Thus, we should aim to build links not only at the political level which has just started, but also as to how academically, and institutionally we can build up these linkages, and take them forward in so far as to develop a common consciousness which allows us to build on something that our political decision-makers are trying to do.
Specifically, in the context of the Vice President’s visit, we had started engagements with MERCOSUR, but those engagements fell by the wayside, and probably the Vice President’s visit can also help revive those kinds of links. But, specifically with Peru, India had tried to develop a special relationship about 15 years back but because of the internal problems in Peru, the relationship fell by the wayside, and also there was an element of terrorism in Peru. For example, the Japanese Red Army had mounted an attack on the residence of the Japanese Ambassador to Peru when he was having a national day function. Many ambassadors were held hostage during the attack. Fortunately, India’s Ambassador to Peru at that time was Nirupama Rao who left a few minutes before. The Vice President’s visit is definitely an occasion to revive the relationship with Peru.
As far as the visit itself, this was the first visit abroad taken up by the present Vice President of India. But why was this visit made to these three nations and what message does it send out?
First of all, the very first visit of a high profile dignitary to a country abroad is supposed to signify the importance that is attached to the visit. It is a certainty that these countries would have noted that the Vice President has chosen them as his first foreign destination. This is a sign of goodwill. In terms of importance, each of these countries has their own importance. For example, Panama, in terms of her Indian Diaspora and being the hub of a logistics base in Latin America. Guatemala is the most populous country in Central America, and Peru is an important exporter of minerals and other commodities, thus, these considerations would have been taken into account.
What would India expect from these three Latin American countries and what would they expect from us?
It is believed that what they would be expecting is certainly a more robust role that India can play in terms of how the global economic system is emerging and where it is going. So, certainly, India being an emerging giant in the global economy should be able to play a role commensurate with its weight. If India wants to focus on trade and investment, then she would have to make an argument for a more liberal, rules-based global economic order, and not the one that Mr. Trump is propounding. Thus, how we position ourselves vis-à-vis the kind of global headwinds that are blowing, would perhaps be a signal of how committed India would be towards rejuvenating its engagement with the region. India would certainly be hoping that the big issues which India faces such as in the areas of food and energy security, these countries can play a role as well as in the multilateral system where many issues of global governance are at stake where India and Latin America can both work together in tune with each other’s priorities. At times we have seen that China is more efficient in terms of mustering up the support that it gets from its partners from across the world. But at the end of the day, political engagement at the highest levels needs to be sustained by much more work on the ground. Thus, broad-based, cross-sectoral links have to be forged along with a political engagement.
In conclusion, over and above these points, it is hoped that there is also greater engagement on the tourism front. For example, there are many tourist attractions in Peru, such as Machu Picchu; India can learn a lot from Peru in terms of how she organizes her tourism. Even engagements on eco-tourism can also flourish. It is hoped that the follow-up action is strong after the visit is over. Unfortunately, this is not paid enough attention to. The people-to-people contacts with Latin America need to be encouraged and developed. This is because unless there are people-to-people contacts, you cannot have a solid basis for a relationship. One of the important things about India’s foreign policy of late has been the outreach that she has shown towards the countries that have so far not been at the core of India’s foreign policy. It is believed that this should be taken forward by broadening the scope and by taking other sectors into account.
UPSC aspirants are advised to read the latest available press-releases available on the MEA (Ministry of External Affairs) website. These press releases are usually accompanied by a brief historical background which helps during answer writing.
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