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The ties that bind

Enough about curry and cricket.

U.K.’s Prime Minister David Cameron is in India on a three day state visit.  His visit comes on the heels of his trip to Turkey, where he pledged to support that country’s membership to the European Union.  Some say that is part of the Mr. Cameron’s new foreign policy initiative to woo the East.  Indeed, in an op-ed in The Hindu, Mr. Cameron declared as much:

From the British perspective, it’s clear why India matters. Most obviously, there is the dynamism of your economy. In the U.S., they used to say: “Go West, young man” to find opportunity and fortune. For today’s entrepreneurs, the real promise is in the East. But your economy isn’t the only reason India matters to Britain. There’s also your democracy with its three million elected representatives — a beacon to our world. There is your tradition of tolerance, with dozens of faiths and hundreds of languages living side by side — a lesson to our world. And there is this country’s sense of responsibility. Whether it’s donating reconstruction assistance to Afghanistan, peacekeeping in Sierra Leone or providing intellectual leadership in the G20, India is a source of strength to our world. [The Hindu]

Faced with government debt and high levels of unemployment, Mr. Cameron will do what he must to revive his country from the global economic slump.  At the backdrop of a domestic debate on immigration, Mr. Cameron arrived in Bangalore — not New Delhi — visiting Infosys’ technology park and HAL, where a $800 million deal between BAE and HAL for 57 advanced jet trainers (AJTs) was signed.

The U.K. is already India’s largest trading partner in the E.U.  Trade between India and the U.K. has, and will continue to amble along, increasing annually in absolute terms, while decreasing in terms of U.K.’s overall contribution to India’s economy. Certainly, India is open for business and any mutually beneficial opportunity for trade and commerce is welcome.  But if the goal of Mr. Cameron’s visit is to forge the bonds of an “enhanced relationship” with India,we will need to move beyond the (dare I say) mundane and begin talking about issues of strategic importance to each other; for India, this includes  energy and security.  Indeed, France has shown that such an engagement model can be successful.

In this respect, news of progress on civilian nuclear cooperation and the AJT deal, though long overdue, is perhaps welcome.  However, it is as yet unclear if U.K.’s leaders truly understand and are willing to commit to a more broad-based partnership with India.  It is also unlikely that India will bother to sit around and wait.

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