Ambassador Vijay Thakur Singh,
Excellencies, Distinguished panelists,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am delighted to be speaking at the inaugural edition of the India-UK Strategic Futures Forum.
I would like to thank the Indian Council of World Affairs and the Policy Exchange of the UK for co-hosting this event.
Announced as a high-level Track 1.5 Dialogue by our External Affairs Minister and his UK counterpart in October last year, the main objective of this Forum is to drive closer links and foster a long term strategic vision for India-UK relations. I congratulate the organisers for assembling some of the finest strategic analysts on this excellent platform to assess, comment and advise on the way forward to achieve the full potential of the India-UK relationship.
India and the UK are bound by common history, strong cultural links and shared values. As the oldest and largest functioning democracies in the world we are committed to upholding the values that define us as open and pluralistic societies, safeguard multilateralism and support a rules-based international order. While we had the natural affinities for a promising partnership, its true potential could not be realised for long due to legacy issues and political equivocation, on both sides.
The global opportunities and challenges of the 21st century have brought us closer together, made us recalibrate our relations and forge a modern partnership based on our complementary strengths and shared strategic priorities. India and the UK today see each other as strategic partners with equal stakes in global peace and security and in securing economic prosperity for our peoples.
The leadership on both sides is heavily invested in the partnership. Both sides are keen to enhance cooperation across the full spectrum of relations including in trade and investment, science and innovation, migration and mobility, defence and security, health and climate change. It was for this reason that both leaders went ahead and held the Virtual Summit in May 2021 despite being in the midst of a severe second wave of the Covid pandemic and agreed to elevate bilateral relations to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. The Roadmap 2030 launched at the Virtual Summit is a reflection of this ambition and details comprehensive plans for the relationship over the next ten years. It also serves as a useful instrument to actively monitor and pursue agreed priorities.
The potential for a transformative change is most evident in our economic relationship. India and the UK are the 5th and 6th largest economies in the world that enjoy huge complementarities and offer tremendous opportunities for growth on both sides. A major step in this direction was taken last year when both Prime Ministers launched the India-UK Enhanced Trade Partnership that aims to more than double bilateral trade by 2030. Bilateral trade negotiations that began early this year have been put on a fast track. Two rounds have already taken place with the last round in mid-March witnessing good progress. Both sides are committed to deliver a comprehensive and balanced FTA by the end of this year along with an interim deal for early gains. We are also building a strong financial partnership with closer cooperation in fintech, market regulation, and sustainable and green finance.
Defence and security is another key element of our renewed partnership. The focus is on research and innovation and joint industrial cooperation to develop advanced defence capabilities and strengthen collaboration in tackling new threats in the cyber, space, counter-terrorism and maritime domains. We are keen to overcome legacy issues and engage in a robust dialogue to promote greater alignment on defence and strategic issues, including in the context of Indo-Pacific.
In this context, India welcomes the UK’s Indo-Pacific strategy and its desire to deepen engagement in the region as reflected in the deployment of the Carrier Strike Group to the Indo-Pacific last year. This interest of the UK has the potential to contribute to regional stability and support shared prosperity. Our interests are also aligned in securing trusted and resilient supply chains for strategic technologies like 5G.
In today’s highly charged international security situation, India and the UK have worked closely in the UN Security Council to address global challenges that threaten international peace and security. We also work together on other areas of interest in the multilateral arena, including sustainable development, protecting the environment, blue economy and maritime security, health etc. This mutual cooperation defines our modern partnership and has allowed India and the UK to take leadership in tackling global challenges in areas like climate change, clean energy and global health.
As the world faced a pandemic of unprecedented proportions, India and the UK joined hands in bringing in game changing solutions. A notable success was the collaboration between Oxford Astra Zeneca and the Serum Institute of India. We are partners in the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Initiative (CEPI) that has an ambitious 100 day plan to develop vaccines to deal with future pandemics and strengthen global preparedness.
As the world came together to take concerted climate action at Glasgow last year, India and the UK once again took the lead in launching the ambitious Global Green Grids - One Sun One World One Grid initiative that aims to tap the full potential of solar energy and accelerate global efforts towards clean and green transition. We also partnered in creating the Infrastructure for Resilient Island States (IRIS) platform under the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI) for supporting resilient infrastructure development in Small Island Developing States. Our Roadmap has a full chapter on climate action that we will deliver together for the preservation of nature and biodiversity and for promoting the development and deployment of green technologies.
In the Commonwealth too, we are working closely together to preserve its core values and ensure that its agenda responds to the most urgent priorities of our times and delivers on the sustainable development needs of all its Member States.
Last but not the least, we look to the ‘living bridge’ to anchor our co-operation in every sector. The 1.6 million strong Indian diaspora in the UK remains a key stakeholder in our ever-growing bilateral relationship and contributes to enhancing economic partnerships, scientific and technological collaborations and, more importantly, closer and stronger people-to-people links. India and the UK have embarked on a comprehensive Migration and Mobility partnership that will enhance two-way mobility of students, researchers and professionals and further reinforce these bridges in the coming years.
In the midst of all this very focussed and result-oriented agenda, we are also celebrating the invaluable cultural and historic linkages that enrich our bilateral discourse and are indispensable in cementing people to people friendship and connectivity.
As we look back on 75 years of our relationship, there is much to look forward to. The Integrated Review Document announced at this time last year by the Rt Hon’ble Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the House of Commons states "the UK-India relationship is already strong, but over the next ten years we seek transformation in our cooperation across the full range of our shared interests”.
This sentiment is fully reciprocated. Let us make it happen.
With these words, I once again congratulate the organizers of this Forum for bringing together an excellent collegium of speakers who can provide insights and policy suggestions on how best we can steer the India-UK relationship in the 21st century.