British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will be on his maiden visit to India next month during the G20 Summit in the present capacity and he will be holding a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi as both sides aim to take forward a “thick agenda” strengthening trade to defence partnerships, according to Alex Ellis, High Commissioner of the UK to India.
Speaking exclusively to ABP Live, the British envoy said PM Sunak will be visiting India next month for the G20 Leaders’ Summit, which is taking place on September 9-10. The British PM will also utilise the opportunity to give the UK-India relationship a much-needed push as Britain aims to strengthen ties with New Delhi while entering into “newer partnerships” with the US, Australia, Japan, Italy and others even as it moves away from China in a strategic move.
“This is an extraordinary fact that the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is a man called Rishi Sunak … This (the visit) will be a special moment. But it also tells you something about the modern UK. Also if you think about the coronation (of King Charles in May). So it’s a different kind of country, which is a great thing for the UK-India partnership as well as for the UK itself,” Ellis said.
He also said, “There’s a thick agenda between the two countries and I think that’s going to have to grow fast because of the sharpening of the geopolitical competition whether it is Russia’s invasion of Ukraine or whether it is the Chinese behaviour in the last few years.”
According to Ellis, both leaders will discuss moving forward in their defence cooperation and also an early conclusion of the free trade agreement (FTA), the talks for which resumed in April 2022 after initial hiccups post Brexit.
On the issue of India’s G20 Presidency and the UK’s expectations from the upcoming Summit, the British envoy said holding the summit this year when a war is raging in Europe is a “mighty task.”
“Presiding over the G20 this year is a mighty task. Luckily India is a mighty nation and is absolutely the right country for this task not least because of its ability to deal with very big problems and to bring together very distant voices from all over the world,” said Ellis.
He also said, “The G20 agenda which India has established must be the right agenda which is about energy transition, use of technology to improve development, about improving outcomes in health. India rightly focussed on the big, global issues which the world faces at the moment.”
But, he pointed out, that it’s a matter of “enormous frustration” not only for the Indian Presidency but for the UK as well that Russia’s “illegal invasion is both distracting attention from all those issues inevitably but also making them worse.”
Russia’s blocking of the ‘Black Sea Grain Initiative’ is giving rise to inflation both in India as well as in the UK and also around the world, he highlighted.
“Prime Minister Sunak will come here to support Prime Minister Modi in thinking exactly about inflation and thinking about the global economy, as well as try to find ways to resolve the situation in Ukraine, the terrible destruction which has been caused there by the Russian invasion. But it’s a tough task,” he said.
PM Sunak will be meeting PM Modi for a bilateral meeting on the margins of the G20 Leaders’ Summit. High-level engagements between India and the UK have grown significantly in the last few months. This week UK’s Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch will be on a visit to India in an effort to clinch a difficult trade deal between the UK and India. Prior to this, earlier this month British Secretary of State for Health, Steve Barclay, was on a visit to India.
‘India Going To Be One Of The Redefining Countries’
India and the UK are also planning to take giant strides in enhancing security and defence cooperation. Both sides are discussing deals concerning fighter jet engines and warships, while seeking greater military to military cooperation.
“Our integrated review, our strategic document that we had a couple of years ago, refreshed earlier this year, shows the great changes in the world. One of them is the sharpening of geopolitical competition. The second is that India and the Indo-Pacific are going to become ever more the centre of the world. India is going to be one of those redefining countries and the region is going to be a redefining region,” said Ellis.
In March, the UK released ‘Integrated Review Refresh 2023’upgrading its 2021 strategic and foreign policy document in which it stated that the UK will support India’s bid to become a permanent member in a reformed UN Security Council. The policy also stated that the UK will “more closely align” with the Indo-Pacific strategies of India, Canada, France and Germany among others.
“UK is now more heavily engaged in this part of the world through the AUKUS (trilateral security pact between Australia, the UK), through the development of new fighter aircraft between the UK, Japan and Italy. These are new partnerships along with the partnerships which we are growing with India,” he said.
The British High Commissioner also pointed to the fact that the armed forces cooperation between both sides has grown very fast. “We have had several Indian ships visiting Indian ports in the last few months, but we would like to take it much further.”
Earlier this month, Indian Army Chief Gen. Manoj Pande embarked on a five-day visit to the UK to attend a prestigious military event there and also hold meetings with their top military brass.
On the trade deal, which is going to see intense negotiations this year even as both sides work towards hammering out a deal, the British envoy said it’s still a “long way to go”.
Trade Secretary Badenoch is currently on a visit to India to attend the G20 Trade Ministers’ Meeting in Jaipur after which she will have a round of talks on the pending FTA with her Indian counterpart Piyush Goyal.
“An FTA will be in both countries’ interests … The FTA talks have made good progress. We cleared away a lot of issues but this is quite a long way to go. It’s a steep and sharp ascend to get to the summit and there will be some of the most difficult issues. This will be the toughest round yet and that’s why our Trade Minister is coming out to meet Piyush Goyal this week and also get into the real details. There’s quite a long way to go,” said Ellis.
China A ‘New Challenge’ For UK And India: Ellis
Ellis also stressed on the fact that China is a “challenge” even for the UK.
“China is entirely a new challenge for any strategist whether in India or in the UK. It is an autocracy and it is the second biggest economy in the world and it’s also a tech superpower. How do you deal with that? We are all wrestling with that,” he said.
At the G7 Summit that took place in May in Hiroshima, Japan, PM Sunak has said that China poses the biggest challenge to global security and prosperity.
“The foreign minister has set out a combination of actions both to protect our own national security. I think we were accused of naivety in the past that’s why we have changed our laws, tightened the rules around foreign direct investment and we are working much more closely with our friends and that obviously includes India and in the Indo-Pacific,” he said.
The G7 had come down heavily on China asking Beijing to press Russia to stop the war and to “not to conduct interference activities aimed at undermining the security and safety of our communities, the integrity of our democratic institutions and our economic prosperity.”
‘Tough Action Being Taken On Khalistan Elements’
Bilateral ties between India and the UK suffered a major blow when the Indian High Commission in London came under attack from the Khalistani sympathisers in March this year. The protestors that gathered outside the High Commission premises turned violent and pulled down India’s flag while Indian diplomats serving there were also subjected to threats.
“Any form of extremism is not okay. Secondly, as our security minister had said when he came here and met NSA Doval, and EAM Jaishankar that this is not an Indian problem, this is a UK problem. These are UK citizens doing things in the UK and that is something we need to address and that is why we already are addressing it,” said Ellis.
British Security Minister Tom Tugendhat was in India earlier this month when he announced a funding of about Rs. 1 crore to tackle the Khalistan separatists leaders based there.
“We have put more security, more police presence in front of the High Commission, we’ve managed a series of demonstrations since the one that happened in March, there’s better cooperation between the UK Police and Indian High Commission. We have taken actions against TV stations which are not really TV stations, we have taken action against charities which are not really charities, we have arrested some (who are based) in West London,” said the British High Commissioner.
“So action is being taken but we are putting more into it to better understand what is going on in the UK. At the same time we are also improving cooperation between the UK and the Indian authorities because it is not just an India problem, it is a UK problem and we have to deal with it. We have to deal with extremism in any form,” he said.
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