Trilateral cooperation initiatives to beef up India's diplomatic clout

FM Nirmala Sitharaman had stressed on India's expanding fooprint in Africa


During the recent visit of the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi discussed with him trilateral cooperation initiatives, especially in Africa. It may be recalled that, during her budget speech, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had stressed on India's expanding fooprint in Africa, with a plan to open 18 new missions, of which five are already open and another four to be ready in the coming months.

The minister had also spoken about Indian Development Assistance Scheme (IDEAS), which provides concessional financing for projects, infrastructure development and capacity building in recipient developing countries. While India has, in the past, helped other nations through bilaterals, the minister proposed other schemes this time, including multilateral financing.

Sources in the external affairs ministry say that India is going to look more intensively for developmental partners among like-minded nations for its development outreach. Recently, India decided to join forces with Japan for developing the eastern container terminal of Colombo Port, Sri Lanka's biggest port through which almost 90 per cent of the country's seaborne goods pass. As Sitharaman had said, India is mindful of its position as the sixth largest economy in the world and seeks to look at alternate development models. While multilateral partnerships is one option, others are private sector equity, corporate contributions and roping in non-resident Indians.

The Sri Lanka trilateral is significant, given India's need to have influence in the Indian Ocean region, its area of dominance. India has completed several small developmental projects in the island nation, including providing free ambulances and a massive housing project. India and Japan are also members of the Quad. Significantly, China, with its billions, has expanded development projects across the region, including the port at Hambantota.

In Africa, too, the Chinese footprint is huge. India does not have the financial wherewithal to counter China directly, and multilateral initiatives are therefore a viable option to increase India's imprint across these nations.

Interestingly, India entered into a trilateral with China, too, for rebuilding Afghanistan. In the Spirit of Wuhan, the two Asian giants decided to join forces for developing the war-torn nation. However, that initiative does not seem to be a bricks and mortar type. At least, not so far. The first initiative in this direction is training Afghan diplomats in Beijing and New Delhi. Ten diplomats from Kabul were selected for the project.