September 1, 2014

INDIA IN ASIA: Asia will gain from India finally taking foreign policy seriously. Now if only America would!

Tighter relations with Japan are important for security (see article). With Australia, India is likely to sign a deal to buy uranium. It is welcome that the world’s most populous democracy should make its influence felt in its region. But India will not realise its true promise so long as it is held back by three legacies that still linger from the days of Nehru.

First, it has differences with two of its neighbours, which are at best a distraction and at worst an obstacle. Given how much it has to gain from peace with Pakistan, India should strive to launch talks that were recently put off because it objected to contacts between Pakistani diplomats and Kashmiri separatists. For Mr Modi, a Hindu nationalist who is feared by many Indian Muslims, a settlement with Pakistan should be a special priority. But Mr Modi also has a disputed border with China in the Himalayas. That too is a flashpoint for conflict, which he needs to discuss with Mr Xi—if only because India’s relations with China will count for more commercially and strategically than its relations with any other Asian country.

Second, to promote India as a trading nation, Mr Modi should ditch protectionism. He blundered in July when he rescinded India’s agreement to a World Trade Organisation deal to ease trade, opting instead to protect food and farm subsidies at home. Since India plays no part in many other regional trade forums, such as the Trans Pacific Partnership, it risks falling behind others who will set higher standards.

Last of all, he needs a government service that can support his diplomacy. India’s foreign service is roughly the size of New Zealand’s. The country’s defence-procurement system is rotten and dependent on second-rate state-owned firms. Newly eased restrictions on foreigners investing in defence could help. And India’s armed forces need skilled employees, modern equipment, more outside scrutiny and better co-operation between commands. For India to become influential abroad, Mr Modi has to do some tightening up at home.

Now if only America would . . .