German focus on Indian Ocean

In an unusual gesture, Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar will deliver the keynote address at a regional conference of German Ambassadors in Colombo on Wednesday.

The conference, to be attended by Germany’s envoys to all Indian Ocean Rim (IOR) nations as well as to the U.S. and China, is part of discussions between India and Germany to cooperate with IOR countries.

On Monday, Mr. Jaishankar met German State Secretary Markus Ederer for talks ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Berlin next month.

MEA officials would not comment on Mr. Jaishankar’s outreach with German Ambassadors, but confirmed that he would be in Colombo on Wednesday.

“We believe the Indian Ocean region is an underrated theatre, compared with the Asia Pacific region. There is also competition shaping up between the major powers here, and we think it is important to engage with India, which is a major partner,” a senior German diplomat, who preferred not to be named, told The Hindu, adding that the conference was also likely to be addressed by Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremsinghe and an Indonesian Minister.

Shared interests

“India and Germany are both interested in rules-based regimes, freedom of the high seas, stability, and diversifying our political relations,” the official added.

The talks will also be raised at the next level when PM Modi travels to Germany for the Inter governmental commission (IGC) with Chancellor Angela Merkel on May 29-30.

The new push for cooperation between New Delhi and Berlin in the Indian Ocean Region is part of growing patterns in both capitals. In the past, India has shied away from “sharing influence” in the region, instead preferring to keep all discussions about the subcontinent and neighbouring countries on the Indian Ocean’s Rim bilateral.

However, partly with a view to countering China’s considerable investment in these countries, India has been talking much more to the U.S., Australia and other countries.

In Berlin, the shift is necessitated by a need to review its interests around the world, particularly given the new U.S. administration’s lack of clarity in deploying its forces around the world.

“In times of changes and a possible American retrenchment from these areas, Germany has a need to diversify its relations,” the official explained, adding that if the “U.S. is not as present as before we feel others need to take responsibility in keeping the Indian Ocean peaceful.”

In the next month, the change will be marked by a restructuring of desks in the German foreign ministry, which is carving out a separate “Asia” section in the first such revamp since the Second World War and Germany’s reunification in 1990.

India signed a strategic partnership with Germany in 2001, making it one of the key interlocutors in the region, and officials said the two Foreign Secretaries had also discussed the situation in Afghanistan, where Germany maintains about 1,000 troops and is one of the largest donors.

The two sides also had lengthy discussions on India’s future plans to join the global nuclear regimes, in particular the Nuclear Suppliers Group where India hopes to push for its membership this June, which it lost last year , sources said.

According to officials privy to the talks, talks on the Indian bid were “more positive than before”, and that Germany was committed to helping India enter the Australian group and Wassenaar arrangement multilateral nuclear groupings as well.

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Printable version | Feb 27, 2021 9:39:16 AM |

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