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India’s latest statement about its inability to participate in the SAARC summit, planned to be held in Pakistan, clearly signals that the moribund eight-nation South Asian regional grouping is headed for a prolonged spell in wilderness.
In his meeting with his Nepalese counterpart K.P. Sharma Oli in New Delhi on April 8, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi made it clear that given continuing cross-border terror from Pakistan, it won’t be possible for India to participate in the SAARC summit in Pakistan.
India’s studied position on the SAARC summit in Pakistan underlined the deepening chill in India-Pakistan ties, which was recently strained further due to mutual recriminations over harassment of each other’s diplomats posted in Delhi and Islamabad.
Ahead of National Security Adviser Ajit Doval’s visit to Beijing for a BRICS meeting, China has signalled a hardening of its posture on the continuing standoff along the Sikkim border by reiterating that the only way to resolve the impasse is for India to unconditionally withdraw troops as a precursor to any talks.
Alluding to remarks of China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, the spokesperson of China’s Foreign Office, Lu Kang, pinned the blame on India for trespassing into China’s territory and asked for an unconditional pull-out by India. “I have stressed many times that the crux of this incident is that the Indian border troops illegally trespassed into China’s territory and the solution as Wang put it is for Indian border troops to pull-out unconditionally. This is a precondition basis for any meaningful talks between the two countries,” said the spokesperson in Beijing on July 26.
The Chinese spokesperson’s clarification and reiteration of its stated position came a day before the meeting of the national security advisers of BRICS countries at which Mr Doval will represent India. India has made it clear to China that India’s decision to send its troops to the disputed Doklam plateau, which is contested by both China and Bhutan, was based on a careful assessment that China’s building of a road through the strategic plateau amounted to an attempt to change the status quo at the strategically located India-Bhutan-China tri-junction and represented a threat to the country’s security.
With both India and China refusing to budge from their positions, and Beijing repeatedly asking India for unilateral withdrawal of troops, there is hardly any room for compromise and little hope of any breakthrough in the continuing stalemate. However, all eyes will be on a likely bilateral meeting between Mr Doval and his Chinese counterpart, the influential State Councillor Yang Jiechi, on the sidelines of the BRICS meeting. Both Doval and Yang are also Special Representatives for the India-China boundary negotiations, and enjoy confidence of their leaders. Hence, the Doval-Yang meeting, if it takes place, could prepare the stage for some give-and-take to resolve the Doklam standoff, which has plunged relations between the two Asian giants to a new low.
Acting East with renewed zeal, India is set to deepen its strategic and economic ties with Australia, a G20 economy and a strategic partner, during Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s maiden visit to New Delhi.
The major takeaways from Mr Turnbull’s April 9-12 visit are expected to be in realms of enhanced security cooperation and intensified collaboration in education and skills-building between the two countries.
The strategic importance of India and Australia for each other is growing amid the evolving geo-political landscape in the Asia-Pacific region. The Australian government has identified India among the top five priority relationships and New Delhi sees Canberra as a key strategic partner in the region.
Civil nuclear cooperation is poised to register progress, with both sides looking to finalise commercial negotiations for the first shipment of uranium from Australia to India this year.
With the Indian Ocean emerging as a zone of contention and rivalry between major players in the region, including India and China, New Delhi and Canberra are expected to focus on increased collaboration in the strategically located region. The two countries are also expected to upscale their cooperation in counter-terrorism and counter-radicalisation.
Australia is poised to become an important partner of India in its development agenda, with the two countries expected to sign pacts on education and skill development. The focus on the training partnership is evident in the composition of the Australian leader’s delegation, which includes nearly half of Australia’s universities.
The India-Pakistan relations, which plunged to a new low in the aftermath of the 2016 terror strikes allegedly masterminded by Pakistan-based terrorists, look set to continue in the mode of mutual recriminations and distrust in 2017, with hardly any possibility of a thaw in the near term. Islamabad’s latest gambit to internationalise the issue of alleged Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav by seeking to present a dossier before the UN on the alleged terrorist activities of Jadhav portends another bleak year for the severely challenged India-Pakistan relations.
Typical of Pakistan’s posturing, double-speak and grandstanding, Islamabad appears to be in no mood to prosecute Pakistan-based terrorists involved in the Pathankot and Uri terror attacks in India in 2016. Instead, in a latest salvo, Pakistan has claimed it’s a direct victim of Indian “state-sponsored terrorism” and claimed that Jadhav’s activities were aimed at destabilising Pakistan and slaughtering Pakistani nationals. “With such duplicitous behaviour and blood on its hands, India has little credibility on counter-terrorism,” said the spokesperson of Pakistan’s Foreign Office.
With Pakistan in denial, the Modi government is set to be more assertive on cross-border terrorism. The political dynamics involved in a series of state elections to be held this year in India will further complicate the picture as PM Modi and his colleagues in the party are set to flaunt the cross-LOC surgical strikes against Pakistani militants to mobilise nationalist sentiments against the perpetrator of terror. In such a scenario, if there is another terror attack in India in which the Pakistani involvement is established, then the India-Pakistan ties are set to go from bad to worse. It’s early days, but latest indications suggest that 2017 is going to be another grim year for the India-Pakistan relations.
It was a time for Indo-Thai cultural bonding. Sanskrit and sanskriti (culture) blended beautifully as Thailand’s Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn was conferred the first World Sanskrit Award in the Indian capital on November 21.
“The Thai language is very different from Sanskrit. But culturally it’s very similar,” the Thai princess said after receiving the first Sanskrit award instituted by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR). It’s a great honour to receive it from the Vice President of the country. The award included US$ 20,000, a citation and a lapel pin.
Sirindhorn, fondly called by Thais as “Phra Thep” (“princess angel”), has emerged as a top contender for the crown in Thailand after the recent death of the country’s beloved monarch. A well-regarded scholar of Sanskrit, the 60-year-old Thai Princess has served as Royal Patron for the World Sanskrit Conference.
In his speech, Vice-President Hamid Ansari evoked the beauty and depth of the Sanskrit language in which many of India’s iconic religious and philosophical texts were written.
Minister of State for External Affairs M.J. Akbar underscored the effortless spread of Sanskrit to foreign countries over the years, and cited it as an example of India’s soft power. “Sanskrit did not travel with arms and is the first true evidence of what we today call soft power,” he said.