A key interlocutor in India’s diplomatic negotiations with China to defuse the 73-day long Doklam standoff that threatened to bring the Asian giants on the brink of a war, veteran diplomat Vijay Keshav Gokhale took charge as India’s foreign secretary on January 29. Mr Gokhale succeeded S. Jaishankar. Widely acknowledged as an expert on East Asia, Mr Gokhale was India’s ambassador to China from January 20, 2016 to October 21, 2017 before moving back to the Ministry to External Affairs headquarters as the secretary (economic relations).
Well versed in mandarin, Mr Gokhale, the 1981 batch India Foreign Service officer, had previously held the posts of director (China and East Asia) and joint secretary (East Asia) in the MEA. He had also served as India’s ambassador to Germany between October 2013 and January 2016 and served in Indian missions in Hong Kong, Hanoi and New York.
As he takes over the role of managing India’s external affairs, his biggest challenge will be handling some of the most contentious issues that continue to shadow the India-China relationship. Mr Gokhale’s expertise will come in handy at a time when India and China are looking to carve a new post-Doklam trajectory of bilateral relations by widening areas of convergence in economic and developmental cooperation. Imparting a new direction to India’s neighgbourhood policy will be on top of the new foreign secretary’s list of priorities, specially at a time when China’s profile is growing in South Asian countries.
He is also expected to give a new direction to India’s Pakistan policy by reviving high-level engagement that came to a complete standstill after the Pathankot attacks. Amid a resurgence of violence in Afghanistan, as underlined by a spate of recent terror attacks, the new foreign secretary is expected to focus on enhancing India’s economic and developmental role in stabilising the violence-torn country.
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