East of Suez: A British Strategy for the Asian Century. Part Five: India

Young Fabian, Ash Dharmasingham writes on British strategy in Asia. Over the next few weeks we will be publishing his research into this important issue. This week's topic is "India". Follow our blog to read next week's piece on Malaysia and Singapore

Britain and India

 India likewise offers further opportunities for Britain to increase its standing in Asia, help defend the LIO and increase its own prosperity. India, the world’s largest democracy, is emerging as what Mohan describes as “the swing state in the global balance of power” that will have the opportunity “to shape outcomes on the most critical issues of the twenty-first century”. He suggests that India could become “the engine of economic integration in the Indian Ocean region” the same way China has been spurring growth in East Asia (Mohan, 2006, pp.12, 22). This had led to many such as Lynes to argue that strengthening ties with India is a matter of priority for Britain (Lynes, 2017). China faces an ageing population and rising wages, and will begin to lose manufacturing jobs. On the other hand, 65% of India’s population is under the age of 30 (Rachman, 2016, pp.116-117). The country is projected to surpass China’s population around 2022, surpass China's economy by 2050 according to some economists, at which point it would also have a larger working-age population than the US and China combined (p117 Easternisation Rachman); (Coyle et al, 2015, p.3).




According to the British Council, shared history, language, culture and values between Britain and India, gives Britain, “a huge potential advantage over other countries when it comes to assisting in and benefiting from India’s rise” (Coyle et al, 2015, p.3). Shared history has not only seen 100 000s of Indians volunteering, fighting and dying alongside British troops in the world wars but also a flow of immigrants from India to the UK resulting in an estimated 1.5 million people of Indian descent living in the UK (Coyle et al, 2015, pp.11-12). Indians thus have a favourable view of Britain. A survey conducted for the British Council found that 75% of Indians had a positive opinion of Britain while only 3% had a negative opinion [Item 2]; (Coyle et al, 2015, p.11). At times however the colonial legacy can be a barrier since there is “a growing sense of frustration” amongst Indians who believe that a colonial mindset amongst some Britons causing them to not treat or preserve India as an equal (Coyle et al, 2015, p.12). More opportunities for cultural and educational exchanges could help break down this barrier. Britain and India nonetheless enjoy close and friendly relations. The bilateral relationship was actually “upgraded to a strategic partnership” in 2004 and further strengthened in recent years (MEA, 2016-b).

  India - a Counterbalance to China

 India, a liberal democracy like Britain supports the preservation of the rules-based order. India, for instance, welcomed the Philippines vs China verdict and released a statement supporting freedom of navigation and overflight, the upholding of international law and the peaceful resolution of conflicts. India also urged respect for UNCLOS and stated that the sea lines of communication passing through the SCS were, “critical for peace, stability, prosperity and development” (MEA, 2016-a). With 55% of India’s trade passing through the SCS and the Indian Navy lately prioritising sea-lane protection and energy security, Britain and India share a common interest on which they could cooperate (Malik, 2016). As those such as Stuenkel and Roberts argue, India is potentially an important balance to China in the Indo-Pacific (Roberts, 2016); (Stuenkel, 2012, p.34).

 India has territorial disputes with China which for instance claims most of the state of Arunachal Pradesh. Importantly, according to Rachman, Delhi believes that China has been bolstering Pakistan in order to preoccupy and contain India. After all, Pakistan’s nuclear programme received “crucial technical assistance” from China (Rachman, 2016, p.118). This perception is not helped by fact that China is the largest arms supplier to India’s neighbours and China’s blocking of both the banning of the terrorist, Masood Azhar and India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group. India is also wary of China’s power projection in the Indian Ocean (Malik, 2016). According to Malik, India perceives China to be an “irredentist and expansionist power”, and has thus begun military and diplomatic coordination with Asian nations that likewise feel threatened (Malik, 2016). Rachman believes that Chinese troop incursions during Xi Jinping’s visit to India “helped to tilt Indian foreign policy towards the West” (Rachman, 2016, p.127). India has indeed moved closer to Japan and the US. During Mod’s 2014 Tokyo visit he stated, “Everywhere around us, we see an eighteenth-century expansionist mindset, encroaching in other countries, intruding in others’ waters, invading other countries and capturing territory” (Rachman, 2016, p.129). Who he was referring to was obvious.


 Anglo-Indian Cooperation on R&D and Transnational Issues

 Like in the Anglo-Japanese case, there are plenty of opportunities for Anglo-Indian collaboration in transnational issues and R&D. Mohan argues that India is well positioned to help stabilise the Indian Ocean region due to the strength of its armed forces. India can, therefore, in his view, aid in counter-terrorism, democracy promotion, countering Islamism and protecting the sea-lanes. He states that the Indian Navy, in particular, has shown its utility for regional engagement in the 2004 Tsunami when it was able to deploy very quickly to disaster-hit areas (Mohan, 2006, p.23). One opportunity for cooperation is thus found in the maritime domain. Britain and India have already announced on multiple occasions that they would work together “to promote and uphold freedom of navigation and overflight” in accordance with UNCLOS (PMO, 2016); (FCO, 2015). Both nations have also agreed to strengthen naval cooperation in the Indian Ocean, coordinate closely in anti-piracy operations off Somalia and to work together in building the capabilities of littoral states in maritime constabulary (FCO, 2015); (FCO, 2015).


Roberts who was very keen on increasing Anglo-Indian security ties suggested doing so on the basis of “mutual exercises, intellectual understanding and greater interaction between people, particularly between senior commanders” (Roberts, 2016). Such efforts are already taking place with both nations agreeing to implement stronger military-to-military engagement including joint exercises, training, lecture exchanges, doctrine improvement, dialogue between defence ministers and service chiefs, and establishing a number of ‘capability partnerships’ in areas ranging from counter-terrorism to peacekeeping (MOD, 2017-b); (FCO, 2015). Britain and India have announced collaboration on a number of transnational issues from jointly disrupting terrorist financial and tactical support to collaborating on improving cyber security training. An intensification of the Anglo-Indian biennial military exercises has also been announced with military exercises for all 3 services planned for 2017. Such positive engagement must continue and be deepened (FCO, 2015). Britain, for instance, could consider training Indian Air Force pilots the same way Britain trains a lot of Saudi pilots (Merrick, 2016).


Compared to the Anglo-Japanese case, Anglo-Indian R&D collaboration is still in its infancy although both nations do want to improve R&D cooperation, R&D training and technology partnerships, and pursue Anglo-Indian defence manufacturing under the ‘Make in India’ framework. So far Bharat Dynamics Ltd and Thales UK have looked at opportunities for transferring technology on missiles while BAE Systems and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd are jointly developing an advanced Hawk training aircraft (MOD, 2017-b). Such developments are promising and more opportunities should be pursued although Britain should, of course, ensure that British and Anglo-Indian technology do not fall into Russian hands due to a pre-existing history of Indo-Russian collaboration (Simha, 2016).

 Anglo-Indian Economic and Cultural Engagement

 There are also plenty of opportunities for Anglo-Indian economic engagement. India is the second largest international job creator in Britain, employing over 110 000 Britons, and the third largest international investor, investing more in Britain than the rest of the EU combined (PMO, 2016); (Coyle et al, 2015, p.12). The UK is meanwhile the largest G20 investor in India accounting for 30% of all foreign direct investment, British banks lend more to India than any other country and British companies “account for 1 in 20 Indian jobs in the organised private sector” (PMO, 2016); (British High Commission New Delhi, 2016); (Coyle et al, 2015, p.12). Additionally, London is the leading centre for offshore Rupee finance and Anglo-Indian trade has tripled between 2000 and 2015 (PMO, 2016); (Banga, 2016, p.1). Things are however changing, for instance, while Britain was India’s fourth most important source of imports in 1999, in 2015 it was just 24th (Coyle et al, 2015, p.12). Britain must therefore actively ensure that Anglo-Indian trade remains comparatively strong, in order to increase both its prosperity and its influence in Asia. One way to do this as Lynes argues is through investing in a number of ambitious Indian state programmes such as “Digital India, Skill India, Make in India, and Smart Cities” (Lynes, 2017). Britain has already announced that it will partner with India in order to develop ‘Smart Cities’ such as Indore, Pune and Amravati (MEA, 2016-b).

 According to Banga in a Commonwealth study, Britain has a huge post-Brexit opportunity to establish an Anglo-Indian free trade agreement (FTA) which is projected to increase Anglo-Indian trade by 26% per annum and increase British exports to India by 33% per annum (Banga, 2016, p.1). India will probably ask Britain to relax visa requirements for Indians in return as they are particularly frustrated over Britain’s self-defeating kerbing of Indian student visas resulting in a 50% decrease in Indian enrolment in Britain’s universities. Britain should fight populist anti-immigration tendencies and do so. Education is an important export for Britain and in a post-Brexit and an increasingly Asian-influenced world, such an FTA is a golden opportunity.

 As the British council argues, stronger educational and cultural connections are important in establishing successful and long-lasting Anglo-Indian relations, especially given that research undertaken by the British council showed that there was a “growing disconnect” between Indians and Britons particularly in education (Coyle et al, 2015, p.3). The huge growth in India’s English-speaking middle class offers Britain to “become partner of choice for trade, diplomacy, culture and education before India’s next generation turns its attentions elsewhere”. Britain needs to build on existing cultural connections like the large Indian-heritage population of the UK and increase cultural understanding of India and the amount of Indian students in the UK (Britishcouncil.org, 2015).


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