"India's rise is going to be one of the great phenomena of this century and it is incredibly impressive to see” said David Cameron
on Monday, February 18, as he arrived in New Delhi for a three-day visit to the country. The goal of his trip is to sow stronger economic ties between the UK and its former colony, which has developed at breakneck speed of the past decade, although growth has slowed recently.
Renewing an Old Relationship
Cameron is accompanied by a delegation of 100 or so businessmen and women who are seeking to have India open up its markets to British companies. Despite the colonial connection, Britain makes up a surprisingly small share of India’s imports
(it is the 21st largest source). India has already taken significant measures to open up the inward flow of goods, but has been slow to liberalize its rules on services imports. Britain is especially interested in opening up India’s financial markets, a sector where it has a strong competitive advantage.
But the trip to India is about more than pounds and rupees, despite the stated goal. Today Cameron expressed regret as he visited the site
of the Amritsar massacre in the state on Punjab, where British soldiers killed between 300 and 1,000 protesting civilians in 1919. This suggests a willingness to suppress national pride in the hopes of gaining favor from Indian officials. It is, in other words, a move to put British-Indian relations, once dominated by the Empire, on a more equal footing. In fact, Britain recently announced it would stop direct aid to India, another step toward a new balance in relations.
“A Base of Common Values” says Fonbaustier
A major reason for this is the geostrategic importance of India to the West in Asia. Marc Fonbaustier, a top French diplomat and former Minister Counselor of the French embassy in India, reflects on the strategic bet that the UK and its Western allies have put on India
to counterbalance the growing dominance of China in the region. This bet is based on, he writes, “the conviction, unique in this area of the world, that they can rely on a base of common values.”
Marc Fonbaustier points out that the value of the Indian relationship for the UK and America is not only economic, but ideological. India is the hope for a Western style development based on democracy versus the Beijing consensus of state-guided growth and limited political liberties. India’s higher birth rate, along with other demographic trends, could mean that it will overtake China by 2030 as the leading emerging power in the region. Fonbaustier concludes that India could take advantage of its support from the West to “gain a new international stature and take its full place in the new world order in construction.”
Britain has a strong interest in seeing India, an English-speaking democracy, rise to such a role. If Cameron’s trip can set this process in motion, he will be able to consider his trip successful.