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Tribune Special

Posted at: Dec 30, 2018, 1:53 AM; last updated: Dec 30, 2018, 1:53 AM (IST)WORLD

After the pause, fast forward

India tried to rework its foreign policy by reaching out to world powers China and Russia

Smita Sharma

Bonhomie was at display as PM Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping bonded over 10 hours of conversation at Wuhan in China in April this year. The first informal summit between the two leaders took place in the erstwhile favourite holiday spot of Mao Zedong. The focus was on ‘heart-to-heart’ talks and a  ‘reset’ of ties less than a year after the 73-day standoff between the two armies at the Doklam tri-junction with Bhutan. 

Since then, Modi and Xi have met four times this year, more than perhaps any other two leaders. Right noises have been made and some important steps include China finally importing sugar, rice and some pharmaceutical products, joint counter-terror military exercises and launch of people-to-people mechanism. Yet, ties with China continue to be among India’s biggest foreign-policy concerns.

Questions remain if there was more give than take for India. India accepted renaming of Taipei and distanced its officials from the Dalai Lama, with a leaked letter penned by Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale causing a political storm. Speaking at a conference in July, former National Security Adviser MK Narayanan questioned the actual Wuhan outcome. “China has given no indication that it has softened its attitude vis-à-vis the disputed territories in Arunachal Pradesh and elsewhere on the Sino-Indian border. No guarantees have been provided that no further border transgressions would take place,” said Narayanan.

The year was about course correction for Modi. Moscow was signing a military pact with and selling arms to Islamabad. Modi proposed a Wuhan-like meet with Putin and the two met at the Black Sea resort town of Sochi. India also went ahead with the S400 missile deal during Putin’s visit, despite the threat of US sanctions. With nearly 62 per cent of Indian arms and defence purchases still dependent on Moscow, it was important to send the message — ‘national interest first’. 

Since the June 2017 US visit, Modi and Donald Trump finally met on the sidelines of the G20 summit in November, but at a trilateral forum with Japan, which seemed more of an afterthought. Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from war-torn Afghanistan will have direct security implications for India. America First policy and immigration crackdown have also meant anxiety for Indian visa holders. 

Meanwhile, with a historic first visit to Ramallah, Modi de-hyphenated Palestine from Israel policy and continued strengthening ties with Iran. But the US sword of sanctions to reduce oil imports from Tehran to zero, despite a temporary carve out for oil trade at Chabahar port, looms large. Closer home, 2018 saw incumbent governments in Pakistan, Bhutan and Maldives voted out. The new Imran Khan government led to a rare bonhomie over the Kartarpur corridor issue, but hostilities run deep as LoC continues to bleed and Kashmir remains on the edge. 

Ousting a dictator

Maldives demonstrated its resilience as people used electoral tool to dethrone the authoritarian President Yameen. Since clampdown of emergency in February, the regime cracked down on political opposition, judiciary and police, unwilling to play ball. Amid international calls by US, UK, EU for return to democracy and a wait-and-watch policy by India, the joint consensus opposition candidate Ibrahim Solih won the presidential elections against all odds. 

The rise of Imran Khan 

The former cricket captain became the Prime Minister of Pakistan after nearly two decades of political struggle. Imran Khan won an election marred by controversies and amid allegations of the powerful military backing his candidature. This even as his rival and former PM Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam were sent to jail on corruption charges. With a crumbling economy and global pressure on Pak terrorism links, Khan literally wears a crown of thorns.

Silenced for dissent

The chilling murder of Saudi dissident and Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi led to a diplomatic crisis with the 33-year-old Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman  directly accused of the killing. On October 2,  Khashoggi was killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. Saudi leadership initially denied any involvement, but evidence pointed towards the brutal killing of a voice that criticised the kingdom.


In the news

France on fire

Rising fuel prices, inflation and resentment towards government tax reforms led to the ‘Yellow Vest’ political movement in France. Rioting, arson and violence have scarred the country since November. This was Emanuel Macron’s biggest test in the 18 months of his presidency.

Trump-Kim tango

After raining fire and fury in his tweets on the rocket man, US President Donald Trump sat down across the table with North Korean Chairman Kim Jong Un on June 12. The  historic meeting in Sentosa, Singapore, ended with vaguely worded commitment to new ties and de-nuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula. Temporary peace was bought with a promise of #TrumpKim meeting in 2019 as well.

The Thai cave rescue

Hundreds of journalists flocked to Thailand from across the globe to report the dramatic rescue of 12 boys of junior football team and their coach trapped in the treacherous Tham Luang cave in Chuang Rai province for a fortnight. The terrifying ordeal ended after 17 days, thanks to an audacious rescue.

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