Deteriorating ties with China in the wake of the protracted military stand-off at eastern Ladakh and Pakistan’s continued support to cross-border terrorism were the two biggest challenges for India on the foreign policy front in 2020 as the country rejoins the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) as a non-permanent member in the new year for a two-year term.
Relations with the United States received a major boost during the year with President Donald Trump visiting India in February on a landmark trip. However, wrinkles appeared in ties with Russia as the two countries failed to hold their annual summit for the first time in two decades. Both sides sought to play down the development, saying the summit could not take place due to the situation arising from the Covid-19 pandemic. But there were clear suggestions that Moscow had reservations over New Delhi playing an active role in the Indo-Pacific initiative and the ‘Quad’ strategic group, comprising India, Australia, Japan and the United States.
The year began on a healthy note for Sino-Indian relations with the two countries drawing up an elaborate list of programmes they proposed to organise to commemorate 70 years of the establishment of diplomatic relations between them. But behind the curtain, China was also quietly giving final touches to its expansionist agenda against India. And in a naked show of aggression and treachery, PLA troops sought to alter the status quo at LAC in eastern Ladakh in violation of bilateral agreements, reminding India yet again that Beijing cannot be trusted.
But the brave soldiers of the Indian Army were not prepared to surrender an inch of India’s territory to the ‘enemy’. The skirmishes that began between the two Armies in April-May turned into a major clash between them at the Galwan Valley on 15 June, resulting in the martyrdom of 20 Indian soldiers and an unspecified number of casualties on the Chinese side. The incident sparked a wave of anti-China protests across India with calls for snapping diplomatic relations with China and banning/ boycotting Chinese products.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who had worked assiduously to build a personal equation with Chinese President Xi Jinping, felt betrayed by the Chinese leadership. As the economic relationship between the two Asian giants took a nosedive, India banned more than 250 Chinese apps to counter the threat posed by these applications to the country’s security and sovereignty.
There is no end in sight to the military stand-off at eastern Ladakh despite umpteen rounds of talks between top military commanders and officials of the two countries. The Indian armed forces are clearly prepared for a long haul, apprehending that 2021 may well pose more challenges for them at the LAC.
Pakistan, the ‘iron brother’ of China, continued its state-sponsorship of terrorism against India, particularly in the Kashmir Valley. Unhappy with the gradually improving law and order situation in the valley, it violated the 2003 ceasefire agreement time and again to push terrorists into India. Tensions between the two South Asian neighbours is likely to continue even in 2021 with India making it clear that peace with Pakistan is impossible until it sheds its support to cross-border terrorism.
Relations with other neighbours like Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and the Maldives witnessed an impetus as India supplied them medical equipment and other essentials to deal with the situation arising from the pandemic. India also continued with its policy of providing humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan to help the war-torn nation stand on its own feet.
Gulf countries, particularly Saudi Arabia and the UAE, became supporters of India on the world stage, realising the futility of helping Pakistan, which is now identified with terrorism and radical Islamic extremism the world-over.
Relations with ASEAN countries, Australia, Japan and South Korea also witnessed a quantum jump. Modi had virtual summits with some European leaders to bolster bilateral ties. India now keenly awaits the visit of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson as the chief guest at the Republic Day parade.