Deccan Chronicle

British PM in India today for two-day visit

Deccan Chronicle.| Sridhar Kumaraswami

Published on: April 21, 2022 | Updated on: April 21, 2022

The Ukraine issue is expected to be discussed in great detail

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. (AP)

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. (AP)

New Delhi/London: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will "not want to lecture India" on its ties with Russia in the context of the Ukraine war that will come up at his talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his two-day visit to the country beginning Thursday, sources said Wednesday, adding that both sides "understand each other’s position". In what will be the first-ever visit by a British PM to Gujarat, Mr Johnson will begin the visit in Ahmedabad on Thursday, after which he will travel to New Delhi on Friday for talks with Mr Modi, when the entire gamut of bilateral ties will be discussed, including the proposed Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region.

In Ahmedabad, the British PM is likely to "announce major investments in key industries in both the UK and India, boosting jobs and growth at home, as well as new collaborations on cutting-edge science, health and technology". Mr Johnson will also "meet leading businesses and discuss the UK and India’s thriving commercial, trade and people links". Gujarat is the "ancestral home of around half of the British-Indian population in the UK", and so the visit will be important from that point of view too.

In London, Mr Johnson told the House of Commons on Thursday: "I will be travelling to India to deepen the strategic trade, defence and people- to-people ties between our countries, building on India's involvement in the Carbis Bay G-7 summit. I will be seeing Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi in Delhi, meeting Indian business people investing in the UK and visiting British investments in India."

The British PM’s official spokesperson told reporters in London: "This visit is not framed on the Russia-Ukraine crisis. Obviously, that is really important but this is a visit we have planned for a very long time. India is an incredibly important partner. The Prime Minister has been wanting to make this trip to build our partnership across trade, investment, security and defence, and green energy.

We will be discussing all those issues and it is expected that the Russia-Ukraine issue will be on the agenda. But we won't be seeking to sort of lecture India or try and persuade them into one position or another. We will be seeking to work together constructively as an important international partner. Obviously, Russia-Ukraine is a huge priority for the UK at the moment and for the world. It's a global issue that has destabilised the economy, the oil markets and international security. So, it would absolutely be on the agenda."

The New Delhi talks on Friday between the two PMs "will focus on boosting economic, defence, security and technology co-operation in the face of shared global challenges". Mr Johnson "will use the visit to drive progress in the FTA negotiations" started earlier this year. Sources said the forthcoming talks would "encourage and give momentum to the negotiations". The two leaders are also expected to review the progress in implementing the "India-UK Roadmap 2030" adopted during the virtual summit between both leaders last year.

The British PM will also hold talks with Mr Modi "on the UK and India’s strategic defence, diplomatic and economic partnership, aimed at bolstering our close partnership and stepping up security co-operation in the Indo-Pacific".  The British PM is visiting India as part of Britain’s "Indo-Pacific tilt".

The Ukraine issue is expected to be discussed in great detail. Mr Johnson was recently quoted as saying: "As we face threats to our peace and prosperity from autocratic states, it is vital that democracies and friends stick together. India, as a major economic power and the world’s largest democracy, is a highly valued strategic partner for the UK in these uncertain times. My visit to India will deliver on the things that really matter to the people of both our nations -- from job creation and economic growth, to energy security and defence."

Mr Johnson’s visit follows that of his foreign secretary (minister) Liz Truss to New Delhi. Just last month, Mr Modi also had held a "detailed discussion" on the phone with Mr Johnson on the Ukraine conflict. India has not publicly criticised Russia but called for an immediate cessation of hostilities and dialogue between the warring sides to resolve the issue. The West, however, wants India to take a much stronger stand against Russia publicly, which New Delhi is reluctant to do due to its time-tested ties with Moscow.

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