Struck by Covid-19, India pushes pedal to the metal on virtual diplomacy
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar started a series of regional reviews beginning with Indian envoys in Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Papua & New Guinea and the Pacific Island countries.Updated: Apr 30, 2020 15:29 IST
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Thursday kicked-off a detailed interaction with Indian envoys abroad to compare notes on the battle against Covid-19, its impact on India and the road ahead. This is Jaishankar’s second round of meetings with top Indian diplomats abroad.
A recurring theme in his last interaction on March 20 was the status of stranded Indians. He had then asked the envoys to urge Indian nationals to stay put and not panic, and look around to secure medical equipment supplies that India would need back home.
The government’s evacuation plan to bring the stranded Indians home over the next few weeks could figure in Thursday’s interaction with the Indian envoys. Jaishankar has started with envoys from the Asia Pacific region; South-East Asian countries will be next and then, South Asia.
Taking virtual diplomacy to the next level.— Dr. S. Jaishankar (@DrSJaishankar) April 30, 2020
Began the first of a series of regional reviews. A good video conference with our High Commissioners and Ambassadors in Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Papua & New Guinea and the Pacific Island countries. pic.twitter.com/EqdaWcJfyK
Jaishankar isn’t the only one talking.
Top external affairs ministry officials are holding a parallel global outreach campaign; interacting with foreign envoys posted in national capital Delhi. The foreign envoys are being told how India is fighting the Sars-CoV-2 pathogen.
Indian diplomats are also taking notes on how other countries have dealt with the virus that has, in just about four months, killed 225,000 people, infected over 3 million and driven countries to go into lockdown mode and threatened to push the global economy into a recession.
Diplomacy couldn’t afford to go in lockdown mode. Instead, it went virtual, shifted gears and went into an overdrive, a foreign ministry official told Hindustan Times.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had set the template early in the crisis and has been working the phones to scale up India’s diplomatic engagement with the world. That he had also held a video conference with the heads of Indian missions on 30 March was one step in this direction.
In the next 30 days, PM Modi spoke to leaders of 30 countries.
Had a good discussion with State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. We discussed the evolving COVID 19 scenario and agreed to work together to address the challenges in the spirit of our excellent bilateral ties and India's neighbourhood first policy.— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) April 30, 2020
Ditto for Jaishankar who has kept pace with the prime ministers and reached out to his counterparts, even in countries that may have been assumed to be off New Delhi’s radar.
Grenada, a tiny Caribbean island - one of the smallest countries in the western hemisphere - has a population of just over 1 lakh. Comoros, a volcanic archipelago off Africa’s east coast, has a population of 8 lakh.
Many of these calls were to offer support and help.
Congratulated the newly appointed FM of #Angola, @amb_tete. Agreed on an early meeting of our Joint Commission. Will work on new areas of cooperation, including health. Recognised the importance of the #IndiaAfricaForumSummit taking place soon.— Dr. S. Jaishankar (@DrSJaishankar) April 30, 2020
Jaishankar told the G-20 foreign ministers conference this week that New Delhi is providing pharma assistance to nearly 85 countries on a grant basis, many of them in Africa to support their response to the pandemic.
There have been occasions when the external affairs minister has spoken to counterparts in Russia, Brazil, the United States, Saudi Arabia and Oman in 24 hours. This was on Thursday last.
Jaishankar calls it “virtual diplomacy”.
“Strong friendships thrive even virtually,” he tweeted after wrapping up his video calls to leaders in five countries.
Government sources explain that the stepped-up effort is designed ·to ensure that the diplomatic machinery doesn’t go into stall mode but is kept primed for big action.
India will be moving into a lead role at the World Health Organisation next month when its nominee formally takes over as the director general of the World Health Organisation. Next year, India will also get a spot in the United Nations Security Council as one of the 10 non-permanent members.
The last time India had made it to the UNSC ws in 2012; Hardeep Singh Puri, the ex-diplomat in PM Modi’s council of ministers, was then India’s face at the UN.