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A networking network

An expanded British diplomatic structure in India will strengthen bilateral ties. William Hague writes.

india Updated: May 29, 2012 21:27 IST

Britain seeks a partnership with India that is stronger, wider and deeper. That is what Prime Minister David Cameron said when he led the largest delegation ever to India in July 2010. I am, therefore, delighted that we have reached an agreement with the Indian government to open two new deputy high commissions in Hyderabad and Chandigarh. This will bring the number of Britain’s diplomatic posts in India to seven and will give Britain the broadest diplomatic network of any country in India.

Britain is engaged in the most significant strategic shift of focus for our diplomacy in a generation. The rationale for that shift is that political influence will follow economic trends and increasingly rest with the countries of the south and east over the long term. As a nation that depends more than many on its overseas ties, Britain needs to create a diplomatic network that is better attuned to meet the challenges and opportunities for the 21st century through expanded connections with the emerging powers of the world.

Developments in the global economy and international security over the past 12 months have reinforced the rationale for this strategic choice. Central to this choice is Britain’s relationship with India. I remain convinced that this century will be shaped by India more than any other that has come before it. Already a force to be reckoned with by so many measures, India will continue to grow as a producer, as a consumer and as an actor on the world stage. Now is the time to study India, to invest in India and to work with India.

We know that we cannot rely on sentiment or on shared history for a place in India’s future. It is something that we must work hard to achieve. To do this requires us to have a deep understanding of India’s culture, its history, its politics and its geography. At a time when India’s role in the world is growing as never before, it is important to have first-hand experience and face-to-face contact.

Our expanded network will give us a high profile presence in two important regions. Andhra Pradesh is the fifth largest state by population with the 3rd highest GDP. It has become a magnate for foreign investment in recent years, including British companies. Andhra based companies have also invested in Britain. We aim to accelerate this mutual economic development.

Punjab and Haryana are two of India’s most prosperous states where we see great opportunities to increase our bilateral trade. Our new office there will also focus on deepening our relationship with the states of Himachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal and Rajasthan. Though many British nationals of Indian origin can trace their ancestry to this region of India, we have not in the past been able to devote enough resources to deepening ties there.

These new posts demonstrate our long term determination to broaden and deepen our bilateral relationship with India. There can be few other countries that are as genuinely optimistic and positive about India’s success as we in Britain. We want to be India’s partner of choice in areas crucial to both of us: two-way trade and investment, English language training, higher education links, innovative healthcare, energy security, the joint development of low carbon technologies, and deepening our scientific and research collaboration.

We start from a strong place. Our PMs agreed to double our trade by 2015. This is firmly on track, with increases of some 30-40% in both directions in 2011. Investment in each others’ countries continues to grow, creating jobs and opportunity. Indian companies have chosen to invest more in Britain than in the rest of the EU combined. In turn, British companies have made several of the largest direct investments in India. Our research collaboration has grown 90-fold to nearly £100 million in the past three years. And people-to-people links between the two countries remain the lifeblood of the relationship, with more than 400,000 Indian visitors to Britain and over 700,000 British visitors to India in the last year.

But our ambition is now to take this to the next stage. An expanded British diplomatic network in India is the right foundation on which to build our stronger, wider and deeper partnership, one that is fit for the 21st century.

William Hague is foreign secretary of Britain

The views expressed by the author are personal

First Published: May 29, 2012 21:24 IST