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India, UK to intensify defence and trade ties, Boris Johnson hails Modi and the 'rising power' of India

The two countries also agree to deepen defence cooperation, something that the US and other Western democracies are also committing to do with India, which has been till now heavily dependent on Russian military hardware, a strategic linkage that makes New Delhi wary of criticising Moscow outright for its war on Ukraine

Apr 23, 2022
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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Prime minister of India Narendra Modi at Hyderabad House. Photo: dpa

India and the United Kingdom will intensify their defence cooperation, especially in the light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and its geostrategic consequences, and the two are on the path of signing a landmark trade agreement by yearend. 


Calling Prime Minister Narendra Modi his “khas dost” (special friend), and India "an incredible rising power in Asia" and a "democracy that has constitutional protection", UK Prime Boris Johnson, on his first visit to India as the head of government that included a whirlwind visit to Gujarat, Modi's home state, said that India and the United Kingdom are on the path to signing the trade agreement by Diwali, the festival of lights, that is also now celebrated in a big way in the UK because of its large Indian-origin population.


“As the next round of talks begins here next week, we’re telling our negotiators to get it done by Diwali…. this could double our trade and investment by the end of the decade,” Johnson said after his meeting with Modi at Hyderabad House in New Delhi Friday.  He said a deal could take the UK-India trade - now skewed in favour of India - to "a whole new level".

Modi said that he hoped to sign the pact by the end of the year as both sides were working closely and making “good progress”. Citing the FTAs with UAE and Australia, he said that the negotiations for the one with the UK are being done at the “same speed” and with the “same commitment”.

The two countries also agree to deepen defence cooperation, something that the US and other Western democracies are also committing to do with India, which has been till now heavily dependent on Russian military hardware, a strategic linkage that makes New Delhi wary of criticising Moscow outright for its war on Ukraine.  

Johnson said that in the meeting with Modi they discussed the next generation of defence and security collaborations across five domains — land, sea, air, space and cyber. “We’ve agreed to work together to meet new threats across land, sea, air, space, and cyber, including partnering on new fighter jet and maritime technologies to detect and respond to threats in the oceans,” Johnson added.

Modi said that they had agreed to deepen cooperation in defence, including manufacture, technology, design and development, and in all these cases, welcomed the UK’s support to India’s “Atmanirbhar Bharat” (self-reliant India) plan.

Johnson also met with Indian business tycoon Gautam Adani, whose Adani Group is headquartered in Ahmedabad, on the first day of the UK leader's visit to Gujarat. After their meeting, Adani took Twitter and wrote: “Honoured to host Boris Johnson, the first UK PM to visit Gujarat, at Adani HQ. Delighted to support climate & sustainability agenda with focus on renewables, green H2 & new energy. Will also work with UK companies to co-create defence & aerospace technologies.”


Johnson’s schedule in Gujarat also included visits to a manufacturing facility of JCB, a British construction equipment firm in Panchmahal district, Gujarat Biotechnology University and the Akshardham temple in Gandhinagar.

Johnson was also “happy” about his visit to the Gujarat Biotechnology University (GBU) which has come up in collaboration with the University of Edinburgh at Gandhinagar. “He is very keen on collaboration on new technology, vaccines,” British Deputy High Commissioner in Ahmedabad Peter Cook told The Indian Express, the latter being a reference to the AstraZeneca/Oxford University collaboration with the Serum Institute of India (SII) for manufacturing vaccines in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

 

With Prime Minister Modi by his side, Johnson lauded India for being the world's pharmacy as he said: "I've the Indian jab (COVID19 vaccine) in my arm, and it did me good. Many thanks to India."

Johnson also hailed the “people to people ties” between the UK and India and said he wanted to take it further. Currently, there are 99,000 Indian students in the UK, Cook added.

The two leaders reiterated their commitment to transform defence and security cooperation as a key pillar of the India-UK Comprehensive Strategic Partnership and enhance engagements in support of a free, open and secure Indo-Pacific.

Johnson Friday touched upon the unfolding crisis in Ukraine and stated that everyone respects New Delhi’s decades-old historic relationship with Moscow.

“The situation around the world is obliging the UK and India to do more together… The Russia-India ties are historically well-known and they are not going to change that,” Johnson said.

Johnson also addressed India’s concerns over Khalistani separatist elements in his country, and said that the UK does not tolerate extremist groups operating from there. “We don’t tolerate extremist groups operating in UK and targeting other countries,” he said.

When asked about reports of rights violations in India, especially the recent assaults on lives and livelihoods of minority Muslims reported widely in the media, he responded tartly: “India is a great democracy and has constitutional protection”.

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