India: New Focus, New Opportunities: Ashok Sharma Assesses New Delhi's Growing Strategic Engagement in the Asia-Pacific Region and Its Implications for the New Zealand-India Relationship

By Sharma, Ashok | New Zealand International Review, January-February 2014 | Go to article overview

India: New Focus, New Opportunities: Ashok Sharma Assesses New Delhi's Growing Strategic Engagement in the Asia-Pacific Region and Its Implications for the New Zealand-India Relationship


Sharma, Ashok, New Zealand International Review


Today India is considered to be a major player in the emerging global balance of power. It is also emerging as one of the centres of the modern global economy. One of the major aspects of India's foreign policy in the post-Cold War period is its increasing economic, political and strategic engagement with the Asia-Pacific region, or India's 'Look East Policy'. However, India's eastward expansion has not yet resulted in substantial strategic or economic relationship with New Zealand. There is ample scope for New Zealand to enhance this relationship, particularly in strategic and security co-operation, to deal with the emerging challenges from traditional and non-traditional sources in the region.

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At the periphery of international politics for decades, India is now beginning to realise its potential as a future great power in the so-called Asian century'. In the post-Cold War period India has taken concrete steps to enhance its regional and international presence. One of these steps has been its eastward policy orientation and its increasing economic, political and strategic engagement with the Asia-Pacific region. This process began in the 1990s as India's 'Look East Policy'.

The demise of the Soviet Union resulting in the emergence of a unipolar world led by the United States, the threats emanating from a rising China in the region, and New Delhi's great power aspirations--all have shaped India's foreign policy of eastward engagement. With its robust economic growth, military modernisation, naval expansion and strategic engagement with the United States and its allies in the region, especially Japan and Australia, India has accumulated comprehensive power and is ready to use it to influence the emerging strategic geometry and distribution of power in the Asia--Pacific region.

However, India's eastward expansion has not yet resulted in a substantial strategic or economic relationship with New Zealand. While there have been developments in this regard in the last two decades, New Zealand-India engagement has not reached its full potential. There have been attempts from both sides to focus on bilateral trade, tourism, education, and the Indian diaspora, and free trade negotiations are in progress. However, there is ample scope to enhance this relationship, particularly in strategic and security co-operation. This article argues that it is in the interest of these two countries to build a closer security partnership to deal with the emerging challenges from traditional and non-traditional sources in the region.

Historical context

New Zealand and India have traditionally enjoyed friendly relations based on common linkages with the Commonwealth, parliamentary democracy, the English language, and sporting ties, mainly cricket. In addition to relations at the official level since 1957, trade and people-to-people contacts have been continuous, although modest. However, despite these commonalities New Zealand and India could not forge a comprehensive relationship. The reason lies in the Cold War dynamics in which India pursued a foreign policy of non-alignment, and later sided with the Soviet Union, whereas New Zealand entered into an alliance with the United States in the ANZUS pact. Also, India's refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty prevented New Zealand and India from coming together on many nuclear-related security issues. (1)

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After the demise of the Soviet Union ended the Cold War, the ideological differences between India and the 'Political West' began to dwindle and India began to give attention to its eastward neighbours. Although the relationship between India and New Zealand has not progressed all that much, some of the major developments that have taken place with regard to India in the post-Cold War period have brought New Delhi to Wellington's foreign policy attention. In addition to India's steady economic progress and expanding military and naval capability in the Asia--Pacific region, among other things, the growing US--India strategic partnership and the US--India civilian nuclear deal have cleared away much of the suspicion in New Zealand policy-making circles about India's nuclear programme and strategic posture. …

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