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Asia

Is India already at the global high table?

After US President Barack Obama’s high profile visit, India is preparing to receive other top leaders including French president Nicholas Sarkozy, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Chinese premier Wen Jiabao.

Taj Mahal is one of the most iconic images of India

The Taj Mahal is one of the most iconic images of India

It was UK's newly elected Prime Minister David Cameron who set the ball rolling in July with a visit that put a number of strategic eggs in the Indian basket.

And it was followed up by US President Barack Obama’s recent visit that saw economic cooperation taken to another level where deals worth $15 billion were signed including the purchase of 10 heavy transport aircraft — the biggest ever defence agreement between the two countries, valued at $ 4.1 billion.

India to buy weapons from US, France and Russia

French President Nicholas Sarkozy who is expected early December will ink a $ 2.1 deal for upgrading Mirage fighter planes. The stress will also be on nuclear assistance and both sides are expected to sign the first commercial contract for nuclear reactors in India by Areva, the first beneficiary of the Indo-US nuclear deal .

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on a visit to France

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on a visit to France

Similarly, Russia would focus on defence contracts and India is expected to shell out over $6 billion for fifth generation fighter aircraft, with India keen on purchasing 250 of these fighters.

Lieutenant-General Shankar Prasad, a former director general infantry says India needs to upgrade both its military hardware and software.

“We have a huge requirement something like 125-126 fighter aircraft, we have requirement of tanks, of artillery guns, we have requirement for night-vision equipment.. you name it and the list is huge and we have the money. We have to see what best in weapons system we can get from America, or from France or Russia because defence equipment is very high technology and it is rapidly changing,” says Shankar Prasad.

The long-term appeal is the Indian market, which is a trillion-dollar economy. The high growth rate of an estimated 8.5% and a prediction that India will be one of the largest economies in the world in another 20 years.

India to improve trade ties with China


General Prasad argues that India needs to push its case if it wants to be sit at the global high table: “Today our negotiators have got a reasonable position to deal with world powers, to see that out national interests are kept as much in the forefront as that of the P5 nations individually or collectively. So we need to go further ahead from here. We don’t want to abuse this position. We certainly need to use it to our advantage.”

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao with his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh on the sidelines of ASEAN meetings in Hanoi

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao with his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh on the sidelines of ASEAN meeting in Hanoi

India will play host to Chinese premier Wen Jiabao in mid-December. Amid continuing undercurrents of tension especially on the border issue, India will look towards improving its trade ties as well as improve the balance of trade considering China is now India's largest trading partner.

Pushpesh Pant, who teaches international diplomacy at the Jawaharlal Nehru University says priorities in India’s foreign policy are changing.

“Obama’s visit has articulated priorities in India’s foreign policy which are shifting and changing," says Pushpesh Pant. "The visit is not going to be replicated easily by the other visits because I don’t expect Sarkozy to shake a leg, Wen Jiabao is totally different, Medvedev might be a little more informal but the language barrier would not allow him to reach out to people over heads of government. What is likely to be suggested is that the other profile visits more or less express that India is not a sidekick of America as yet and we retain our independence and we have other options.”

All of the heads of state represent countries in the United Nations Security Council. In his visit Obama strongly endorsed India's aspiration to become a permanent member of this supreme international body.

Author: Murali Krishnan

Editor: Grahame Lucas

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