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UK and India ink Indo-Pacific defense agreement

April 22, 2022

Britain and India have signed a new defense cooperation agreement. The two countries are also seeking to complete a free trade deal by the end of the year.

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, right, shakes hands with his British counterpart Boris Johnson
Johnson and Modi are expected to push for a trade deal ahead of general elections for bothImage: Ben Stansall/AP/picture alliance

After British Prime Minister Boris Johnson met with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi in New Delhi on Friday, the UK and India signed a deal that would see closer security ties and easier procurement of weapons.

Johnson's visit comes as the West seeks to persuade India to distance itself from Russia, and Britain seeks a post-Brexit trade deal with its former colony.

What did the leaders say?

Speaking in New Delhi, Johnson described a "new and expanded" defense and security partnership with India. 

Exact details of the security partnership were not immediately available. However, Johnson said it would involve procurement "to meet threats across land, sea and air, space and cyber."

Johnson, alongside Modi, said that threats from autocratic states were on the rise.

"It's therefore vital that we deepen our cooperation including our shared interest in keeping the Indo-Pacific open and free."

He called the new partnership "a decades-long commitment," and said Britain would help India build its own fighter jets.

Johnson said Britain would issue an Open General Export License to India — a move that would reduce bureaucracy and shorten delivery times for defense procurement.

Why is India reluctant to criticize Russia?

Modi said it was "historic" that Johnson should visit India in the 75th anniversary year of that country's independence from Britain.

"We discussed several regional and international developments and stressed a free, open, inclusive and rule-based order in the Indo-Pacific," Modi added.

India — along with the United States, Japan, and Australia — is part of the Quad grouping, which is seen as a bulwark against an increasingly assertive China in the region.

The Indian prime minister told reporters that both sides had discussed the situation in Ukraine, underlining the importance of diplomacy and dialogue to settle issues.

Johnson and Modi are also expected to push for a trade deal ahead of likely general elections in both countries in 2024.

The leaders said on Friday that they hoped to complete the deal by the end of this year.

Efforts to sway India away from Russia

The visit follows an attempt last month by the United States to move India away from Russia, upon which it relies for imports of energy, agricultural goods, and military hardware.

President Joe Biden called India "somewhat shaky" in its response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

New Delhi has refused openly to condemn the Kremlin, including abstaining from a United Nations vote on the issue, and it has not imposed sanctions on Moscow.

That stance sparked a recent flurry of Western diplomatic activity, along with visits to India from the foreign ministers of Russia and China.

However, Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla told reporters after the meeting that Johnson did not put any "pressure" on Modi regarding India's position on the war. 

"Prime Minister Johnson shared his perspective on it, Prime Minister Modi shared ours, which is that the Russia-Ukraine war should end immediately. There was no pressure of any kind," he said. 

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Distraction from Johnson's domestic woes

The trip to India began as British lawmakers on Thursday ordered a parliamentary investigation into Johnson for allegedly lying about whether he broke coronavirus restrictions.

The vote means Parliament's Committee of Privileges will investigate whether Johnson knowingly misled Parliament, historically a resigning offense if proven.

The investigation heaps pressure on the UK prime minister, who was fined 50 pounds (€60, $66) by police last week for attending his own birthday party in his office in June 2020.

rc/wmr (AFP, AP, Reuters)