Will India Gain From Germany’s ‘Move’ Towards Indo-Pacific Region?

Germany has more than the ‘China’ reason to engage with the larger Indo-Pacific region, writes Sunanda Rao Erdem. 

Updated
Opinion
6 min read
Image of Indian and German flags used for representational purposes
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The inclusion of the word ‘Indo’ has finally found its way into the German nomenclature and is a major shift from the traditional German perception of China being the most dominant force in the region. The policy guidelines recently introduced by the German Foreign ministry, comes at a time when Germany has assumed the presidency of the European Union and aims to diversify its engagement with countries along the Pacific and Indian oceans.

Last week, the German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas issued a 40-page policy guideline document for the Indo-Pacific region called ‘Germany-Europe-Asia: Shaping the 21st Century Together’.

The document is the first of its kind to club the Indian and Pacific Ocean region, and is being hailed as a substantial move in Germany’s outlook towards Asia.

While the US, France, and Japan have long been using the term ‘Indo-Pacific’ as a geographical and strategic construct in foreign and security policy discourse, the European economic powerhouse has finally included India in its policy framework – a welcome and wise move.

Germany’s Growing Interest To Broaden Strategic Participation & What It Means For India

At a time when the big economies of the world are coping with plummeting GDPs, this document brings good news for India. With a GDP of USD 3.9 trillion, Germany stands tall as the world’s fourth largest economy, and the scope of its growth has a better prognosis than most developed countries. To sustain this growth, Germany also requires diversifying its interests, specifically in Asia.

Germany’s new Indo-Pacific strategy seeks to broaden its participation in “Asia’s growth dynamics and in being involved in shaping the Indo-Pacific region, as well as in upholding global norms in regional structures” – while being a proponent of a “rules-based international order”.

For India, this document is a clear indication of Germany’s growing interest to broaden its strategic participation through multilateral alliances and regional co-operations.

With France and the UK strengthening economic, strategic, and historical connections with India, Germany now completes the third and the most valuable addition to the triangle of European engagement with India. The presence of German companies such as Siemens, ThyssenKrupp, Bosch, etc, for more than a century, has significantly contributed to major technological advancements at the grassroots-level. However, surprisingly, while France enjoys a sturdy reputation of being India’s ‘friend in need’, it is actually Germany that wins hands down when it comes to trade and economic investments – official figures speak for themselves.

In 2019, the India-France bilateral trade stood at 11.59 bn Euros, while the Indo-German trade – alone between January and November 2019 – stood at 19.35 bn Euros.

Barring the COVID-19 situation, the graph has shown a steady upward trend of German foreign direct investments since the turn of the century, and stands at USD 12 bn today.
Snapshot
  • With France and the UK strengthening economic, strategic, and historical connections with India, Germany now completes the third and the most valuable addition to the triangle of European engagement with India.
  • While France enjoys a sturdy reputation of being India’s ‘friend in need’, it is actually Germany that wins hands down when it comes to trade and economic investments – official figures speak for themselves.
  • Seeing the developments in China as well as US’s growing pressure to move away from it, Germany, now needs to secure its business interests by diversifying in this region.
  • Despite India and Germany being strong trading partners, there is very little awareness about modern India and its complexities in the common German mindset.
  • Surely Germany is a proponent for India’s permanent seat in the UN Security Council, but it has been more cautious while rooting for strategic partnerships in letter and spirit.
  • Both nations need to get closer to understanding the other’s psyche.

A Big Step Towards Indian Partnership For Pursuing Germany’s Strategic Interests The Region

Germany’s foreign policy until now was clearly guided by its economic and trade interests. The mention of Asia was largely equated with China, and India hardly occupied a space among the popular German mind set. While countries like France and the UK had long built a deeper understanding of the complexities of the Asian region, somehow, Germany was yet to grasp the importance of India’s strategic role in the continent and the new world order. Therefore, the policy guideline is a big step to include India as a strong partner for pursuing Germany’s strategic interests in the region. The document clearly identifies India as “another Indo-Pacific power which could become the fourth largest economy in a few years from now”.

The timing of this document is also interesting keeping in mind a shift in the geo-political equations across continents.

Seeing the developments in China as well as US’s growing pressure to move away from it, Germany, now needs to secure its business interests by diversifying in this region. Long standing relationships with China cannot be ignored. Till June 2020 alone, German exports to China have surpassed 8.3 billion Euros. It is however no longer ‘convenient’ for Germany to put all its eggs in the Chinese basket.

China has ‘ease of doing business’, but comes with a poor record in the context of human rights violations as observed in Hong Kong, Taiwan and its increasing hegemony in the South-China sea.

With 90 percent trade being conducted via the sea route, out of which 25 percent trade passes through the Strait of Malacca, it is more of a necessity for Germany to develop its relations with countries along the Indian Ocean such as Australia, Japan, and now also with India.

Indo-German Ties: Little Awareness About Modern India In Germany

Germany has more than the ‘China’ reason to engage with the larger Indo-Pacific region; its relations with Russia have been strained for a long time now, with the latest being the controversy over the expansion of the Nord Stream gas pipeline. Additionally, with developments such as the finalisation of Brexit, its strained relationship with Turkey as well as an ever-increasing spat with the US, it has become imperative for Germany to make its presence felt in countries that have similar values of democracy and social welfare.

Since the historic conditions governing Germany’s foreign policy does not allow it to move away from the NATO construct, this document reflects the necessity for Germany to emerge as a strong advocate for peace and stability in the Asian continent, along with increasing its presence in regional co-operations such as ASEAN, ASEM, BIMSTEC, INROA, etc.

Moreover, Germany needs to form multilateral co-operations of its own with a strong maritime presence with China, Japan, Australia and India.

Where do Indo-German relations go from here? Despite India and Germany being strong trading partners, there is very little awareness about modern India and its complexities in the common German mindset; at least not enough for the ‘Volk’ to give the emphasis it deserves.

Apart from the few Merkel-Modi handshakes, there is not much political or bureaucratic activity to boast of.

How To Strengthen Indo-German Ties?

For decades, Indian prime ministers have stopped over Frankfurt during trans-Atlantic journeys, but little attention has been given to receiving the topmost leader of the world’s largest democracy. While it would be false to underestimate the contribution of Germany in areas of development aid in the 1900s and its skill development initiatives thereafter, India needs more acknowledgement at a diplomatic, political, and strategic level.

Surely Germany is a proponent for India’s permanent seat in the UN Security Council, but it has been more cautious while rooting for strategic partnerships in letter and spirit.

Both nations need to get closer to understanding the other’s psyche. First and foremost, both need to understand that the concept of security is defined differently for the two.

For Germany, security is an all-encompassing concept which includes climate, energy, food, and trade. For India, the priority remains securing its borders and maintaining peace and stability in the region – a reality which Germans have long overcome since the Second World War. This means strategic cooperation in body and spirit – a glimpse of this was seen in the 1980s when Germany provided the four HDW Type 1500 submarines to India and the know-how for building them.

India needs technology at every level, but more importantly, it needs strong partners, above and beyond its geographic proximity. On its part, India should reciprocate its goodwill by instilling the confidence of being an upholder of democratic values, regional stability, and human rights.

(Sunanda Rao Erdem is the Founder & CEO, Seraphim Communications LLP. She is also a professional opera singer, and Board Member, The Neemrana Music Foundation. She tweets at @sunandaraoerdem. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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