On Monday, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj landed in New York to represent India at the annual United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).
— ANI (@ANI) September 18, 2017
Swaraj, who will address the UNGA on 23 September, has a packed schedule. She is expected to hold around 20 bilateral and trilateral meetings with world leaders.
On Monday, Swaraj will have a trilateral meet with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Japanese foreign minister Taro Kono to discuss increased cooperation between the three countries. Swaraj will also be part of a high-level meet on UN reforms chaired by US president Donald Trump.
As the external affairs minister readies for a jam-packed week, we attempt to hypothesise what should be the larger talking points which Swaraj should discuss with the world leaders she is slated to meet on the sidelines of the General Assembly.
The Rogue Nation
North Korea is perhaps the most pressing issue.
According to this article in Firstpost, India's North Korea policy has undergone a marked shift recently, even to its own detriment. India has banned all trade with North Korea — except for food and medicine — even though it is one of the few countries with which India has a trade surplus.
India has also put an end to military, technical, scientific or economic exchanges. The Modi-Abe joint statement issued at the 13th India-Japan Summit also contained stronger language towards North Korea than last year, according to the report.
Swaraj will likely further commit New Delhi to Washington's cause of isolating the Kim Jong-un regime in the hopes that President Donald Trump will, in exchange for our help, crack down on Islamabad.
The Rohingya refugee crisis
With India constantly trying to guard its borders against huge influx of Rohingya refugees who are trickling in through the porous borders, Swaraj has a tough job at hand if the issue comes up in the General Assembly address. Swaraj will have to tread carefully.
On Thursday, she called Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina to extend India's full support over the Rohingya issue. Swaraj also said that the Rohingya problem is not limited to Bangladesh alone, but has turned into a global matter, reported The Daily Star, a leading Bangladesh-based newspaper.
Swaraj has stated that India is putting pressure on Myanmar to take the refugees back, according to a report in NDTV. The Narendra Modi government has, steadfastly called Rohingya Muslims 'illegal', 'a threat to national security' and vowed to deport them. In fact, on Monday, Union Home Ministry on Monday filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court on Rohingya Muslims' deportation to Myanmar, calling them a "security threat to India"
However, the Centre is also seeking to curry favour with the Buddhist-majority nation of Myanmar to counterbalance China. According to this Firstpost report, India is developing a road which runs through Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar (BCIM), a 2,800 km-long corridor that starts from Kolkata and passes through Bangladesh and Myanmar before ending at Kunming in China.
Modi went to Nay Pyi Taw in November 2014, calling on former Myanmar president U Thein Sein, meeting Kyi and interacted with 300 members of the Indian community and Swaraj visited Nay Pyi Taw in 2014, according to a report in The Indian Express.
Expect Swaraj to strike a delicate balance during her remarks: To call for the world to act on the Rohingya crisis, even as she puts gentle pressure on Myanmar to take back the refugees.
Security Diamond and dialogue with the Dragon
Swaraj, who will meet Tillerson and Kono on Monday, will likely push for increased cooperation between the India-US-Japan-Australia 'Security Diamond', also known as the 'Quad'.
According to this Firstpost article, China's agreement to 'expeditiously disengage' at Doka La was based, in no small part, because it did not find support from any country. However, China's actions have also tested the strategic relationship between India and China.
While Japan openly sided with India, the US limited itself to stating that both sides needed to resolve the issue through dialogue. Walter Lohman, director of Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Centre, said that Washington's failure to condemn China over its Doka La actions will only strengthen her resolve to continue her aggression along the Himalayas.
India's stand-off at Doka La with China will likely be the impetus for this likely renewed focus on the Security Diamond.
China, which will be represented at the UNGA only at a foreign minister's level, NDTV reported. However, Swaraj is expected to keep New Delhi's line of communication open with Beijing as she attends several meetings of regional and specialised groups like the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), the Non-aligned Movement, G4 (India, Brazil, Germany and Japan) and BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) NDTV reported.
Put Pakistan on notice
India has already indicated the tone it will take regarding Pakistan at the UNGA.
On Saturday, top Indian diplomat Syed Akbaruddin told reporters that Islamabad's decision to raise the Kashmir issue at the UN, which has not been discussed at the world body for decades, is narrow-minded and that India, on the other hand, is focused on progressive, forward-looking agenda.
Akbaruddin also ruled out a bilateral meeting between Swaraj and her Pakistani counterpart. However, the two leaders are likely to see each other during several multilateral meetings including that of SAARC and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).
Expect Swaraj to follow up on Akbaruddin's comments and lay out India's agenda for the future, even as she takes potshots at Pakistan during her UNGA speech.
Swaraj has never been one to mince words regarding our neighbour, particularly at the United Nations.
In 2016, Swaraj slammed Pakistan in a powerful speech, calling it a "terrorist haven" and stating that India, despite extending a hand of friendship, only received terrorism in the form of Pathankot, Uri and Bahadur Ali in return.
"Jammu and Kashmir is a part of India and will always remain a part of India," she also stated unequivocally.
Responding to Nawaz Sharif's 2016 speech at the UNGA, she said, "People living in glass houses should not throw stone at others" and stated that brutalities against Balochis represented the worst form of oppression.
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Updated Date: Sep 18, 2017 13:41:46 IST