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India could be Spain’s pivot in Asia

India could be Spain’s pivot in Asia

Spain’s President of the Government Pedro Sánchez recently outlined his foreign policy objectives for the year 2024. While addressing the Eighth Conference of Ambassadors in Madrid on January 10, Sánchez spoke about focusing on engagements with major powers in the world such as India, Japan, South Korea and Australia. Sánchez also mentioned his intention to visit these countries during this term of his government.

Sánchez’s announcement of the priority areas indicates that Spain is looking to diversify its foreign policy and make an effort to come out of the arc that it has been following for decades. In Sánchez’s quest for widening the ambit of external engagements, India could play a pivotal role that would facilitate Spain to engage with the regions with which hitherto it had minimal interactions.

India and Spain remain the some of the least focused countries in each other’s foreign policies. The two countries established diplomatic ties in 1956 but the bilateral engagements for a major part of the past almost 70 years have remained limited. Overall view of the past seven decades suggest that divergent foreign policy priorities have been the dominant factor in India and Spain engaging less with each other.

Apart from the broader foreign policy inclinations, the political instability in Spain in recent years has also played its role in the bilateral ties not taking-off. The political instability of the past almost one decade in Spain has further delayed the strengthening of engagements between India and Spain.

Simultaneously, in this past one decade, the Indian foreign policy has witnessed diversification as India has taken strides to consolidate its ties with several entities. Prominent among these are the Gulf States and Australia. In Europe, India is continuing to build upon the close relations it enjoys with France. While Spain may have missed out on this past decade, it is imperative for Sánchez to implement the plan that he charted out for 2024.

Sánchez’s focus is evident from the areas that he has highlighted for boosting engagements with Asia. These areas are climate change, global security and digital transformation. It is pertinent that these areas form an integral part of India’s foreign engagements.

Climate change could be the area that could give a boost to the India-Spain relations. India has emerged as one of the principal countries in the world working towards addressing the threat posed by climate change. Spain, for its part, is one of the leading countries in the world in the field of renewable energy. In case of security, Spain’s expertise in defence manufacturing is attracting India’s attention.

The two countries are already cooperating in the areas of military transport aircraft, submarine building and radar technology for Indian naval ships. India and Spain could expand their cooperation through joint military exercises.

The third area that Sánchez mentioned, digital infrastructure, also offers opportunity to India and Spain to enhance their engagements. India’s digital public infrastructure, particularly digital payment system, is gaining popularity in various countries. For its part, Spain is one of the leading digital hubs in Europe. Information technology as also cyber security provides scope for India and Spain to diversify their relations.

While taking forward their ties it is imperative for India and Spain to work around the China factor. India and Spain differ in their outlook on China. India’s approach towards China is conditioned by virtue of the bilateral border disputes as well as China’s belligerence in India’s neighbourhood and extended neighbourhood. For its part Spain considers India and China as two major powers in the world in economic and strategic terms and is currently taking steps to increase engagements with both.

Another important aspect is whether the geostrategic construct of the Indo-Pacific Region would form part of the interactions between India and Spain. The Indo-Pacific Region has played a major role in India’s accelerated strategic cooperation with a number of countries that include the United States, Australia, Japan, the Southeast Asian countries and also the European countries. In case of Europe France, Germany, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and the European Union have formulated their own strategies for engaging with the Indo-Pacific Region. It implies integration of the Indo-Pacific as a reimagined expanse of the Asia-Pacific in the discourse as well as in the strategy formulation.

As regards, to Spain it still adheres to the concept of Asia-Pacific instead of Indo-Pacific as is evident from its official vision documents. It implies that Spain seeks equal engagements across Asia instead of partisan cooperation. The concept of Indo-Pacific, primarily developed to acknowledge India’s status in the Indian Ocean component, also has a strong undertone of being a counter to China. It is pertinent that China recognizes Asia-Pacific and not Indo-Pacific. While India’s cooperation with the United States, Australia and Japan and also with France, the EU and the United Kingdom is aimed at countering China’s influence, India would need to adopt a different approach with Spain. India would need to identify that cooperation with Spain need not automatically translate into countering China.

Two factors could be considered as responsible for absence of the concept of Indo-Pacific in Spain’s strategy. First, Spain’s minimal outreach in the region. Second, although Spain has limited presence in Asia, China has a strong footprint in Europe and is among Spain’s top trading partners. While trying to increase its presence in Asia, Spain would be mindful of not upsetting China. With their bilateral ties still in an emerging stage, India and Spain would need to work around these subtle geopolitical lines.  

Pedro Sánchez has laid out his foreign policy plan for 2024 which is ambitious and promising. It is important that he puts this plan in action. Doing so will allow Spain to diversify and strengthen its external engagements in Asia with India as a pivot. For India greater interactions with Spain at highest level would allow more even and stronger relations with Europe.

Niranjan Marjani

Niranjan Marjani is an Independent Political Analyst and Researcher.

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