Scholz flies to India: on velvet paws to New Delhi

Scholz flies to India: on velvet paws to New Delhi

Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz travels to India. In the region, the country is a key partner for Germany – despite close ties to Russia.

Olaf Scholz in front of a blue wall

For Olaf Scholz it is the first trip to India since taking office Photo: Kay Nietfeld/dpa

NEW DELHI/BERLIN taz | When Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) visits the memorial of the freedom fighter Mahatma Gandhi in the Indian capital Delhi on Saturday, the air is likely to be less clouded than when his predecessor visited more than three years ago. When Angela Merkel traveled to bilateral government consultations in 2019, thick smog awaited her. But since the change of government and especially since that Russian attack on Ukraine there was a “remarkable deepening” in the relationship between the two countries, according to German government circles.

No longer the economic power of China, but the largest democracy in the world is now the focus of German efforts. “India is our key partner,” said the chancellor’s office, and relations with the country of 1.4 billion people are of “outstanding strategic importance.” There is hardly any other head of government that the Chancellor has met as often in recent months as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Almost a year ago, Modi traveled to Berlin for government consultations, in the summer Scholz invited him to the G7 summit in Elmau, and the two met in Bali for talks on the sidelines of the G20 summit. This year, India itself chairs the Group of Leading Developed and Emerging Markets. And Scholz pays his respects in New Delhi.

On his first trip to India since taking office, he will meet Prime Minister Modi and President Droupadi Murmu. Both belong to the Hindu nationalist People’s Party BJP, which has governed India for more than eight years.

The German goal: to indirectly weaken Putin

A round table with business representatives is also planned. CEOs of companies including Siemens and SAP are traveling to India with Scholz. It is about new partnerships, including in the field of renewable energies and for the production of hydrogen, but also about access to raw materials and free trade.

The Germans wooed the Asian subcontinent primarily for geostrategic and economic reasons. India did not condemn the Russian war of aggression in the UN General Assembly, but abstained from voting. Nevertheless, in talks behind the scenes, there is very much agreement as to who is the aggressor and who is the victim in this war, according to the Chancellery.

And: Without India, it would hardly have been possible to get a majority of states behind a declaration at the G20 summit in Bali in the autumn condemning Russia’s war of aggression. India has played a very constructive role here.

In Berlin it is hoped that India will continue to use its weight to isolate Moscow internationally and thus persuade negotiations. India is an important voice in efforts to end the Ukraine war, as Chancellor Jens Plötner’s security advisor recently put it in New Delhi. Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock spoke at her Visit late last year of a partnership of values ​​and made it clear: Germany wants to work more closely with India and thus weaken Putin.

The federal government looks the other way

Nonetheless, India continues to maintain close ties with Moscow. Russia has been India’s largest arms supplier for many years. Russian-made weapons are used by India in its conflicts – with its biggest rival China on the one hand and arch-enemy Pakistan on the other. Most recently, a joint Indian-Russian production of Kalashnikovs started in northern India. In addition, the discounted oil imports from Russia increased, the refined oil also reaches the EU.

That’s basically none of Germany’s business, said the German ambassador in New Delhi, Philipp Ackermann, in a forgiving manner. The chancellor’s office has a similar view: the sanctions were imposed by the EU, and one cannot expect India to do the same. The conflict in divided Kashmir, where India, Pakistan and China are fighting for supremacy, also seems to have been forgotten. The same applies to the wobbly freedom of the press in India. Most recently, the government was due to a Modi-critical broadcast cracked down on Britain’s BBC in the country.

From circles in the German government it is now said that it is inappropriate to give marks on the scale of democracy – India is a large and vibrant democracy. It’s very clear that the German government has exercised extreme restraint in its dealings with India, along the lines of: Don’t put pressure on yourself that could drive India back into Russia’s arms.

Greatest restraint

Economically, Germany wants to overtake Russia in India in the medium term. In any case, Berlin sees “huge potential for cooperation” with the world’s fifth-largest economy. Trade between Germany and India currently amounts to 30 billion euros. According to the German ambassador in Delhi, economic cooperation can continue to grow.

German companies hope for broader access to the Indian procurement markets, India for more knowledge transfer and German investments. And that goes beyond the existing energy partnership and cooperation in the field of renewable energies.

The aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic is weighing on South Asian countries, many of which have just received fresh loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). But India’s economy is slowly growing again after the pandemic. But the country has set itself higher goals.

Talks are currently underway again with the EU about a free trade agreement. The Chancellor will promote progress, but the negotiations are not easy. India is perceived as a “confident” negotiating partner.

Scholz and Modi will also discuss the subject of skilled workers in Delhi. At the end of 2022, Berlin and Delhi signed a migration and mobility partnership, Germany promised visas for students and professionals. But things aren’t going well yet. Indian students had to postpone their planned start of studies in Germany. Visa facilitation for Indian students and professionals will also be an issue. It is now important to fill the agreement with life, which could also be a blueprint for agreements with other countries, according to German government circles.

The chancellor’s route crosses that of his finance minister. Christian Lindner has been finance minister at the G20 meeting in the south Indian tech metropolis of Bangalore since Thursday, and the chancellor will also get an impression of it on Saturday. Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock will travel to India for the G20 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting at the beginning of March.

And Scholz has already booked the next flight to Delhi. He is expected at the G20 meeting in autumn. There is no doubt that the efforts to get India are great, the expectations are huge and the tone is softer and flattering than ever.

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