COVID-19 pandemic is a global challenge that affects every country in the world and the global community as a whole. As a result, apart from its effects in terms of healthcare, coronavirus impacts international relations by presenting new difficulties and providing opportunities. For India, the pandemic is a reason to introduce more lenient foreign trade policies but also an opportunity to exercise soft power abroad and reinforce its role in the region.
One way in which the pandemic has affected Indian foreign policy is an economic one. As one might expect, restrictions and lockdowns introduced to counter the spread of the pandemic had a profoundly negative economic impact. Moreover, the ever-increasing pressure on healthcare undermines economic efficiency even further and increases the demand for medical supplies precisely when uncertainty rises in foreign trade. Under these circumstances, maintaining foreign economic cooperation and keeping global supply chains operational becomes a priority for India’s foreign policy. Measures that can be used to achieve this purpose include avoiding foreign trade restrictions, such as increasing customs duties and erecting other trade barriers, especially for essential goods (Bai, 2020). Apart from that, the pandemic discourages governments from exacerbating existing conflicts in foreign trade (Bai, 2020). With these factors in mind, COVID-19 serves as a stimulus to introduce and maintain more lenient foreign trade policies.
Apart from the economic considerations, the pandemic provides favorable opportunities for the exercise of soft power in bilateral relations. A suitable case in point is Indian relations with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) during this period. UAE is one of India’s closest partners in the Persian Gulf, with the two countries cooperating in trade and commerce as well as security and defense (Acharya, 2020). COVID-19 pandemic presented the Indian government with an opportunity to capitalize on this relationship and improve it further by dispatching medical teams to help the fight against coronavirus in the Gulf and, in particular, the UAE (Acharya, 2020). Such actions signify the importance of relations with the UAE to the Indian government and serve as an exercise of soft power, improving India’s overall standing in the Persian Gulf and, particularly, UAE.
Foreign policy opportunities created by COVID-19 are not limited to bilateral relations with long-term partners – on the contrary, they allow improving India’s positions on the regional level. In times of crisis, it is particularly important to appear and be a positive and constructive force that aims for swift and efficient resolution of existing problems. India demonstrated initiative in this respect when and “took the initiative to convene a video conference of all South Asian leaders to craft a common regional response to the threat” (Menon, para. 3). By doing so, the country demonstrated its dedication to addressing emerging issues on a regional scale based on multilateral cooperation. In this respect, COVID-19 prompted India’s foreign policy to assume a decisive stance and demonstrate the country’s preparedness to become a regional leader guiding the creation of a common response to a crisis.
As one can see, COVID-19 offered bot challenges and opportunities for Indian foreign policy. On the one hand, the economic impact of the pandemic necessitated more lenient policies n foreign trade designed to keep global supply chains going. On the other hand, the crisis offered additional opportunities for India to exercise its influence – both by exercising its soft power in bilateral relations and initiating a common regional response to the pandemic.
Acharya, A. (2020). COVID-19: A testing time for UAE–India relations? A perspective from Abu Dhabi. Strategic Analysis, 44(3), 259-268.
Das, T. (2020). Foreign trade of India – how much it is affected by Covid19? International Journal of Multidisciplinary Educational Research, 9(7), 68-94.
Menon, S. (2020). This pandemic can serve a useful purpose. Foreign Policy. Web.