India had an intense start of the year in its foreign policy area with several multilateral engagements lined up simultaneously.
Amongst several key engagements, was the third edition of the Raisina Dialogue – India’s leading forum on geopolitics and geo-economics – held in New Delhi from January 16-18.
The fact that this key conference had failed to create a buzz or gain enough attention in this part of the world, for the third consecutive edition, only suggests the array of challenges that India faces.
Nevertheless, the primary aim of this piece is not to seek to bridge that asymmetry, rather put the spotlight on the Raisina Dialogue 2018, and delineate the key points of interests for New Zealand and the broader South Pacific region.
States seek to achieve multiple goals in international politics by hosting international conferences. However, one prominent aim is to demonstrate regional or global leadership on key matters of international politics and establish itself as a thought-leader.
Often this envious position gives the host-state a slender advantage of setting the overall agenda, whereby their own world-views get precedence or at least, other states get an opportunity to comprehend them.
In past three years, the Raisina Dialogue has quietly emerged as India’s flagship conference on geopolitics and geo-economics.
The conference, designed on the lines of the prestigious Shangrila Dialogue of Singapore, indubitably aims to offer New Delhi's worldview.
Otherwise, what else explains the rationale of hosting a conference on geopolitics and geo-economics, when there is no dearth of such preeminent platforms in Asia?
The fact that the conference finds its name from the Raisina hills - an elevation in New Delhi that is home to the Government of India, as well as the Presidential Palace of India, Rashtrapati Bhavan – further signals the intent of the current Government of India towards this conference.
This year the theme of the conference was “Managing Disruptive Transitions: Ideas, Institutions and Idioms," which brought together about 500 delegates from 86 countries around the world.
It was also the first edition of the conference to have featured a foreign head of the government.
Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel – a country with which India has rapidly forged strong strategic ties in the previous two decades – jointly addressed the dialogue on the inaugural night on January 16, along with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Some experts have noted that about 50 pressing topics were discussed across various sessions of the conference, however from New Zealand's perspective; there were three main points of interest.
First, the conference had an emphasis on the rise of Asia, the needs and expectations of the region, and the concerns emerging from this rise and areas of future leadership – an area of interest for New Zealand.
New Zealand has huge stakes in Asia and cannot afford to sit on the fence when the region is rising as never before in the modern period of international politics. The challenges and opportunities offered by Asia are critical for New Zealand's own long-term growth and stability.
Keeping a tab on platforms such as the Raisina Dialogue would be of immense value for New Zealand.
Second, the conference had a quiet congregation of the Naval chiefs of the four Quad-nations – a signal that the idea of Quad is here to stay and is not going anywhere anytime soon.
The Quad initiative or Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, among the United States, Japan, Australia and India is largely seen as a potential balancing forum against a rising China, which could emerge as formal security architecture in future.
New Zealand is rightly facing a dilemma of how to respond to the Quad initiative in the most suitable manner.
Engaging in dialogue with Quad partners at some stage is inevitable, regardless of the liking or disliking of New Zealand foreign policy planners, and sooner will be better.
The third and probably the most important observation of the dialogue and complementing the previous two points is India's efforts to assert its position as a hub in the new Indo-Pacific context. New Zealand policymakers have still to turn their head completely around this emerging Indo-Pacific concept.
Certainly, for a country which has for a long time seen itself as "European," before settling in from the late 1980s onward to see itself as belonging to the "Asia-Pacific," region, an expectation of belonging to the "Indo-Pacific region" is too much within a short time.
However, this is the morbid reality of our fast-changing world, which is puzzling policy planners around the world entrusted with the task of keeping their respective nation's safe and secure.
Toward this goal, the Riasina Dialogue strives to play an important role and seeks to bring views from different stakeholders around the world, particularly India – a country seeking to play a larger and substantive role in global affairs, owing to its economic, military, political and cultural rise in international affairs.
New Zealand would do well to not be oblivious to the developments in the region.