At a time when the world community’s focus is on Ukraine, European nations need to remain engaged with India to tackle critical challenges in the Indo-Pacific, ranging from climate change to border disputes, Dutch ambassador Marten van den Berg has said, Trend reports citing Hindustan Times.
The world’s concentration on the conflict in Ukraine is understandable, given the humanitarian tragedy and the unexpected full-scale war, but this doesn’t mean the problems and challenges in the Indo-Pacific will go away, he said in an interview.
The Indo-Pacific, in terms of population and economic growth, is the most important region in the world, but there are numerous challenges, such as tensions with China and securing an open sea, Van den Berg said. “I think we have security challenges in the Indo-Pacific, whether it’s the conflict between India and China at the border, but also in the South China Sea and the East China Sea,” he added.
Worries about challenges in the Indo-Pacific have increased after the Ukraine crisis because the underlying principles are global concerns, he said. “How do we secure a safe environment, and if there are tensions, how do we have dialogue and diplomacy and a dispute settlement mechanism to deal with it, to address it and not go into war or conflict,” he said.
“We never expected a full-scale war on the European continent. We are extremely concerned about what is happening [in terms of] the humanitarian tragedy and losses, which are horrible,” Van den Berg said, adding the European Union (EU) and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) were unified in their response.
At the same time, the Netherlands will continue working with India on issues such as regulatory frameworks and dispute settlement mechanisms for the Indo-Pacific. “That’s why we are quite active in the region. For us, India is a global player and an extremely relevant partner in the region as well,” he said. “India is a country which has very similar thoughts, philosophies and ways of governing, because India is very much for multilateral systems, for rule of law, democracy and a plural society.”
The Netherlands was among the first European countries to frame an Indo-Pacific strategy in 2020. A Dutch frigate was part of the UK’s carrier strike group, led by the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, that sailed through the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea last year. The strike group conducted joint exercises with the Indian Navy while in the Indian Ocean.
“We really want to be present here in many ways and work on solutions on the ground,” Van den Berg said, outlining the Netherlands’ plans to work closely in areas such as defence and cyber-security. “We are concerned [about] territorial integrity and sovereignty, because these values, in our view and India’s view, are extremely important and relevant today,” he added.
Van den Berg said he was convinced the differences between Europe and India on Russia’s role in the Ukraine crisis won’t come in the way of growing cooperation. “If you look to the EU as a whole, we have differences sometimes. That’s not such an issue. It’s more about how you address these differences...There is a basic trend that India wants to engage more with the EU and the EU wants to engage more with India,” he said.
India has faced pressure from some European nations to change its position in the Ukraine conflict. New Delhi hasn’t publicly criticised Moscow’s role in the crisis and the country has abstained from all Russia-related votes and resolutions at UN bodies. The Indian leadership has repeatedly called for an end to hostilities and a return to dialogue.
Van den Berg said the Netherlands is also working with India on a long-term agenda focused on health, agriculture, water management and energy and climate change. Referring to the Netherlands’ large network of dykes and dams and riverine transport network, he said the two countries face similar challenges of floods, drought and increasingly irregular rainfall. The Netherlands is already working with states such as Kerala and Tamil Nadu on water management, including restoring water bodies.
There is also collaboration on decarbonisation in sectors such as cement and steel, and reducing food losses in the agriculture sector by developing storage capacities and supply chains. “We will introduce Dutch innovations, technology and experts and teach farmers how to change their way of production. For example, using fewer fertilisers, less water, sometimes even with new seeds,” he said.
The Netherlands has also taken the lead in pushing for a free trade agreement between the EU and India, and Van den Berg said there is now a “very strong commitment” for a comprehensive trade deal.