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Foreign Affairs

Seeking to Revive The Commonwealth, UK hopes PM Modi Will Attend

New Delhi : As the UK prepares to host the Commonwealth Summit 2018 in April this year, it’s hopeful that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will participate in the multilateral meet which has not seen an Indian head of government attend it in nearly a decade. The last Indian PM to participate in the Commonwealth heads of Government (CHOGM) meet was Manmohan Singh in 2009 in Port of Spain, the capital of Trinidad and Tobago.

As the UK moves to revitalise the Commonwealth, it’s looking towards India to play a lead role in this grouping, it’s keen that there is representation at the prime ministerial level by India, the largest member state of this grouping. Indicative of the significance London attaches to India’s role in re-energising the Commonwealth-a grouping comprising 52 member states–Prince Charles was in New Delhi in November last year to extend an invite to PM Modi to participate in the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). 

This isn’t all. The chief executive officer of the 2018 Summit, Tim Hitchens has made no less than three visits to New Delhi in the last six months as part of the Theresa May-led UK government’s diplomatic outreach to India as far as the Commonwealth is concerned. Hitchens, a career diplomat heads the Commonwealth Summit Unit which reports directly to PM May.

During his most recent visit to the Capital last week, Hitchens conceded, “India is the biggest member of the Commonwealth and if it is not fully engaged with it, then the Commonwealth cannot fully work.” He also noted that there is increasing engagement by India in Commonwealth discussions in the last six months.”

For all his diplomatic outreach since becoming PM, Modi had chosen to skip the 2015 Commonwealth Summit held in Malta, sending external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj instead. This time around, all indications are that Modi will be participating in the Summit. 

Hitchens said that the upcoming Summit will be among the best attended with 50 heads of government expected to participate in the meet to be held in the week commencing on April 16. In its endeavour to recast itself to the needs of present times, the Summit will be looking at the role of the Commonwealth in the 21st century and the challenges before it, said Hitchens.

“How do you have respect for the rule of law?  How do you strengthen institutions? How do you deal with the challenges to a rules-based system?” said Hitchens about the issues before the Commonwealth. He further said that “the strength of the Commonwealth can reflect global shifts as it has members globally.” In addition, he said that the role of Asian countries who are members of the Commonwealth is becoming increasingly significant.

The Summit and thereafter the Leaders Retreat at Windsor Castle will see world leaders discuss matters like keeping trade and prosperity growing, said Hitchens. The intra-Commonwealth trade alone is pegged at 800 billion dollars, he noted. And though a free trade area within the Commonwealth poses practical obstacles, the Commonwealth is looking at facilitating free trade between member states, said Hitchens. 

Other issues on the Commonwealth agenda said Hitchens are: how the more vulnerable member states of the Commonwealth can be supported, how new security threats–cyber security for instance–being faced by countries can be tackled and how the challenges posed by climate change to small island states who are Commonwealth members can be dealt with. 

By TIS Staffer
the authorBy TIS Staffer

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