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Even as the coronavirus pandemic unleashes its devastation across the globe, the great and the good have been quick to remind us of the value of multilateralism and the necessity to preserve it.

India may be uniquely positioned to help resuscitate multilateralism.

India can start playing a role

United States facing multiple internal challenges including the prospects of a deeply divisive Presidential election.

China is facing a global crisis of credibility.

Hence, India could assume leadership in strengthening constructive transnational cooperation.

Deepened by the pandemic

  • The paralysis of all three functions of the World Trade Organization (WTO) — negotiation, dispute settlement, and transparency- afflicts multilateralism.
  • Countries with fundamentally different domestic systems of governance do not form a part of the multilateral order, as was the case with the Soviet bloc in the Cold War years.
  • The misuse of existing rules (or loopholes within the existing rules) by several countries, especially by China (e.g. via forced technology requirements, intellectual property rights violations, and subsidies), to gain an unfair advantage in trade relations was already attracting critique.

China’s Actions: Weaponsied Interdependence?

  • When the European Union (EU) put up export restrictions, China stepped in at Serbia’s request.
  • When India complained that test kits imported from China were faulty, China slammed it as “irresponsible”.
  • When Australia indicated that it would conduct an independent investigation of China’s early handling of the epidemic, China threatened it with economic consequences.
  • There are risks that several countries, including the EU and India, see – the predatory takeovers of their companies by China.
  • Hence, it seems that weaponised interdependence is not just a theory but a practice that is rapidly evolving.

Reforming multilateralism

  • There is the need for reassurance and policies that reflect a renewed commitment to the purpose of multilateralism.
  • There is an urgent need for some strategic decoupling, handled smartly in cooperation with other like-minded countries.
  • Along with cooperation, there is the need for a multilateralism that recognises the need for decoupling will necessitate closer cooperation with some and distancing from others.
  • Increasing economic integration and shared prosperity would help enhance these affinities and contribute to peace.

A role for India

  • The current crisis in multilateralism could be a remarkable opportunity for India, a country whose pluralism, democracy, and liberalism have often been underestimated by the West.
  • India has also maintained a consistent reserve about a blanket entrenchment in global value chains.
  • India could work closely with the Alliance for Multilateralism (an initiative launched by Germany and France) to shape both the alliance itself and the reform agenda at large.
  • Working together with a group of countries from the developed and developing countries could further amplify India’s voice.

-Source: The Hindu

February 2024