Can 'strategically trust' India, says Portugal Foreign Minister Cravinho, slams Russia-China nexus

New DelhiWritten By: Sidhant SibalUpdated: Apr 29, 2022, 04:28 PM IST
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Portugal Foreign Minister João Gomes Cravinho (right) with WION's Principal Diplomatic Correspondent Sidhant Sibbal Photograph:(WION)

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The visiting foreign minister was critical of Russia and China, especially pointing to Bejing's support for Moscow amid the ongoing invasion of Ukraine

Expressing confidence in India's global role Portugal Foreign minister João Gomes Cravinho has said that "with India, we -- Portugal, Europe, that we have a partner which we can strategically trust" and both sides "need to do lot more together". The comments come as the European Union (EU), and its members state deepen engagement with India, with high-level visits, including the upcoming visit of PM Modi to the continent next week. It is important to remember that the idea of starting an India-EU Summit was raised for the first time by Portugal when the current United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was the Portuguese Prime Minister.

The visiting foreign minister was critical of Russia and China, especially pointing to Bejing's support for Moscow amid the ongoing invasion of Ukraine. 

Speaking to our Principal Diplomatic Correspondent Sidhant Sibal exclusively during Delhi visit, FM Cravinho said,"We have been disappointed to hear China produce the false narrative produced by Russia about somehow Russia's invasion of Ukraine being the fault of NATO, this has been very disappointing". 

On New Delhi's engagement with Moscow, FM pointed that while "Russia is not in listening mode", India will be a "positive influence on Russia".  PM Modi has spoken to both Russian and Ukrainian President and called for direct talks between the 2 countries to diffuse the crisis.

Portuguese PM Antonio Costa visited India in January 2017. PM Modi visited Portugal the same year. PM Costa is the first Indian-origin head of government in the western world.  

In December 2019, PM Costa visited India to attend a meeting of the organising committee overseeing the 2-year global commemorations of the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.

WION: How do you see this relationship going forward between India and Portugal?

João Gomes Cravinho: Well, we are very excited about India and Portugal's relationship. There is an excellent rapport between our prime ministers. They know each other well, they have very good personal relationship, but the personal relationship between leaders, important as it is, has to be built upon closer relationship between people, between our foreign ministries, between our structure and in that way, what we are seeing in past few years is an intensification of interactions at all levels and Portugal has always been a keen promoter of EU-India relationship. 

So we have also been using our position inside the European Union, including our occasional rotating presidency of the European union to push for this. So at the moment, we are living in a very promising phase in the relationship. (I am) very pleased to feel that Mr Jaishankar feels the same. My role as foreign minister is to build upon this and to take the opportunities as they arise to create a closer interaction between our people.

WION: You met EAM Jaishankar, what kind of conversation happened and how much was there a mention of the Russia-Ukraine conflict?

João Gomes Cravinho: Well, I would say three quarters of our time was dedicated to our bilateral relations which is indicative of our ambitions and how much there is to be done in field of culture, economic and science, mobility. So we spent a good deal of time on what we need to do create the best circumstances for each of our countries to work closely with the other. Then ofcourse, we talked about the wider implications of the Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the way it impacts on the region security in Europe, the way it impacts upon gobal geopolitics, the way it impacts on order, the United Nations based international order. We felt that it was possible to develop a very strong shared sense of concern and shared sense also of what we need to do working together to fix what is being destroyed currently. Particularly, in the UN system for example. 

Sidhant Sibal: You used an interesting phrase, ambition. What ambition you see for India-Portugal relationship? 

João Gomes Cravinho: I think best definition of our ambition is that it should live up to the high level of personal warmth between the leaders, in the future, India and Portugal both being democracies will have other leaders who may not know each other but what is fundamental is when that happens, we have very solid basis of the relationship at all levels. I think in the field of science, in the field of education, in the field of all the issues that relate to our young people, the future issues that are increasingly relevant to our world. Connectivity, the challenges of digitalization, the questions of ocean governance and the potentiality of the blue economies. These are all areas in which Portugal and India can work more closely together in order for the mutual benefit for our populations, for our economies, our societies.

Sidhant Sibal: How much cooperation is there in defence? I know there was an MOU few years ago. 

João Gomes Cravinho: That is an interesting point and I am a former defense minister and therefore very much aware of the defense dimension of the relationship. That was also discussed in our bilateral meeting, namely the possibility of working on our defense industries, strengthening of defense industries, creating partnership between our defense industries in the area of aeronautics, in the area of drone technology. So both of us at the end of the meeting felt that there was homework to be done, there are new possibilities we are able to identify. Areas, which we consider to be of mutual interest and so shall be returning to speak to our economic agents, our institutional structures to say that let us get working on these areas because the other side is also interested in this.

WION: Going back to Ukraine, you mentioned shared concerns. What kind of shared concerns are there? There are divergences between EU and India and how do you see New Delhi's stance amid this invasion that has happened?

João Gomes Cravinho: Well, I think the shared concerns are largely related to the high level of disorder that has been introduced by the Russians, the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Disorder of the international system, it is an international system based on international law, and clearly there has been strong abuse of international law. 

There is a shared concern about the consequences of very much weakened Russia. We were not in the business before of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, to promote a weakened Russia. But this is the result Russia has brought upon itself. But when one thinks about the geopolitical consequences of the war, for Europe and for India, these are not positive consequences. 

We would much rather have a Russia, (that is) strong and respected partner in the international sphere but unfortunately this is not the case. Also, another shared concern is with Russia being the permanent member of the Security Council, so one of the anchors of the international system , to have that member of the United Nations actually putting into question whole structure of the international order based on the UN, it is extremely problematic. 

We are very much interested, Portugal, the EU and India in functioning of the UN. So one of the things we have to work together on is in what manner that we can recover something of what has been lost. There is another aspect which has been as result of Russian invasion of Ukraine, but before that pandemic, which is the sense that globalisation has broken down and there is a fragmentation of globalisation, because, globalisation happened in manner in which issues of strategic trust were forgotten. There was level of international integration which created vulnerabilities which countries, in many cases were not paying attention too. Now they paying lot of attention to them. 

So what is fundamental now is that the right balance is found between global integration and international integration, which is advantageous for the populations and our societies and strategic trust. With India, we -- Portugal, Europe feel that we have a partner which we can strategically trust. So although the whole situation is a very negative one, one of the results can be positive, which can be a deepened sense from both sides that we can do a lot more together, we need to do lot more together.

WION: But the strategic partner India has close relationship with Moscow as well. Do you think India to be in an influential role to somehow persuade Moscow, President Putin and that this is enough?

João Gomes Cravinho: Firstly, I am very much aware the history of Indo-Russian relations, Indo-Soviet relations, practically from Independence, relations in last 30 years. This is something we fully understand, fully respect, we know how it developed and this is something that doesn't disappear from one moment to another. And it very good the Russia should be listening to views, from around the world, including India. Unfortunately, the sense we have is that Russia is not in listening mode. And if Russia is not in listening mode, there are limits to what any well-intentioned international partner such as India can achieve. 

So I would say, that at the moment there is a platform of mediation that has not been successful so far, which is provided by Turkey and we believe that it is functioning as far as it is possible with current Russian attitudes. I hope Russia will be available to hear from India, that it is really not in its own interest to continue down this path and sooner or later it is going to need to opt for a negotiated solution. I know that when that happens, I know India will be positive influence on Russia. 

WION: If we taking about Russia, how can China be far? India, China ties have been strained due to Chinese aggressive action at Line of Actual Control. How do you see Chinese action in the Indo-Pacific and how do you see the Indo pacific vision?

João Gomes Cravinho: Well, clearly one of the most remarkable aspects of the changing geopolitical landscape is last couple of decades have been of rise of China. Historically, this tends to lead to friction and we are seeing this currently, in the Indo-Pacific. What we would like is to not to negate the rise of China. This is historically inevitable, just as rise of India is. But (we need) to ensure that it happens in a manner that is peaceful and that provides stability rather than instability and unpredictability. We have been disappointed to hear China re-produce the false narrative produced by Russia about somehow Russia's invasion of Ukraine being the fault of NATO. This has been very disappointing and we think this may well be related to the fact Russia has been increasingly in need of having a lifeline thrown to it by China. 

Russia is clearly has weakened itself politically, economically, and it needs Chinese support. Now I think that greatest contribution China can make to international order would be not to embrace this Russian narrative. But on the contrary say that we are also in favor of stability and therefore we cannot be in favor of this process. Currently the support is given, at least at the narrative level. We hope it goes no further than that. (If it does), then this (is) very negative indication for the Indo-Pacific region. So as Europeans, we are very much concerned with this support by China. 

WION: Portugal has played a key role in Indo-European Union relations, proposing the summit level talks as well. How do u see the relationship going? Also on FTA, how hopeful are u on it?

João Gomes Cravinho: Couple of points, first to underline that you are very right that Portugal has always used its position and sometimes its rotating presidency of the European Union to promote Indo-EU relations. At the time of Manmohan Singh, at the first summit relationship. Last year, there was the first meeting under the Portuguese presidency of the European Union. The first meetings of PM Modi and all 27 member states of the European Union. That was a landmark. We need now this landmark be translated into, amongst other things, into Free Trade Agreement. 

The sense that I have at the moment is that we all have positive expectations about the Free Trade Agreement. I have known these negotiations well over the years and they have always been bogged down in details. At the moment the challenge is, the awareness we both have on either side, is that this is more than simply about trade. This is a strategic relationship, it is important for us to go beyond the counting, looking at the intricate details of the trade agreement and to see that wider picture. 

Wider picture is of an evolving world in which the European union and India need each other and can benefit greatly from the strong understanding that is created by FTA. So I believe the current time we have the best possible circumstances and we need to have the determination, the ambition, the capacity, to stick with difficulties and to overcome them that will allow us to conclude the free trade agreement. 

WION: The diaspora connect still there between the 2 countries. PM Costa had Indian links with Goa, how do you see the role played by this link in terms of the relationship?

João Gomes Cravinho: It is a very strong one, I would say it is strong in 2 manners. Firstly, historically, India is not an unknown country for the Portuguese. India is a country that is part of our history, own way of seeing ourselves and ofcourse it is home for an important community living in Portugal. Other aspect which is interesting is we have recently signed a migration and mobility agreement between Portugal and India and what we are looking forward to is the strengthening of the Indian community in Portugal in terms of numbers and bringing it up to date, making it based not only on historical heritage and families that have come many years ago but making it very up to date and based on current realities of the countries. So I think at the end of the day people-to-people links are the most important ones. These are the links on which relations between the countries can flourish. So we are very keen to create best possible circumstances for that.