New Delhi: The Russia-Ukraine conflict and China’s increasing assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific will be “very high” on the agenda of the talks between German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Prime Minister Narendra Modi this weekend, German Ambassador Philipp Ackermann said Wednesday.
The envoy said Germany has also reached out to India seeking its support to a resolution by the UN General Assembly on the Ukraine conflict calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities and lasting peace in Ukraine.
German Chancellor Scholz will begin his two-day visit to India Saturday with an aim to expand cooperation in areas of trade, climate change, clean energy and migration of skilled manpower besides exchanging views on pressing global challenges.
“We see Russia and Ukraine (conflict) very high on the agenda in the meeting between German Chancellor Scholz and Prime Minister Modi. It will be a very important part of the agenda,” Ackermann said at a media briefing.
The German Chancellor is visiting India a day after the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and amid renewed global focus on the conflict.
Describing the current international environment as “very very difficult”, Ackermann said Germany considers India as a “very influential and valuable partner” in discussing these issues.
“We will continue to help Ukraine to defend its territory. The Russian side is surprised by the unity and strategic patience of the West,” the ambassador said.
Asked whether China’s aggressive behaviour, including in the Indo-Pacific, will figure in the talks, the ambassador said it will also be high on the agenda.
“China will be very high on the agenda. The Chancellor has been to China and he will share his impressions with the Prime Minister,” he said, adding, “You would see more engagement of Germany in the Indo-Pacific”.
To a question on whether India not supporting the upcoming UN General Assembly resolution on Ukraine would be disappointing for Germany, Ackermann said it is for India to decide on the matter.
“It is a sovereign decision of any country to vote or abstain. We have reached out to the Indian side and we do not know how they will react tonight,” he said.
Asked about India’s continued procurement of discounted crude oil from Russia, Ackermann said Germany does not have anything to do with it.
“India buying oil from Russia is none of our business basically. That’s something the Indian government decides,” he said.
Germany would like to see India’s role in finding a resolution to the crisis, but not at this stage, the envoy said, citing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s state of the nation address Tuesday.
In the speech, Putin indicated a Russian escalation of the conflict as he accused the Western countries of seeking “unlimited power” in world affairs.
“We would like to see an Indian engagement at some stage after a while. India is a very appropriate candidate at some stage to, maybe, come up with some solution. But I do not think this is time for it,” he said.
“Because we have heard what Putin said yesterday. He did not mention negotiations one single time. India has a very very skilled diplomacy. I think if they want to step up they have to find a good moment for it,” Ackermann said.
Asked whether short seller Hindenburg’s report on Adani Group would impact confidence of German investors, he said: “We see the Adani-Hindenburg story from an observer’s point of view.”
“More than 2,000 German businesses are very active. We are talking about small and medium enterprises but also the giants. Overwhelming majority of them are doing very good business in India,” he said.
The envoy also said that German companies would like to see the finalisation of the free trade agreement between India and the European Union as it will significantly boost two-way trade and investment.
“I would say that German businesses are really wanting the FTA between India and the EU as it will ease up our business in a substantive way and will lead to huge new amounts of FDI,” he said.
“India is basically the only comfortable market when you compare to China,” he said, adding Chancellor Scholz will be accompanied by a high-level business delegation.
Ackermann said issues relating to migration and mobility are expected to figure in the talks.
He said around 35,000 Indian students are currently studying in Germany while another 18,000 are eyeing to go to the country. “There is an explosion of Indians going to Germany and we are very happy about it,” he said.
Asked about allegations of shrinking freedom of speech in India as well as reports of instances of hate speeches, and whether these issues would feature in the talks, Ackermann said the “agenda is very open” and that there could also be talk about the internal situation in India.
At the same time, the envoy said he was not aware of the specifics.
“I can imagine that this could be as they are covering a broad range of issues,” he said.
Ackermann said the two sides could also discuss specific defence projects.
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