A brand new normal

–by Akshat Jain

Following the global pandemic of novel Coronavirus, India has been at the forefront
of digital conferences both within and outside the country. under the leadership of
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the country is leading and adapting to the new way of
reaching out to people, turning adversity into an opportunity.

As the world changes rapidly around us, diplomacy at the highest end and the way it is
conducted is evolving as well. Events are unfolding around the world every minute and the flow of information is constant, regardless of time zones and lockdowns enforced by countries to fight the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Ensuring swift, effective, and sustained channels of communication becomes even more critical in the world of global diplomacy, especially during times like these.

As countries around the world continue being in lockdowns and social distancing becoming the new norm, diplomatic visits too have come to a halt. But diplomacy hasn’t. Under the aegis of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India is turning this adversity into an opportunity, by conducting
routine diplomatic engagements online and reaching out to nations and leaders, particularly as the situation demands better coordination among world leaders to work out an effective
global response to the unprecedented spread of the pandemic. With positive diplomatic outreach becoming more important than ever at this point, virtual meetings and online summits
have emerged as the new tool for communication.

The Indian government has led and been part of multiple virtual conferences and summits during
these tough times. India took the lead in getting South Asian leaders to meet through a video
conference to explore cooperation in combating the corona crisis and galvanise SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) member nations into action.

New Delhi also pressed for a G20 video meeting which was convened on March 26 last
year. Since then the UNSC, EU and NATO have all adapted and connected through video conferencing.

On May 4, PM Modi took part in the Non-Aligned Movement’s (NAM) online summit, along with 30 other heads of states and governments, the President of the United Nations and the Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

In his first address to the grouping since assuming office in 2014, PM Modi reiterated the importance of reforms aimed towards inclusive global engagements and the need
for a united front against the global pandemic of COVID-19.

On June 04, PM Modi held the first-ever bilateral ‘virtual summit’ when he met his Australian
counterpart Scott Morrison through video conference, making it their fourth meeting in the last eighteen months.

India and Australia announced that they shall be raising their diplomatic relations further by
elevating the bilateral Strategic Partnership concluded in 2009, to a Comprehensive Strategic
Partnership (CSP) and promoting “2+2” engagements at the defence and foreign ministry level.

Apart from this, there were a host of other declarations and MOUs being agreed upon for
infrastructure, water management, supply chain management, cyberspace, and agriculture. A new joint fund was also set up which would enable Indian and Australian researchers to develop
an antiviral drug for Covad-19.

Another important aspect of the meeting was the arrangement for increased Maritime Security
coordination between the two countries. PM Modi stressed the importance of the Indo-Pacific
region’s security as a worldwide concern with PM Morrison acknowledging a growing role for India to ensure harmony and prosperity in the region.

Not just the Prime Minister, India’sExternalAffairsMinister, Dr S Jaishankar also participated in a
virtual foreign ministers’ meeting for BRICS and a virtual meeting of SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation) foreign ministers through a video conference.

Not only on the global platform, but the use of video conferences has also been a tool that has been used extensively by the Indian government on the domestic front as well abroad as well as with other foreign ministers across the globe. The EAM has held detailed virtual discussions with
his counterparts from several countries.

Apart from high-level diplomatic engagements, communication with Indian missions across the world is also being conducted through digital means. The MEA has been regularly
engaging with Indian ambassadors in various regions and sub-regions in recent days. On April 23, 2020, EAM Dr S Jaishankar tweeted “The changing world of corona era diplomacy. Strong
friendships thrive even virtually”, referring to his regular virtual conversations with Indian ambassadors.

The Digital Era

Of course with virtual conferences, a new set of challenges will come in place for leaders around the world.

For example, face-to-face meetings, gaining the trust of the other side, and reading between the lines are some of the key components of diplomacy which will be replaced with video conferencing.

But despite this, the benefits of virtual diplomacy far outweigh its costs. As economies shrink and
the world battles with recession and austerity, virtual conferences and summits are going to be not only time-efficient but also a cost-efficient way of diplomacy.

In order to develop a comprehensive video conferencing solution for India and to push the
Digital India reforms, the government launched an innovation challenge last month. According to the National Policy on Software Products, this innovation is aimed at developing an Indian tool for video conferencing to enhance local expertise.

As India takes to the virtual space to conduct business, the government is taking strong cybersecurity measures not only when it comes to official government and public sector
dealings but also for private citizens.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has set out detailed instructions for citizens using various conferencing apps and about the challenges of data security as well as standard operating
practices.

In the current volatile situation, international virtual summits and conferences have successfully bridged the communication gap between the countries.

For the foreseeable future, as nations around the globe struggle with the unprecedented challenge
of the COVID-19 pandemic and worldwide travel restrictions continue to be in place, it may be necessary for diplomacy to be conducted largely through virtual means, and this may
become the new way of diplomacy going forward.

Akshat Jain is a writer, cOLUMNISt, novelist, blogger, and a research scholar at IIT Delhi. He
has authored books, NUMerous articles, and white papers on different ideas and genres. His
MOSt recent book – ‘My Illusion my Mistake’ has been dedicated to the forty families of PulwAMa attack.

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