China's Rival

NEW DELHI/BERLIN (Own report) - In view of the Indo-German intergovernmental consultations coming up this weekend, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is calling for "consolidating" Berlin's relations with New Delhi. Economic cooperation, as well as cooperation in foreign and military policy must be intensified, according to government circles. This has also been confirmed by a recent resolution in the Bundestag. Using India's traditional rivalry with China, western powers are seeking New Delhi's help to impede Beijing's rise. While US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has openly declared that US military cooperation with India is aimed at containing the influence of the People's Republic, the German Bundeswehr is also expanding its cooperation with India's armed forces. Nevertheless, Berlin's protracted efforts to enhance the bilateral relations are showing little progress. While German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas is praising common "values", human rights organizations are raising serious accusations against India's government.

India, an Economic Powerhouse

On the one hand, German elites are growing increasingly interested in India for economic reasons. Despite major fluctuations, the country has experienced high growth rates since the 1990s, and by 2018 had generated the world's seventh largest GDP. This year, it could surpass Great Britain and France to become the fifth largest economy. By the middle of this century, economists are seeing India even among the global top three - behind China and the USA. India is perceivably an extremely attractive sales market, thanks to its huge population and its rapidly growing middleclass - considered "consumption-oriented" by economic circles. Moreover, this market is "far from saturated," according to the government-owned Germany Trade & Invest (gtai).[1] German politicians and representatives of business associations are therefore repeatedly trying to incite German enterprises to intensify their focus on India and promote trade and investment in that country. Due also to "recent challenges on the US and Chinese markets" it would be reasonable for German enterprises "to assume a clearer strategic position on the Indian market," according to the resolution, the Bundestag passed last week.[2]

A Tense Relationship

On the other hand, for years, India has been playing an important role in Berlin's foreign policy doctrines, because of the country's traditional rivalry with China. The relations between New Delhi and Beijing are anything but relaxed. Misgivings are growing among India's elite, because of the Chinese merchant fleet's expanding presence in the Indian Ocean and the People's Republic's close cooperation with Pakistan, India's arch-enemy. Border conflicts with the People's Republic of China, which had sparked the 1962 war between the two countries, have yet to be resolved and had again escalated into a serious conflict in the summer of 2017. From the point of view of western strategists, India is therefore a potential ally against China, which is growing stronger. Washington is not alone in striving for closer military cooperation with New Delhi. In Mai 2000, Germany and India concluded the "Agenda for the Indo-German Partnership in the 21st Century," which "has been updated since by further joint declarations" and is intended to establish a strategic cooperation, as the German Foreign Ministry has announced. Since 2011, Indo-German intergovernmental consultations are held every two years, with the fifth round coming up in New Delhi this weekend.[3]

Almost No Progress

Even though Germany would have political and economic interests in pursuing closer cooperation, this is not materializing as hoped. While the level of German investments in India in 2017 was at around €15.5 billion - less than half the level of German investments in, for example, Spain or Poland - German investments in China were around €81 billion, placing the People's Republic of China third on Germany's investment ranking list, after the USA and Great Britain. The export situation is similar. Whereas German exports to China soared from €53.5 billion in 2010 to €93 billion in 2018 (3rd place in Germany's export ranking list), German deliveries to India rose only from €9.5 billion (2010) to €12.5 billion (2018), placing India 23rd, after Romania, Slovakia and Mexico. The causes are multiple and in no way easy to overcome. They range from complicated investments to disastrous environmental conditions - according to Greenpeace, of the world's 30 cities with the worst air pollution, 22 are in India.[4] The economic program, "Make in India," designed to attract foreign investors to the country, launched in September 2014, which had also aroused interest in Germany, made no significant progress.

"Consolidate Relationships"

Berlin is again applying pressure. "We want to further consolidate our bilateral relations," announced Chancellor Angela Merkel before her flight to New Delhi.[5] This includes economy and trade, digitalization and climate protection and not least of all, however foreign and military questions as well. In fact, not long ago, the Bundeswehr had somewhat expanded its relations with India. Most recently a high-ranking Indian delegation visited the Military Academy of the German Armed Forces in Hamburg.[6] This came at a time when Washington was intensifying its military cooperation with Tokyo, Canberra and New Delhi in a "Quadrilateral Security Dialogue," or "Quad," to "ensure," as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo formulated it last week, "that China retains only its proper place in the world."[7] As can be seen from a recent German Bundestag resolution addressing the subject of German-Indian relations, Berlin is also seeking - together with New Delhi - to cooperate with other Asian countries. The objective, according to the resolution, is "for India and Germany to develop new long-term consultation framework together with third countries ... from the Asian Pacific Realm."[8] This too is directly targeting China.

Germany's Partner of Shared Values

Whereas, in the run-up to the German-Indian government consultations, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas boasts of "our shared values," and announces that these "will play an even stronger role in our policy focus,"[9] human rights organizations are making serious accusations against India's government. The government has a Hindu nationalist orientation. For years, its policy has led to the systematic discrimination of the approx. 200 million Indian Muslims. In the state of Assam, in India's northeast, Muslims are under suspicion of being illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Hindu nationalist-governed Assam has now set up internment camps for the nearly 2 million Muslims, whose Indian citizenship are in question. The violent persecution of Muslims is becoming more widespread - including murder. Between May 2015 and December 2018, alone, at least 36 Indian Muslims suspected of having taken cows to the slaughter had been lynched by Hindu nationalists. India's forces of repression use brute force against insurgents, including jihadis, in Jammu and Kashmir. According to a report by the UN High Commission for Human Rights, between mid July 2016 and the end of March 2018, more than 130 civilians in the region had been killed by Indian military and police. Between January and December 2018 measures taken by the forces of repression took the lives of at least 160 civilians. Hundreds, and possibly thousands, have lost their eyesight through shots fired by the police and military. This past summer, New Delhi had completely cut the region off from the outside world for the purpose of fighting insurgency. Mobile communications and internet services had been suspended, curfews imposed, and nearly 4,000 people arrested, including leading members of the opposition. Berlin, which usually acts as if it is the global protector of human rights, remains silent - for strategic reasons, not to jeopardize the aspired cooperation with India in targeting China.


[1] Kaufkraft und Konsumverhalten - Indien. 28.06.2017.

[2] Die deutsch-indischen Beziehungen stärken. Deutscher Bundestag, Drucksache 19/14340, 22.10.2019.

[3] Deutschland und Indien: bilaterale Beziehungen. 26.03.2019.

[4] Nick Van Mead: 22 of world's 30 most polluted cities are in India, Greenpeace says. 05.03.2019.

[5] Kanzlerin Merkel vor Indien-Reise: Austausch über Smart Cities, erneuerbare Energien und neue Formen der Mobilität. 26.10.2019.

[6] Indische Delegation besucht die Führungsakademie. 23.10.2019.

[7] Ankit Panda: Pompeo Drops the Niceties on the Quad: What Now? 29.10.2019.

[8] Die deutsch-indischen Beziehungen stärken. Deutscher Bundestag, Drucksache 19/14340, 22.10.2019.

[9] Rede von Außenminister Heiko Maas zum Antrag der Bundesregierung anlässlich der Einbringung des Koalitionsantrages "Die Deutsch-Indischen Beziehungen stärken". Berlin, 24.10.2019.