As the crisis in the Red Sea spurred by the Israel-Hamas war escalates, India has begun a diplomatic outreach to crucial players to secure the country’s trade and strategic interests. The outreach treads a line of neutrality in the conflict between the Western powers and the Islamic world wherein India has not joined the US-led multinational naval coalition in the Red Sea while it remains critical of the Houthis’ violence.

The heightening of the West Asia crisis has impacted global trade and threatens about $235-240 billion worth of India’s annual trade through the Red Sea.

The Ministry of External Affairs, on Thursday, made it clear that while the situation in the Red Sea impacting the flow of commerce was worrisome, the Indian Navy was trying its best to secure the sea lanes and, as of now, the country had no plans of joining any “multilateral arrangement” such as the US-led multinational naval coalition.

“We are looking at unfolding situation (in the Red Sea area). We are concerned about the deterioration in the security situation. Our Navy vessels and ships are there patrolling the area. We are doing our best to secure the Indian shipping lines, and also giving support to others. We are not part of any multilateral arrangement as of now,” MEA spokesperson Randhir Jaiswal said in response to a question on whether India had plans of joining the US-led coalition to secure its cargo in the Red Sea.

Exports re-routed

Owing to the heightening conflict, exports to crucial markets in Europe, US east coast and parts of Africa and West Asia, earlier using the Red Sea, are now being re-routed through the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, resulting in steep increase in shipping and insurance charges.

An important element of India’s diplomatic outreach was Minister of External Affair S Jaishankar’s recent visit to Tehran, where he shared with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian the country’s concerns on the havoc caused by the Iran-backed Houthis in the Red Sea.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this week. The MEA is also engaging diplomatically with other countries connected with the crisis, including Western powers, per an official tracking the inter-Ministerial meet on the issue chaired by the Commerce Department on Wednesday.

According to former Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal, India can hardly sit back while the war in West Asia escalates. Sibal looks at the Foreign Minister’s recent visit to Iran as part of the diplomatic efforts that have been stepped up to secure India’s interests.

“It is in our interests to engage all parties diplomatically. India now has a stronger voice and while we do not have too much in our hands to change the course of events, we can certainly talk to all crucial players. Prime Minister had a talk with Putin and now the Foreign Minister has gone to Iran. We are proactive,” Sibal told businessline.

Issues discussed

Answering questions on the discussions between Jaishankar and his Iranian counterpart Amirabdollahian, the MEA Spokesperson said the issue of the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, and the violence and destabilisation there, were among the things that were discussed as India is “deeply concerned about the whole situation”.

According to trade analyst Ajay Srivastava, the conflict will impact most of Asian trade with Europe. and it may lead to supply chain restructuring focusing on near shoring with neighbouring countries even at moderately higher costs. As the MEA spokesperson said, “We are watching the situation closely.”

(With inputs from Poornima Joshi)