As a string of ambassadorial appointments were finalised this month, attention was focused on the new envoys to Bangladesh and Taiwan, two countries with which India is keen to boost relations in the post-pandemic situation.
Gourangalal Das, the former joint secretary (Americas) in the external affairs ministry who played a key role in arrangements for US President Donald Trump's visit to the country this year, has already left for Taipei to take over as the representative in-charge of the India Taipei Association.
Vikram Doraiswami, the additional secretary in-charge of international organisations and summits at the ministry and the former head of the Indo-Pacific, will head to the Bangladesh capital Dhaka as the new envoy, people familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity.
The two appointments signal the importance attached by the external affairs ministry to relations with both Bangladesh and Taiwan, the people said.
They also come against the backdrop of the border standoff with China. There is a concerted effort to counter China's fresh attempts to woo Bangladesh, while experts and analysts have called for India to upgrade its relations with Taiwan at a time when both countries are dealing with the fallout of tensions with China.
Under the "One China policy", India doesn't have full and formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan. Taiwan established the Taipei Economic and Cultural Center (TECC) in New Delhi in 1995 as its representative office while India set up the India Taipei Association at the same time to promote ties in fields such as trade, investment, education, science and technology and tourism.
Das, who belongs to the 1999 batch of the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) and is fluent in Mandarin, has done two stints in the Indian embassy in Beijing during 2001-04 and 2006-09. He also served as deputy secretary in the Prime Minister's Office during the term of Manmohan Singh and as a counsellor in the Indian embassy in the US.
Doraiswami, who is from the 1992 batch of IFS, is set to replace Riva Ganguly Das as the envoy in Dhaka. She is expected to take over as secretary (East) when the incumbent, Vijay Thakur Singh, retires in September. A former journalist who speaks Mandarin and French, Doraiswami also served as joint secretary (Americas) during 2012-14 and as the envoy to Uzbekistan and South Korea. He too had a stint in the Prime Minister's Office.
He will head to Bangladesh at a time when India is looking to boost bilateral cooperation by enhancing connectivity between the two sides. Various initiatives have been taken in the past few years to promote connectivity and both sides recognise that increased connectivity by air, water, rail and road offers mutually beneficial opportunities for economic cooperation between Bangladesh and India, especially the northeastern states, the people cited above said.
On July 16, the two countries launched the first trial movement of containers by sea from Kolkata to Agartala via Chattogram port in Bangladesh. This was done under an agreement to use Chattogram and Mongla ports for movement of Indian transit cargo through Bangladesh.
"This could create a win-win situation for both economies. The two countries signed an agreement on coastal shipping in 2015 and an agreement on the use of Chittagong and Mongla ports for trans-shipment of goods to and from India in October 2018," said one of the people cited above.
This agreement and standard operating procedures permit movement of goods in Bangladesh via waterways, railway, road or multi-modal transport. Eight routes are part of the agreement to enable access to the northeastern states.
These routes include those linking Chattogram and Mongla ports to Agartala in Tripura, Dawki in Meghalaya, Sutarkandi in Assam and Srimantpur in Tripura.
"Once this gets fully implemented, it will reduce distance, time and logistical cost for transporting goods from the rest of India to the northeastern states and will be a win-win for both economies. The advantages that will accrue to Bangladesh include job creation, investments in the logistics sector, integration of supply chains and promotion of business services such as finance and insurance," the person cited above said.