Vijay Keshav Gokhale, China and East Asia expert, is next Foreign Secretary

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January 01, 2018 20:39 IST
Updated: January 01, 2018 22:48 IST
http://www.thehindu.com/news/nation...is-next-foreign-secretary/article22347170.ece

Mr. Gokhale, who was Ambassador to China prior to moving back to the Ministry, has been widely credited with conducting delicate but tough diplomatic negotiations in Beijing during the Doklam crisis.

The government has announced the name of Vijay Gokhale, an officer with formidable experience on China and the East Asian neighbourhood, as its next Foreign Secretary.

Mr. Gokhale, a 1981-batch officer, currently Secretary (Economic Relations) in the Ministry of External Affairs, will take over from Dr. S. Jaishankar when he demits office on January 28, a notification issued by the Ministry of Personnel said on Monday.

Mr. Gokhale, who was Ambassador to China prior to moving back to the Ministry, has been widely credited with conducting delicate but tough diplomatic negotiations in Beijing during the Doklam crisis.

Mr Gokhale’s talks led to a peaceful resolution of the 70-day military standoff that ended just days before Prime Minister Narendra Modi travelled to China for the BRICS summit in August 2017.

With its choice of Vijay Gokhale as the next Foreign Secretary, the government has chosen an officer known as a “traditionalist” diplomat, “bound by rules” who “works under the radar”, said those who have worked with him.

Above all, he is known for his fluency in the Chinese language, as well as his long experience in dealing with East Asia, and China in particular. He has served as Director (China and East Asia) in the Ministry of External Affairs, and went on to be Joint Secretary (East Asia).

He was posted as Ambassador to China in 2015, his second stint in Beijing, and has also served in Hong Kong and Taipei. In addition, Mr. Gokhale was Ambassador to Malaysia (2010-2013) and has served in Vietnam.

“Ambassador Gokhale has an outstanding proven track record in dealing with the neighbourhood,” said Director of the Institute for Chinese Studies Ashok Kantha, was Mr. Gokhale’s predecessor at the East Asia desk, as well as in Kuala Lumpur and Beijing. “Combined with his multilateral experience, and his workings on economic relations, he is a fitting choice as Foreign Secretary to replace Mr. Jaishankar,” he told The Hindu, adding that a little known fact about Mr. Gokhale is that he has taught himself Sanskrit as well.

Mr. Gokhale has been tipped for the job of Foreign Secretary ever since he was posted to Delhi in October 2017, and has conducted many of the important negotiations for the government, including planning future visits by Israel PM Netanyahu as well as the upcoming ASEAN-India commemorative summit which will see 10 East Asian heads of government grace India’s Republic Day Parade, during this period. On Saturday, when India expressed its anger over the Palestinian Ambassador to Pakistan’s appearance at a Hafiz Saeed rally, it was Mr. Gokhale who summoned the Palestinian Ambassador to India, a meeting which saw the recall of the envoy to Pakistan.

Officials say Mr. Gokhale’s work was noted by Prime Minister Modi during his tenure as Ambassador to Germany (2013-2016), when he organised the PM’s visit to inaugurate the Hanover-Messe in 2015 where the government launched its “Make in India” programme. Since then India-Germany economic and investment ties have grown, particularly in the areas of the government’s other pet projects like the “Clean Ganga” initiative, Smart cities projects and for high-speed trains.

Mr. Gokhale will take over from S. Jaishankar, who has been seen as the architect of closer India-US ties in the Modi government’s tenure, as well as the Modi government’s pluralistic “multiple alignment” strategy over the previous policy of “non-alignment”, and was appointed in January 2015 for a two-year term, after which he was given a year’s extension.
 

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