Former ambassador to China and current secretary (economic relations), Vijay Keshav Gokhale, has been named as India’s next foreign secretary. He will succeed S Jaishankar whose extended tenure will end on January 28.
A 1981-batch Indian Foreign Service officer, Gokhale is considered an expert on China. He returned to the headquarters from China in October and was appointed as secretary (economic relations). He is the senior-most serving IFS officer after Jaishankar.
Gokhale — the only IFS to have served as India’s Representative both in Taiwan and China — also served as high commissioner to Malaysia and ambassador in Germany. Proficient in Chinese, Gokhale’s recent experience in handling the Dokalam crisis in coordination with Jaishankar and NSA AK Doval will come in handy amid Beijing’s global ambitions that threatens India’s security interests in the Indo-Pacific region.
Gokhale had earlier handled East Asia Division in the Ministry of External Affairs which covers India’s ties with China, Japan, South Korea, North Korea, Mongolia and Taiwan. Known for keeping a low profile, Gokhale is often firm in his decisions.
Gokhale will succeed an IFS officer who was handpicked by PM Modi in 2015 for a period of two year and given a year’s extension last January.
During the last three years, Jaishankar (1977-batch IFS officer) has given a firm direction to India’s foreign policy. He was often tasked by the PM to handle India’s ties with countries that are traditionally not part of foreign secretary’s domain.
Jaishankar’s juniors and mentors vouch for his “realistic view of foreign policy”. He is a politically savvy diplomat who can adjust with any political leadership and its vision.
For a government that believes in simultaneous movements on multiple fronts — say, moving closer to the US without ruffling feathers in Russia — Jaishankar fitted in well. He landed in the US as Indian envoy during the Devyani Khobragade episode and earned laurels in New Delhi for his deft handling of the crisis that could have embarrassed both India and the US if it had spun out of control. He had also served as India’s envoy to China (longest serving so far), besides Singapore and Czech Republic.