Contours of India's foreign policy
By: Amb (Retd) M. Ganapathi
National Institute of Technology (NIT), Goa
Date: March 17, 2017
Dr. Damodar Reddy Edla,
Distinguished Faculty Members,
Good morning to all of you!
It is an honour to visit the National Institute of Technology, Goa. This is my first visit to this beautiful State. I am grateful to the Ministry of External Affairs for having asked me to visit your Institute to deliver this lecture under the auspices of their Distinguished Lecture Series.
I thank Dr. Damodar Reddy Edla for coordinating and overseeing the elements of my visit and for the excellent arrangements. I am delighted to interact with all of you students and scholars at this Institute as also its faculty members.
The subject of my lecture today is "Contours of India’s Foreign Policy”. While finalising the topic, Dr. Damodar Reddy Edla asked me to give an overview of India’s foreign policy while expanding a bit on our relations with Pakistan, China and the USA.
Foreign policy has always been a subject of considerable interest to the common man and to a practicing diplomat in equal measure. And we see raging debates on the subject between the uninitiated and the practitioner alike.
Indian thinkers from the early days of recorded history have written on the significance and importance of foreign policy in governance. References are evident in early thoughts. A codified approach towards political and diplomatic strategy finds reference in the Arthasastra of Kautilya or Chanakya – the first structured treatise on statecraft. Kautilya strongly believed that nations acted in their political, economic and military self-interest. In Kautilya’s view expediency was to be the main consideration in foreign policy. Kautilya laid down measures to be adopted in carrying out an effective foreign policy. The contemporaneous Thirukkural has an entire Chapter outlining the essential attributes of an envoy in the conduct of foreign policy and diplomacy.
Foreign policy of any country cannot be divorced from its domestic policy and governance – the influence and outcome of each impact with equal measure on the other. The freedom movement and the thoughts and ideas of its founding fathers heavily influenced independent India’s foreign policy. Shaped by the philosophy of Ahimsa and Satyagraha of Mahatma Gandhi and the reverberations of the struggle against colonialism, India naturally saw its foreign policy anchored in the ideas of non-alignment and in supporting movements against colonialism, racism and apartheid. India also became a champion for non-discriminatory non-proliferation. It chose to chart an independent course and positioned itself outside of any of the post-War alliances. Civilisational India could not have been expected to be a camp follower. Right from the early days of independence, there has been a cross-party national consensus on foreign policy. The thrust of Indian foreign policy orientation has more or less remained the same, firmly anchored in strategic autonomy.
The world has changed significantly since the early days of the last Century. World War I came to an end nearly 100 years ago. It is over 70 years since the guns fell silent after World War II. Europe was at the centre of these developments dominating history and geography across the seas. Since the 50’s, the United States has literally been ruling the waves. Despite reports to the contrary, the United States will continue to hold strategic predominance in the years ahead. The Cold War with the Soviet Union on the other side of the divide saw the birth of non-alignment. The days of the Cold War are well behind us. And with the disintegration of the Soviet Union, its Successor State, the Russian Federation has struggled to hold its own among the powers. Russia, under President Vladimir Putin, is slowly regaining its influence. The Euro-Atlantic dimension of global developments has shifted eastwards towards the Asia-Pacific and the Indo-Pacific Region. The 21st Century will belong to the Asia, Africa and the Indo-Pacific regions. In all these intersect, India could and should play an important role.
We are now in the second decade of the 21st Century. The events that will unfold in this decade will be crucial for peace, stability and prosperity in the world. During the last century, the international order was largely dominated by two power systems, one balancing the other. That balance of power has dissipated with the collapse of communism but there are turbulences in many parts of the world with new threats and challenges. There is a new President in the United States of America whose policies are still evolving. And China has been flexing its muscles; in the hope that its days under the sun have arrived. The state of international relations is not static but dynamic. Terrorism and extremism have become new threats. We need to keep a close eye on these developments and respond appropriately to the evolving situation. In today’s world, the only certainty seems to be a certain uncertainty. Challenges will always continue to be there, but they also throw up opportunities. We need to look at such opportunities and take advantage as may be in our larger national interest.
India’s foreign policy goals, among others, would include:
- Securing and protection of its borders and preserving its unity and territorial integrity – we share land borders with 7 countries (Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, China, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar) and maritime boundaries with 7 countries (Sri Lanka, Maldives, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Myanmar, Indonesia and Thailand);
- Providing for uninterrupted economic growth aimed at poverty alleviation and eradication;
- Promotion of trade; encouraging inward investments as also outward investments;
- Ensuring energy security; and scouting for minerals, which are domestically unavailable;
- Looking at preserving environment security;
- Securing technology, both developing and frontier, including information and cyber technology;
- Exploring outer space;
- Ensuring freedom of operation in its sea lanes and protecting sea lanes of communications;
- Promotion of defence and security cooperation with like minded countries;
- Participating in joint efforts aimed at combating international terrorism, cyber terrorism, piracy, drug running and organised crime and other threats;
- Forging enhanced people-to-people contacts through use of its soft power.
We could see the conduct of our foreign policy through a series of concentric circles or rising pillars where the immediate circle or pillar has our neighbours. It is but natural that relations with our neighbours should predominate our foreign policy thinking. The countries of ASEAN and those farther East, which come under the ambit of our Act East Policy and countries of the Gulf and West Asia, which now come under our prescription of Think West, would follow. Our relations with the Permanent - 5 or P-5 of the UN Security Council would have some centrality, as it includes the three key players in our diplomatic engagement viz. the Russian Federation, China and the United States of America. Europe, Africa and Latin America would cover the remainder of the geographical tour. Based on this premise, we have developed a diversified set of relationship, which are not mutually exclusive.
From a SAARC perspective, India’s relations with six of the organisation’s seven other members of the organisation are good. Political relations with each of them have been excellent and robust at times. Trade has been not come upto expectation with the turnover, naturally, heavily in favour of India. India’s development assistance to each of the SAARC members barring Pakistan has been considerable.
There were initial hiccups in India-Afghanistan relations following the coming into office of President Ashraf Ghani. His enthusiasm for friendship with Pakistan was an inhibitor. However, his disappointment with Pakistan and recognising India as the true friend has restored bilateral relations back to their traditional levels. India’s assistance to Afghanistan in providing development aid and assistance and in capacity building has been globally appreciated. India is committed to supporting Afghanistan by providing it moral, financial and material support. India and Afghanistan had concluded a Strategic Partnership Agreement in 2011, the first such agreement by Afghanistan.
India has been part of the process discussing a resolution of the Afghan crisis. We have made it clear that this should be Afghan-led. India expressed its disappointment at being excluded from the Russia-China-Pakistan trilateral meeting. It was subsequently invited for the discussions in Moscow. India has also expressed its reservations on the inclusion of the Taliban in any governing structure by emphsising that there was no good or bad Taliban. The situation in Afghanistan is complicated with Pakistan’s avowed policy aimed at undermining the duly elected Afghan Government. Pakistan would like to exercise its control over Afghanistan to ensure that it provided it strategic depth in its war of attrition against India. Pakistan would make every effort to keep India away from the deliberations on Afghanistan and work against India providing support to Afghanistan and its people. The US drawdown of forces in Afghanistan and increasing Chinese influence in that country brings a new equation into the evolving Afghan situation. Regrettably, Russian influence in Afghanistan has come down significantly and it has been drawn towards working in tandem with China and Pakistan on the Afghan issue.
Our relations with Bhutan have been more than excellent and exceptional.
With the coming into office of the Awami League Government of Sheikh Hasina in Bangladesh, relations between India and its eastern neighbour have been restored to complete normalcy. India and Bangladesh have settled their land and maritime boundaries. The Teesta waters issue will hopefully be resolved at the earliest with the support of the Government of West Bengal. The most significant contribution of the Sheikh Hasina Government has been the closing down of the route of Pakistan aided and abetted terrorism into India through Bangladesh. In a recent interview on the eve of her proposed visit to India, Sheikh Hasina has reiterated that Bangladesh’s counter terrorism cooperation with India was absolute. She also was highly critical of Pakistan’s continued animosity towards Bangladesh.
While relations with Nepal do indicate a semblance of normalcy, the uncertainty will continue to prevail. The Government in Kathmandu will have to address the concerns of the Madhesis in its new Constitution. The Government of India has urged the Government of Nepal to make efforts to resolve all issues through a credible political dialogue. The Nepal Government’s intention to run with the hare and hunt with the hound in its desire to play off India and China in trying to get the best from both these countries could be a continuing irritant. At the same time, Nepal is aware of the importance of good neighbourly relations with India and the dependency factor, which cannot be compensated by its over-proximity to China.
Relations with Sri Lanka, besides the strategic equation, resonate to a large extent on the state of play within the State of Tamilnadu. Our relations with the Government of Maitripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickramasinghe have been positive. India is extensively associated in the redevelopment process in the North and East of Sri Lanka. This development assistance has been warmly welcomed by the local people in these areas and by the Sri Lankan Government. One continuing irritant has been the fishers issue which continues to raise passions in Tamilnadu. The handing over of Kachchativu also crops up in discussions in Tamilnadu politics. The Government of India has been engaging the Sri Lankan authorities in looking at the Tamil issue in its entirety from a humanitarian and legal perspective and has repeatedly urged them to adhere to the various assurances given by them to the Tamils. It has been impressed upon them that this needs to be done expeditiously to ensure peace, security and stability in the region.
India has also noted the moves by the Sri Lanka Government to allow Chinese submarines to dock at its port and permit Chinese investments in strategic sectors which might impinge on India’s security. The current Sri Lanka Government seems to be sensitive and responsive to our concerns. But we need to be alert to every possibility.
There have been areas of political and economic concern in our relations with Maldives. The political difficulties in Maldives had cast some shadow in bilateral relations but have not gone beyond unmanageable levels. The interest of Maldives in attracting greater Chinese and Saudi investment in developing its infrastructure will need to be carefully watched. The increasing Wahabbi influence and the number of Maldivians being attracted towards ISIS needs to be constantly monitored. While Maldives seems to be casting its eyes far and wide, they are aware that in an emergency they have to but turn towards India.
Pakistan has continued to face an identity crisis of an existential nature right from the days of partition. This has been complicated by the internal dynamics where the power vests with the Army with responsibility devolving on the civilian Government. Pakistan feels that it can overcome its internal contradictions by continuing its war of attrition with India. This has not only created political uncertainty within Pakistan but has brought the country to its knees. And this contradiction has converted the country into a fertile breeding ground for the malefic forces of terrorism, extremism and revisionism. If not controlled and the leadership does not see light, the country will be drawn over and into the abyss. Escapism westwards towards West Asia is not going to offer Pakistan any solace and succour.
Regrettably, Pakistan has unleashed the Frankensteinian monster of terror to wage its continuous and constant war against India. It has become the cesspool of terrorism where the monster is slowly eating away the vitals of its master. This is not only an itinerant threat for Pakistan, but for India, the region and the world. No wonder a US Congressman wanted to declare Pakistan as a State sponsor of terrorism by calling it "an untrustworthy ally that has aided and abetted enemies of America for years”. And a Rajya Sabha MP had sought a motion declaring "Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism and end of India's trade relations with it”.
India has tried its utmost to normalise relations with Pakistan. We have gone the extra mile. But each forward step taken by India has seen Pakistan reverse the trend by many steps. And this negative momentum from across the border has been witnessed by successive Prime Ministers of India in literally every decade since independence. An important factor in the equation governing Pakistan’s relations with India has been the GHQ and the Chief of the Pakistani Army. The previous Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif was viscerally anti-India and presided over and encouraged an overt State sponsorship of terrorist activities directed against India. While commentators had noted that under the new Chief Gen. Qamar Bajwa, there would be a toning down of the anti-India rhetoric from Rawalpindi, one still has to see evidence of this and whether this is realistically possible or is just wishful thinking.
The State of Jammu and Kashmir is an integral and inalienable part of India. There is no question of revisiting this subject. India has made this position clear to Pakistan and the international community. Pakistan is using Jammu and Kashmir as a smokescreen for its agenda aimed at whittling down India’s rise among the comity of nations. It will always find a new excuse to keep the pot boiling against India. Pakistan has been unfortunately able to exploit sentiments of some of the youth in the State despite the absence of majority support. India has made it clear to the Government of Pakistan that no meaningful dialogue is possible with it as long as it supported and sponsored terrorism against India. Pakistan will have to take strong action against terror groups as the Lashkar-e-Tayaba/Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the Jaish-e-Muhamad and others. These groups morph themselves and operate under different names to circumvent UN designation. The terror factories have to be shut down and the leaders of the groups incarcerated.
India has strongly reacted to the recent intention of the Pakistani Government to incorporate the territory of Gilgit –Baltistan as its fifth province. India has also conveyed its displeasure to China on the passage of the so-called China Pakistan Economic Corridor through the region.
Pakistan had all along taken India for granted. It felt that India was a soft State, which would not respond in an appropriate measure to its various acts of terror and mayhem. India has sent a strong signal to Pakistan that it will not hesitate to take tough action as need be. This became evident after the surgical strikes post-Uri in September 2016 and the tough talk on the Indus Water Treaty. The Prime Minister’s statement on Balochistan and the emphasis in our international discourse on the situation within Pakistan at the United Nations and elsewhere has unnerved Pakistan.
The non-grant of MFN and other issues will also continue to be a factor in bilateral relations. However, the predominant determinant will be the State sponsorship of terrorism by Pakistan.
Pakistan is emboldened in its intransigence due to the unbridled support from its all-weather friend China. It feels that with China’s support it has immunity to act with impunity.
One of the major reasons for SAARC’s inability to consolidate itself and move forward as a success story as other regional groupings has been the intransigent role and contribution of Pakistan in undermining greater engagement between the countries in South Asia, in particular driven by its antipathy towards India. While paying attention to SAARC, India has worked out a strategy to see that progress in regional cooperation moves forward through sub-regional activities including through BIMSTEC (The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation which includes India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand); and the BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal); among others.
Our relations with China are complex. Today China’s strength and power is on the cusp. President Xi Jinping perhaps enjoys uncontested authority like never before. He combines all centres of power in the State; being the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, President of the People's Republic of China and Chairman of the Central Military Commission. He has been elevated to the position of "core" leader in 2016. Only Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping previously enjoyed such an honour. Quietly but authoritatively, Xi has left his imprint on China’s internal developments and on international relations. This would include China’s outreach, politically and economically, to the developing world, to regional power centres in Europe, Africa, West Asia and Latin America besides Asia. President Xi’s visit to Davos, the first by a Chinese leader, was covered extensively. China has not hesitated to flex its muscles in the South China Sea. The One Belt-One Road/Belt Road Initiative (OBOR/BRI) has been accorded considerable push under President Xi and has allowed China to gain a foothold in many strategic locations, including in our neighbourhood.
India’s relations with China are based on the principles of good-neighbourliness. However, it cannot but be emphasised that a relationship based on absolute trust and complete mutual understanding is still some way away. There seems to be a deliberate absence of understanding and feigned ignorance by China of our core national interests. This logic is premised firstly on the fact that China considers itself as the power of paramount importance in Asia and would be reluctant to accord the status of an equal to any other nation. Secondly, China’s all weather friendship with Pakistan does create a jarring notion where irritants crop up when there should be none. Thirdly, China’s ambitions to be one of the two power centres in a globalising world, even if it cannot assume the mantle of the sole superpower, would create hurdles as may be in a smooth and harmonious development of India-China relations.
Despite the above set of parameters, the Government of India has ensured that the cooperative strategic partnership with China remains on an even keel. Meetings between the leaders of the two countries both bilaterally and on the margins of international meets have been regular. And despite the border still under discussion, it should be said that the situation along the Line of Actual Control has remained more or less peaceful for nearly four decades.
India has concerns on bilateral commercial and economic cooperation with China both from a trade perspective and from the security angle in certain investments in core sectors of the economy. China is today India’s largest commercial partner with bilateral trade at nearly $70.7 billion in 2015-16. Trade is heavily skewed in China’s favour – with imports into India comprising 87% of the turnover at $61.7 billion and exports around 13% at $9 billion. India has asked China for greater market access to some of its products to address the trade imbalance. India is also seriously concerned over spurious drugs with Indian-origin labels emanating from China and being marketed in Africa and other places.
China’s investment into India has been growing rapidly in various sectors. We need not be reticent in welcoming Chinese investment if it meets a set of criteria from the economic and security perspective.
We have not responded to China’s One Belt-One Road initiative in the absence of clarity on its ultimate aims and objectives. India has expressed its strong concern and reservation over the China promoted $42 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as it passes through Pak-Occupied Kashmir.
China and India are members of BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) – India will be welcomed as a full member of the latter organisation in June 2017. India is a founding member of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).
China’s expansion into the Indian Ocean, development of strategic bases and ports – Djibouti and Gwadar, increase in its defence budget, its aggressive posturing in the South China Sea over sea lanes and through declaration of the ADIZ are issues which have been watched carefully and commented upon extensively. The Government of India has been closely following each of these developments. China had complained against Indian exploration activities in Vietnamese waters – we had responded appropriately to the Chinese.
Some recent steps by China and some earlier ones did have an effect on the level of trust between the two countries. These also expose China’s double standards. China’s constant thwarting of India’s efforts to gain membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group; Beijing's repeated attempts to block declaration of Masood Azhar as a global terrorist by the UN Sanctions Committee despite his organisation, the Jaish-e-Mohammad, being designated by the UN as a terror outfit; the passage of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) through Pak-Occupied Kashmir; China’s reluctance in giving an unambiguous expression of support for India’s candidature as a permanent member of the UN Security Council; the presence of Chinese soldiers in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan as workers involved in the CPEC project; China’s defence and security relationship with Pakistan which could only be targetted against India; and China’s avowed aim of equating India and Pakistan have all left a negative impact on India’s thinking.
China has been reluctant to move forward on settling the border between the two countries. China’s recent claim on Arunachal Pradesh, and Tawang, in particular, is contrary to the agreement in the Political Parameters and Guiding Principles of 2005 where it was agreed that settled populations would be taken into account in any settlement. China’s reactions to visits to Arunachal Pradesh reflect its continued determination to keep the border unsettled. And China’s robust reaction on the Dalai Lama also exposes its fickleness.
China’s disdain for the international legal system was evident when it refused to accept the UNCITRAL decision on the South China Sea. A commentator noted that international law was powerless against the powerful and powerful against the powerless.
The passive Look East dimension of India’s foreign policy has been transformed into an active Act East policy. Relations with ASEAN form the cornerstone of our Act East policy. After a lot of hesitation and following the overcoming of misunderstandings, India became a full Dialogue partner of ASEAN in 1996. It became a Summit level partner in 2002 and a Strategic Partner in 2012. India is a member of the East Asia Summit and the ASEAN Regional Forum. ASEAN, as a group, is India’s 4th largest trading partner with bilateral trade between ASEAN and India reaching $ 65.05 billion in 2015-16. ASEAN is an important investment partner. ASEAN and its 6 Dialogue Partners including India, Japan, China, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand are currently discussing the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). While relations with many of ASEAN’s founding members remain strong, relations with Myanmar are important as it could contribute effectively towards the political security and economic development of India’s North Eastern Region.
Relations with Japan have received a significant boost since May 2014. Besides the excellent political relationship, economic relations continue to give strength and content to the cooperation. One of the welcome developments has been the conclusion of the India-Japan civil nuclear deal in November 2016 after years of negotiations.
South Korea will continue to be an important economic partner. Relations with Australia have both a political and economic as well as a strategic significance.
The countries in the region of Gulf and West Asia form an integral part of India’s Think West agenda. This region is collectively India’s largest trading partner with bilateral trade touching $ 125 billion in 2015-16. They have a crucial stake in providing for our energy security. 60% of India’s crude oil imports and 85% of gas imports originates from this region. We have strategic partnerships with the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Frequent interactions and regular visits by leaders of India and these countries has become a norm now. India finds an important place in the Look East policy announced by some of these countries. India should also consider positioning itself as an attractive destination for investment of the considerable Sovereign Wealth Funds owned by the GCC States.
Most significantly, the Gulf region is home to over 8 million Indian nationals. They have been the preferred choice among employment of overseas workers. The remittances sent home by Indian nationals from the region is around $40 billion annually. The safety and security of the Indian community in the region is an important responsibility of the Government of India. This was evident during the crisis situations in Kuwait, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Yemen, among others when large number of Indian nationals had to be evacuated. And despite the localisation in employment regulations, the category and number of Indian workers has not been affected.
Partnership with Iran has considerable strategic significance for India. Iran plays an important role in our energy security. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between Iran and the concerned parties in 2015 has removed an important hurdle in the consolidation of relations with Iran. Importantly, Iran is geographically well placed to provide India with access to the Central Asian States and Afghanistan, which is currently constricted. This problem could be overcome when Chahbahar Port in Iran is developed. We need to move fast in finalising our decisions in the execution and completion of the project.
Relations with Israel are singularly important. Defence and security relations with Israel are of paramount significance. In what would be a first; Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to visit Israel this summer.
A word or two on Syria. India has called for a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Syria. It has also categorically expressed itself against any externally imposed regime change. The conflict in Syria is being played out by the erstwhile sides in the Cold War. A settlement of the Syrian conflict could lead the international community to focus on defeating the malevolent monster that is the ISIS.
India relations with the United States of America have moved forward dramatically since the early days of this Century and have continued to develop from strength to strength over the last decade and a half. Both countries have overcome "the hesitations of history” and consolidated their relations across a wide range of areas and activities. Our leaders have met more than once in a year in a bilateral setting and on the margins of multilateral meetings. Prime Minister Modi and former President Obama met nearly 20 times over a period of two years. The partnership has received added impetus after the India-US Strategic Dialogue was upgraded in 2015 to an India-US Strategic and Commercial Dialogue. The USA is today India’s second largest trading partner with exports at $40.3 billion and imports at $21.9 million. It is among the largest investors in India. Defence and security relations have undergone a radical transformation with India now a "major defence partner” of the USA. Both countries have institutionalised extensive discussions and exchange of information in the areas of counter-terrorism, cyber security, anti-piracy, drugs and organised crime.
Indo-US defence cooperation, including Service-to-Service exchange is extensive. Both countries hold joint exercises in a number of areas. The USA is among the largest seller of arms to India. The signing of the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) gives access, to both countries, to designated military facilities on either side for the purpose of refuelling and replenishment. The agreement deals in the four areas of port calls, joint exercises, training and Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief. Contrary to commentaries, India will not permit basing of US troops in India.
Prime Minister Modi and President Obama enjoyed an exceptional relationship. Many wonder whether such a relationship will continue under President Donald Trump. During his telephonic conversation with Prime Minister Modi on January 24, 2017, President Trump emphasised that the United States considered India a true friend and partner in addressing challenges around the world; discussed opportunities to strengthen the partnership between the United States and India in broad areas such as the economy and defence; discussed security in the region of South and Central Asia; and resolved that the United States and India stand shoulder to shoulder in the global fight against terrorism. President Trump also said that he looked forward to hosting Prime Minister Modi in the United States later this year. The Prime Minister also invited the US President to visit India. The recent US reiteration of support to India’s membership of the NSG does indicate continuity in the close partnership between the two countries.
At the same time, we will have to keep an eye on the course and content of any upward movement in US-Pakistan and US-China relations and as to how these would impact on India.
There has been concern in India over the attacks on Persons of Indian Origin in the US. The country was shocked by the deaths of Srinivas Kuchibhotla in Kansas and Harnish Patel in South Carolina. Speaking in the Lok Sabha, External Affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj noted that these incidents were isolated actions of a few individuals and did not represent the sentiment of the American people towards India. The Minister also said that the Government had discussed such attacks at the highest levels of diplomacy with the US and has been assured of an investigation into the causes behind the incidents.
The Indian media has written extensively to reflect the concern of Indian professionals on a possible reworking of the US H1B visa process. The Government has taken up the matter quite forcefully both in the US Congress and the Administration. It has been pointed out to the American side that the presence of Indian professionals in the US has been beneficial to both countries. It actually helped the American economy to be more competitive and created jobs for Americans. At the same time, the US Administration is aware and recognises the significant contribution of Indian IT professionals to the American economy.
One of the most important partners for India from an economic and security perspective in the second half of the last Century was the Soviet Union. It was a time-tested friend. In the initial days following the break up of the Soviet Union, there were apprehensions that these relations would suffer under the Successor State, the Russian Federation. Indo-Russian relations did have their ups and downs. However, the strength of the partnership was reignited from the very first days of the 21st Century, when the Russian Federation became the first country with which India concluded a strategic partnership. Annual Summits have become the norm. Russia remains one of the most important sources for India’s defence requirements. Service-to-Service interaction has been extensive. India and Russia have significant cooperation in the area of intelligence sharing and in combating international terrorism, cyber crimes, drug running, among others. Russian cooperation in the sectors of atomic energy and space are second to none. The Kudankulam Nuclear Power plant is currently the only foreign Government assisted nuclear plant in operation in India, while cooperation with other countries is still stuck at various stages of discussion and negotiation. Russia has played an important role in providing for India’s energy security. The recent decision on the setting up of an energy bridge is a positive step. Russia will continue to be a critical partner in India’s economic development and security requirements.
Russia’s increasing embrace of China and recent dalliance with Pakistan has figured in media commentaries and in various analyses. These developments have been viewed with some concern and beg the question, is Russia working with these countries on issues which could impact on India’s interests? At the same time, while we need to be alert to any new development in this regard, there is no question of any doubt creeping in on the level of Russian commitment on its engagement with India and the strength of the bilateral partnership. More regular interactions at higher levels could help overcome misunderstandings, if at all.
The European Union is India’s leading trade and investment partner. It was India’s 3rd largest trading partner by region in 2015-16 with total trade at $88.36 billion. The EU was also India's largest source of FDI. The 13th India-EU Summit in March 2016 helped reinvigorate the partnership by issuing an India–EU Agenda Action 2020. It delineated specific ways in which India and the EU should commit to strengthen cooperation in a wide range of areas over the next five years.
An important pending issue in India-EU relations is the completion of negotiations of the Broad-based Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA). The EU has sought greater liberalisation of tariffs on automobile, auto components, wines & spirits; en block mention of Geographical Indications pertaining to EU in BTIA; more openness in Government procurements; enhanced FDI in telecom services, multi-brand retail, insurance sector, banking; and liberalisation in legal services, maritime services; opening of accountancy and auditing services, courier/postal services, e-commerce and financial services. India has demanded data adequacy status for Indian IT companies; increased quota for movement of professionals (Mode 4); and relaxation and greater transparency/predictability in Sanitary & Phyto-Sanitary Norms & Technical Trade Barriers imposed by EU. Both sides will have to work towards a mutually acceptable solution.
BREXIT has put on hold further discussions on the BTIA. This should resume once there is some clarity on the outcome of the EU-UK discussions. We need to prepare a fresh strategy on the BTIA negotiations and factor in separate discussions on a UK-India FTA. And the larger question from a global economic standpoint is what shape BREXIT will leave the EU in and what sort of impact it will have on other regions and countries?
India relations with the continent of Africa are geographically very close and historic. Our common struggle against colonialism and apartheid brought us even closer. India interaction with Africa is conducted at three levels, multilaterally through the African Union; regionally through the eight Regional Economic Communities (RECs); and bilaterally. Since 2008, the mechanism of the India Africa Forum Summits (IAFS) has provided for an institutionalised approach to this cooperation. The third IAFS was held in New Delhi in October 2015 against the background of the adoption of Agenda 2063 by the African Union. Barring one or two Heads, the entire leadership of the continent attended the Summit.
India has committed a total of $20 billion of concessional credit to Africa following the three IAFS’ and until 2020. Nearly 25,000 scholarships had been provided to young Africans. 50,000 more scholarships are on offer. India’s interaction has resonated well with Africa as it is based on the principle of bottom-up and not top-down.
There is a large African community in India, particularly of students. While we have to ensure that they do not break the law, their safety and security is an important Government responsibility.
There are considerable opportunities for cooperation with Latin America. Besides the big Latin American countries of Brazil, Mexico and Argentina we need to further move ahead in our partnership with the medium and smaller countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Before I conclude, I would like to make brief references to some international and regional organisations and issues.
India is a candidate for permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council. India’s candidature should be successful by any objective criteria. We have unequivocal support from three, and possibly of the fourth, of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and a significant membership of the UN. However, the process is complicated as it involves the required support to amend the UN Charter in both the Security Council and the General Assembly. Commencement of text-based discussions on a resolution is still some way away. One is not sure as to how long the process will take and what will be the final outcome.
Terrorism is a global challenge and requires joint action by the international community to eliminate this menace. India is in the forefront of the global action against terrorism. It has proposed a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism at the UN. This needs to be concluded at the earliest. At the same time, we are naturally concerned over the selective approach in the 1267 Sanctions Committee. Besides, counter terrorism, we need greater international cooperation against cyber crimes, drugs and arms running and organised crime.
The Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) celebrated its 20th Anniversary. The first ever IORA Leaders’ Summit was held in Jakarta in March 2017 under the theme "Strengthening Maritime Cooperation for a Peaceful, Stable, and Prosperous Indian Ocean”. The Summit brought together the Leaders of the 21 IORA Member States and its 7 Dialogue Partners. A Jakarta Concord "Promoting Regional Cooperation for a Peaceful, Stable and Prosperous Indian Ocean” was signed. An "IORA Declaration on Preventing and Countering Terrorism and Violent Extremism” was adopted.
The Indian Ocean region will see significant interest in the coming days in harnessing blue economy resources. The blue economy – marine economic activity including fishing, renewable energy, mineral exploration and coastal tourism – is emerging as a common source of growth, innovation and job creation for the Indian Ocean region. With a vast coastline and located as it is centrally in the Indian Ocean, the importance of the blue economy to India cannot but be overemphasised.
The idea of BRICS originated in 2003 and took shape as a political grouping with economic parameters in 2006. The five BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) account for around half the world’s population, a quarter of the world’s land area and a combined GDP of above US $ 16 trillion equivalent to roughly 23% of the world GDP. Between 2006 and 2015, intra-BRICS trade increased 163%, from $ 93 to $244 billion. The BRICS Summit in Brazil in 2014 set up a New Development Bank (NDB) and a Contingency Reserve Arrangement (CRA) which will be more sympathetic to the requirements of developing countries unlike the IMF and the World Bank.
One of the biggest setbacks due to the success of BRICS regrettably has been a lack of interest in the IBSA (India, Brazil and South Africa). This organisation, which was supposed to have celebrated its 10th Anniversary in 2013 brought together three democratic countries with an equal and shared interest in economic growth of their countries and respond to the needs of developing countries. While we continue to strengthen BRICS, IBSA should not be ignored.
There has been considerable debate on UN political reforms. However, not much is reported on international financial institution reforms where the Bretton Woods institutions like the IMF and the World Bank have been used to perpetuate the financial hegemony of the Western developed countries.
The APEC grouping was formed in 1989 at an Australian initiative. It comprises of 21 countries. India had applied for APEC membership in 1993. However, new membership was frozen in 1996 under a 20-year moratorium. The APEC Task Force head, Kevin Rudd, former Australian Prime Minister noted in 2015 that it was "fundamentally important” to in clude India into the APEC membership to "rectify a historical error”.
The withdrawal of the USA from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) creates new opportunities for members of the global community who were not its members. The fate of the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) hinges on the outcome of the BREXIT discussions and will also depend on the US policy on regional and multilateral agreements.
May I end with the hope that some of you do decide to join the Indian Foreign Service. The diplomatic strength of the Ministry of External Affairs is not commensurate with the responsibility which devolves on India as an emerging power. The Ministry would thus be delighted to see you representing the Republic of India overseas.
I will conclude here and will be glad to take any questions that you might have.
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