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Remarks by EAM at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs (FIIA) (September 20, 2019)

September 20, 2019

Dr Teija Tiilikainen, Director of FIIA,
Dr. Erkki Tuomioja
Distinguished guests,


It is a great pleasure to join you all this morning to speak about India and the world. I thank the Finnish Institute of International Affairs for this opportunity to share my views on this important subject.

2. To appreciate how India approaches the world today, it is important to understand the changes underway in that country. I stand before you as a Minister of a new Government a few months after the election. It is a Government that received a convincing mandate from the people, based on a strong record of delivery in the previous five years. This was reflected in an increase of vote share of almost 10%, not a mean achievement in any democracy. And the reason for that is that a transformational agenda is under implementation in India, one that touches every facet of life and goes beyond the traditional metrics of measuring progress. The real difference which we are making to the quality of life as much as to the quality of governance is visible as much in the physical change of towns and villages as in the mindsets of its people. Indian youth hoping for change are as enthused as Indian women seeking gender justice and fairer participation. The spread of digital network has been as energetic as the desire to enhance skills and expand opportunities.

3. These processes are reflected in numbers, many of which speak for themselves: 360 million new bank accounts, $60 billion in direct benefit transfers, 15 million affordable rural homes, 96 million toilets, 80 million free cooking gas connections for low income families, 200 million micro credits of which nearly 75% went to women, and I could go on. National campaigns today target closing the gender gap, digital growth, skills improvement, smart cities, start-ups, cleaning rivers, in fact cleaning the nation as a whole. And this is an endeavour where no region, community or faith will be left behind.

4. My purpose in mentioning these changes is to highlight what is today a dominant aspect of our foreign policy. And that is to explore international partnerships that can advance these campaigns and objectives in India. For us, foreign policy has strong developmental focus now as we explore sourcing technology, best practices, capital, resources and collaborations with global partners. It is certainly an aspect that I believe Finland should study closely in identifying further prospects for the growth of our relationship.

5. This is not a theoretical prescription but one based on possibilities already being explored. More than a 100 Finnish companies are present in India, some like Wartsila and Nokia for many years. Their businesses have grown in the last few decades but could do even more as the demands increase. The urbanization of India, growth of the middle-class and changes in lifestyle will create new opportunities. These could be outbound too, in services offered abroad by our IT companies or holiday resorts in Finland operated by Mahindra. As the world moves towards a more knowledge based economy, the natural strengths of the two economies could complement each other. SLUSH in Finland will find a ready partner in Start Up India. And then there is the promise of the future – more environment friendly businesses like the bio-refinery being set up at Numaligarh by Fortum and Chempolis or the electric vehicle domain with a range of players. The talent of India and its leapfrogging strategy at home are the two natural avenues for Finnish businesses to engage.

6. India lives in a tough neighbourhood and faces more than its fair share of national security challenges. Most prominent among them is the cross-border terrorism that we have been subjected to for many decades. It has cost more than 40,000 lives in the last three decades. We are opposed to terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and believe there is no justification for it, whatsoever. But it is not just enough to have a position. When subjected to terrorist attacks, any polity that is sincerely committed to the welfare of its people will surely respond. And indeed, that is precisely what we have done in recent years. Even the changes that were approved last month by the Indian Parliament in respect of Jammu & Kashmir, while driven by the needs of governance and development, have a national security connotation. One factor in the mandate that our Government received recently was the confidence among our people in our ability to safeguard national security. We know that the epicentre of global terrorism is there right in our neighbourhood. But even as we take our responsive measures, our belief is that this is not just a concern for one country but for the entire international community. Sadly, past neglect has come to haunt many distant regions of the world. It is, therefore, vital that various aspects of this challenge – including radicalization, financing and state-sponsorship – are addressed by all of us together. Only then will we make progress.

7. While every country has its preoccupations, there are also larger trends that shape its priorities and interests. The transformation of India that I spoke about is part of the larger rise of Asia and of global rebalancing. India is but the latest example of modernization that the world has seen. Obviously, it will have its specific characteristics, but there are some general lessons for all of us. A three trillion minus economy journeying towards a five trillion plus one in the near future has its own implications for the world. It will be a source of new capabilities as much as of demands. That this nation will also be the most populous society very soon only underlines both aspects. India’s development is less autarchic than those of other Asian nations preceding it on the growth charts. Identifying, exploring and capturing opportunities emanating from this growth is very much at the centre of our engagement with the world. India’s rise also has its outward dimensions. Some of that is visible in the operations and investments of Indian companies abroad. It is also expressed through greater trade in goods and services. And it is evident in an increasingly successful and prosperous diaspora. The globalization of India has many different facets and obviously, their relevance for the world depends on the strength and focus of the partner country.

8. How this changing India perceives the world matters more now than it did in the past. The domestic transformation that I have spoken about is, in many ways, the starting point. It creates new possibilities for international partnerships, at home and abroad. The larger rebalancing that I referred to also has a cultural and political component. There is much greater self-awareness of our ability to contribute to the world, both in ideas and in capabilities. Unlike many other societies where nationalism is a rejection of global commitments, a more self-confident India actually embraces the world more strongly. A better standing in the world is widely welcomed and foreign policy resonates at the popular level. It is natural that a more diversified and multi-polar world would have broader conversations. And we have contributed to that, whether it is on policy matters in the G-20 or through initiatives like the International Day of Yoga and the International Solar Alliance. But even as India engages more intensively with the world, it also brings to bear its own strategic perspectives, concepts and interests. Allow me to share some of them with you.

9. Whether it is in growing awareness, a larger footprint or indeed stronger connectivity and intensive exchanges, the rise of a civilizational state like India with its international traditions will have profound consequences, for the world. Insofar as Asia is concerned, we believe that a multi-polar world must have a multi-polar Asia as its prerequisite. It is, therefore, critical that the rising powers like India and China find a stable equilibrium, among themselves as much as with the rest of the continent. It is also important that nations desirous of playing a greater role in international affairs – like Japan – be encouraged to do so. And not least, the consensus-builder of Asia – the ASEAN – must maintain its centrality and cohesion. They have been the most effective in forging a common platform for the world to gather. The role of Russia is also significant. We appreciate it from our Asian perspective. A noteworthy element of the recent strategic discourse has been the concept of Indo-Pacific. For India, it is a logical extension of its interests and activities to the East that accounts for more than half its trade today. The sharp separation of the Indian and Pacific Oceans were the outcome of the post-1945 situation. That has changed for a variety of reasons including the repositioning of the United States, the rise of China and of course, India’s growing footprint. There are multiple versions of an approach to the Indo-Pacific and harmonizing them would be an interesting diplomatic exercise.

10. At the centre of Asia – in the Indian Sub-continent – there are also significant changes taking place as we determinedly pursue a ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy. This envisages a generous and non-reciprocal effort at building connectivity, contacts and commerce in a seriously under-regionalized geography. To our West, the future of Afghanistan is the big concern, as are the choices of Pakistan in becoming a normal neighbour. The Gulf situation is perhaps an even greater anxiety for us than for Europe, given our stakes in energy, diaspora, trade and security. What is relevant for this talk is India is pulling its weight strongly on all these issues. When it comes to humanitarian assistance or disaster relief in Nepal, Yemen or Mozambique, we have stepped up to the task in the realization that increasingly, solutions must come from within the region. Our concern about stability in the Gulf is similarly reflected in the nature of our deployments. The short point is that we are not only contributing to the discourse but also to the reality of making it happen.

11. How does India see the West? That presumably is a question that would interest many in Finland. We may have a complicated history but now also have a natural partnership. After all, India is a political democracy, a market economy and a pluralistic society. It was our choices that made democracy a global norm, rather than just a Western one. We have a rich history of collaborative partnerships in the modern era with the West in general and Europe in particular. Our ties with the US have also undergone a sea change in the last 20 years. These cooperation initiatives with the West are only likely to grow in the years to come. There are the obvious mechanisms to advance such cooperation, including free trade agreements and greater civil society and economic exchanges. But it is important that there is a sharper realization of the more multi-polar nature of the world and the need for more diversified conversations. New realities will lead to new equilibriums. And that in turn needs open minds. This is not just a matter of politics or economics. It is also about culture, values, heritage and norms. The era of undifferentiated globalization is over, and with it, the over-confident prescriptions for others. Admittedly, there are strong inter-dependencies and global supply chains. But the time has come for us all to recognize that cultural expressions and national interests will be critical factors in the conduct of global affairs. And it is in this give and take that the new global order will take shape.

12. The immediate future will clearly have its fair share of challenges. If Asia is witnessing multiple centres of growth, then the West has also become more diverse. But this is not just about the spread of power and influence. It is also about growing stresses on international regimes and fraying consensus on global issues. The rise of nationalism – whether in the US, Europe or China – has a ripple impact through the world. Indeed, we could be staring at the prospect of greater multi-polarity but weaker multilateralism. The provision of global services and the commitment to common good will have more question marks than in the past. At a structural level, middle powers may have greater room for manoeuvre and regionalism may get new energy. In some cases, there could be a return of history with reassertions of influence. All of this means a constant evaluation of a dynamic global situation and creative responses to its challenges and opportunities. Where India is concerned, our approach is to maintain good relations with all the major powers. Obviously, the degree of convergence with each of them would depend on the issue, situation or the partner concerned. But arriving at the best positioning and working out the most flexible method of cooperation is the diplomacy of our current era. From navigating a non-aligned world and then ensuring strategic autonomy in a more unipolar one, we have entered a world of Chinese Checkers, one involving multiple players and more complex competition. It is shifting us all into a greater focus on bilaterals and plurilaterals, while creating a demand for more contemporary multilaterals.

13. While we all will naturally do our best in the games that nations play, the fundamental inter-dependence of our world is also a critical factor in India’s outlook. Given our size and demography, we know that what we will do at home will make a difference to the world. Most of our national campaigns for change reflect the Sustainable Development Goals. And without exaggeration, it is India’s performance that may make all the difference to their success. But while conscious of its responsibilities at home, India is also equally sensitive to its commitments abroad. There is much history of shared struggle as nations of the South put colonialism behind us. This, in turn, has created traditions of international cooperation that India is now building upon further. Even with limited resources, we had a policy of sharing in the past. But today, we can do very much more. With Africa, there is a USD 10 billion plus development assistance programme under way that is supported by training of 50,000 Africans in 5 years. From the Caribbean to the Pacific Islands, our partnership programmes target challenges of energy, skills and agriculture. Just this week, we inaugurated an initiative for 1,000 post-doctoral fellows from the ASEAN to do research in our institutes of technology. These examples only illustrate the underlying reality of an India that will speak up for larger good – as it did against apartheid in the past or climate change and development opportunities today. If we urge the reform of an outdated United Nations, our claims are not just that of record, contributions, potential and credibility but one drawing on a reservoir of global goodwill as well.

14. The world we live in does not lack for challenges. They range from livelihood concerns and technology impacts to acceptance of other cultures. At a practical level, they are expressed in trade debates, supply chain preferences, mobility concerns, income disparities and underlying them all, the assumptions and rules that shape global activities in various domains. This is an era of real transition as the post – 1945 world is running out of steam. Its replacement will take time to emerge and even then, only with much debate and not a little friction. But on behalf of a key player, I can state confidently what we can do – and equally important – what we will not be. On the challenges of development and its impact on nature, India will lead on climate change. On the power of ideas and vision of humanity, India will support inclusiveness and diversity and will fight fundamentalism and terrorism. On the future of technology, we will leverage it creatively and effectively but make sure it remains people centric. What India will not be is mercantilist, self-centred, cynical or unreliable. It would be a partner with which Europe and Finland can build a long-term partnership. And I hope my visit is a small step in that direction. Thank you.

 

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