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EAM’s remarks at Carnegie Endowment, Washington DC, 30 September 2019

October 02, 2019

William J Burns: Good morning. It’s a pleasure to welcome all of you in the Carnegie Endowment. For those of you I don’t know, who don’t know me I am Will Burns, President of the Carnegie Endowment. It’s nice to see so many familiar faces here today. I really am delighted to be able to welcome back to Carnegie my friend and longtime colleague Foreign Minister Jaishankar.

The truth is that I don’t think I ever worked with a more capable, professional diplomat than the minister and I am delighted that he has been able to make time in what I know his extremely busy schedule. Having survived the diplomatic speed dating of the United Nations General Assembly in New York last week and now moving in to what is a familiar terrain for him in Washington DC and which is today a nice boring controversy free zone, to be able to offer his perspective, which is always a thoughtful one about the evolution of India’s strategy on a very complicated international landscape and then his thoughts on the US-India Strategic Partnership which as all of you know has deep roots across parties of both administrations over the last couple of decades and always faces its share of both challenges and opportunities. And so after the minister makes a few opening comments, I’ll turn to my friend and colleague Ashley Tellis to moderate the conversation after that.

External Affairs Minister, Dr. S Jaishankar: You know this is very nostalgic starting, 8:30 in Washington at Carnegie Endowment and I was trying to remember, I think, the vivid memory I have is about five and a half years ago when I’d just come into Washington as Ambassador. Those weren’t exactly the best days for Indo-US relations and I had an opportunity, I think this was my first formal pod where I spoke. I think Ashley you would remember that and I thought to myself today, how much those five and half years have changed. Changed us, changed the US, changed the world, changed our relationship in many ways.

So, what I would do, if it is okay with all of you, probably speak for about ten minutes on those changes, if you would, and then I’d be really be much happier if I could respond to your observation or your questions so that I address your interests rather than I hold forth on my own.

Let me start at home, which is really Modi 2.0 in a way. And I think most of you would not dispute the fact that it was a very impressive election victory but if we all are fair to ourselves I think most of us would also admit that we didn’t see that coming, certainly not on that scale. And to my mind the reason is that, I mean I saw two drivers of the verdict. One was a far more effective domestic delivery on many social welfare schemes and socio-economic interventions and people sitting at far off places including in Delhi gave the government credit for.

And I’d be honest with you even I, now that I travel more within India realize how effective and how penetrative those efforts were on the ground. The second I think was the national security sense that the world is a difficult place, our region has been among the more difficult parts of a difficult world and therefore a sense that today you need strong, safe pair of hands to guide national security.

So actually the interesting thing was while a lot of people suggested anti-incumbency when the elections happened. In reality you had a government and a prime minister who were still very much perceived as agent of change. That what was the first vote i.e. the vote in 2014 was a vote of hope and I think the second vote was much more a vote of trust and it was reflected interestingly in actually more numbers. I mean you had within one election about 7% increase in vote share, which is, if you ask any politician that is not a mean achievement. You had 17 states where actually BJP got more than 50% of the votes which is in a Westminster model a very-very strong statement of confidence.

So the fact is that while there were a lot of challenges and clearly the impact of many moves on society were visible but it was clear that electorate in many ways was probably more mature than people gave it credit for. And I say that because if you take the approach of the government in the last five years and I would argue that this carries on, it was very much an approach of a long term perspective, doing things which were possibly not immediately effective, taking tough calls when many of calls have been ducked and I think what you see now on Article 370 and the legislative changes in Jammu & Kashmir is very much part of that kind of approach. So that is my broad domestic description for your consideration.

Now look at the foreign policy and again let me again speak to you about the last five years and then how we take it forward in the next five. Some of you would remember a movie in the 1970s called Shatranj Ke Khiladi, it was a very famous Satyajit Ray movie and for those of you who are not familiar, its those two Indian Nawabs who are busy playing chess as the East India Company relentlessly kind of moves in on India. And the foreign policy take away for that is really Indian self-absorption which leaves you oblivious really to larger global developments. And that has been very much a challenge in a large argumentative society which mostly argues with itself.

Now the second legacy, if you would, is really how non-alignment evolved in India which was that what began really as a statement and a strategy of very fierce independence finally as the world became more complex, it was more and more difficult to do a tightrope walking without offending anybody. So a policy which began really with the intention of maximizing your options ended up with a default position of saying the least and being the most cautious which has its virtues at times but often lets pass a lot of diplomatic opportunities.

Now both, I think, the awareness of the world and a willingness to engage and take risks and do things, I think, both have changed very sharply. If you look at the last five years there has been a very active, energetic engagement with every major power center. There has been a very vigorous effort made to cultivate constituencies, sometimes region constituencies, sometimes larger developmental constituencies but clearly a shift to a very activist diplomatic posture. It’s also shown up in activities like HADR where if you were to contrast what happened in 2004 tsunami where much of the HADR relief efforts came from outside the region increasingly actually India has become a HADR provider within the Indian Ocean region and sometimes beyond as well.

It has shown up in sharper, I would say, conceptual communication, I mean there is today a sharp sense of the neighborhood, I mean you keep saying neighborhood first there is a message in it for all the neighbors. When it comes to ASEAN the emphasis on the act versus the look, again has a message of greater engagement. The Indian Ocean has policy called SAGAR which again is a much more integrated, actually it is for the first time an integrated ocean strategy, from Australia to Madagascar. And the Indo-Pacific is again an example of our willingness to go beyond traditional silos and accept that the world today is much more seamless than it used to be.

But it is not just in the strategic side, I think, there is also a sense that look, today we are the sixth largest economy, and likely to be third pretty soon, clearly going to be the most populous country in the next few years and somewhere our personality, our traditions, our heritage, our voice in many ways needs to be heard perhaps much more effectively than in the past and there are a range of expressions to that. I mean it could be the international day of Yoga, it could be the fact that today speeches are given in our own language, conversations are in our own language. It could even be an event, like many of you saw, in Texas. So the point I am making is, you have a change in India, a generational change, a social change, a political change. You have a set of people who are much more comfortable in their own skin and who are not, today, hesitant to engage the world on that basis.

Now looking at the world scenario, I think today we could argue over the reasons for what it is but some of it is pretty obvious to all of us. I mean clearly the era of benign globalization is over. But it is not to say globalization is over because there are very deep structural basis for globalization, so you have, in a sense, a structural past contending with a much more nationalistic present and that tension is playing out very differently in different parts of the world.

It is also a fact that today alliances are diluting so the post 1945 world, I wouldn’t say the post 45 world is coming to an end but it is clearly there is a kind of transition phase where the graph is pointing south there. There is an overall rebalancing in the world, economic rebalancing, political rebalancing and when India looks at all of it, in an interesting way we come at it from a slightly different direction than many other countries. I think today India is more nationalistic than it was before but I would also assert that today India is much more internationalist than it was before. And Indian nationalism is not contradictory to, I mean there is actually an appetite for world affairs, which in many other nationalistic societies is much more raising the walls and pulling back from where you are. And if I were to sort of try and find the right words to describe how we approach the world, I would say, in a way, with a high degree of realism but with also a strong sense of beliefs.

Now, in this global background, let me say a few words about some of the major issues and let me start with the India-US relations. Obviously, like any other country we too are impacted by the repositioning of the United States vis-à-vis the rest of the world. The fact that it engages in a very different manner than it used to be and the point here is, I mean in a sense India has an advantage that not having inherited any of the alliance thinking, its much easier for us to approach the United States straight rather than the United States as the center of the larger western system.

And we, I think today, understand that this is a world of convergences and you build your cooperation in your areas of convergence. And there are issues, there are even theaters, I mean for example we could have more convergence in east of India than west of India but there are probably very few places where there are no convergences, very few where there are full convergences. I think where the US, and this is my reading of the American intent, we’ve always, not always, at least for the last 20 years seen a debate between those who have a global view and those who have a regional view and I would argue that if you look back the last 20 years it is actually the globalist and the American system who’ve driven the change which forged stronger relations. And I think that duality of the United States continues to some extent.

The two-three big issues which I think form the backbone of our relationship today. I think one is clearly the knowledge economy and I see that getting stronger not weaker. Clearly the direction of global economy, the direction of the American economy, the direction of the Indian economy all point towards much more focus on that set of businesses. The diaspora connect, I think, has also got stronger partly due to numbers but even more due to the quality of the diaspora and in a sense today when we approach the relationship it is very much, would it be a vision driven progress or would it be a transaction driven progress, I think that is, and sometimes by the way, the two go together, so I wouldn’t do it as an either-or. But I do think, I mean, I know in recent months there has been a lot of writing on the trade issues but my sense of it is most of these are resolvable, in fact my expectation is much of it is resolvable in the fairly near term and I am overall very confident about both the near term future and the longer term future of our relationship.

If I could then shift the gears and go on to Asia, in Asia of course the story of China’s rise and how that impacts the rest of Asia, that is still playing out. For India as a neighbor with a somewhat complicated history I think the search for us is for an equilibrium that would be satisfactory on both sides. It’s not any easy exercise but to my mind it is very-very necessary exercise because it’s in the interest of neither country nor indeed the rest of the world that India-China relations are anything other than stable. We’ve made some creative attempts at that, two years ago at Astana there were two conceptual understandings, one that really our relationship should be a factor of stability in an uncertain world and two, differences should not become disputes. And I must say other than what happened at Doklam which is now behind us, we have largely, both of us, lived to that and that moved on to Wuhan.

Now I am not suggesting to you that these are great problem solving equations out there, what I am telling you is that today India and China have conversations at the leadership level with a degree of candor and an openness which they have not had for a very-very long time and that, to my mind, has an enormous value because when you are searching for an equilibrium unless you have that conversation you will not get to that equilibrium. So Wuhan, for us, was an exercise in that process and obviously we hope to take that forward as more informal summits take place.

The Japanese relationship is another important relationship, we’ve really come a long way with Japan. We see Japan today economically active in India in a manner which it has not been before. They’ve also brought to bear a much more strategic view of Asia and our part of Asia in particular. And we have expanded our relationship today to cover security issues and those of you who have dealt with Japan would really understand what it takes actually to get there.

One word about the ASEAN, I think the ASEAN has actually been the most acceptable platform in Asia, a place where much of Asia and a lot of non-Asia meet. And today keeping and strengthening the cohesiveness of ASEAN, maintaining its centrality, these are very important objectives, not just for India, we believe for the larger region as well.

Beyond Asia, the two other big factors on our security calculations, one is Europe and again Europe has been very inward looking initially because of the Eurozone crisis, then the challenges they faced out of North Africa, but then also due to Brexit. But Europe perhaps has not been, shall I say, as much on the change curve in terms of understanding the directions of the world that we would like it to be particularly in respect to developments in our region, I think that too is changing. We see far more European interest now than we see saw a year or two years ago. I think both the French and the Germans have been much, French particularly, have been very much more active out there.

Where Russia is concerned we have always maintained it has enormous geopolitical relevance for us. We have a very strong historical defense security relationship with that country and that will continue. Overall, as I said, I paint to you a picture of really much greater strategic clarity in Delhi. Yes, I should add one more which is we have begun in a way much greater focus on Africa and it is interesting today, four years ago at the India-Africa Forum Summit committed to $10 billion lines of credit and $600 million grant assistance to Africa. We are on track to deliver on that and perhaps exceed in the five year period. We had also a training target for 50,000 for five years, we have actually done forty and we are opening 18 new embassies in three years and all 18 are in Africa. So out of 54 we will end up, I forget, at 46 or 48 of them.

So to sum up, I think there are two points that I would make for your consideration which is that, on the one hand when we grow we would like to grow with the world, we would both politically and economically, so while that may not be true of other parts of this globe, certainly in our case the message would be of engagement and more engagement. And the second is, there will be a new balance in the making which is natural. As any country relatively and in absolute terms goes up the ladder. The terms of transaction between that country, that society of the world will obviously have to reflect that. So I think on a lot of issues we certainly are clear that the decisions and the courses of action are going to be decided by us, others can have their opinions on the matter, we would listen to it very respectfully but at the end of the day, I think, the changes which have happened in the last few years would reflect themselves in the manner we conduct our foreign policy and the manner in which we engage with other countries. So why don’t I stop here and perhaps open it up for questions.

Ashley Tellis: Thank you Mr. Minister, it’s wonderful to have you back here at Carnegie and thank you for a wide ranging set of remarks. I am going to open the floor, please keep your interventions brief because I want to get as many people involved in the conversation.

The question posed by Sriram Lakshman of the Hindu picked up on something that minister said earlier when he remarked, "somewhere our personality, our traditions, our heritage are voice in many ways need to be heard perhaps much more effectively than in the past.” In his question Sriram asks the minister that who’s personality, who’s tradition, who’s heritage and who’s voice within a very diverse Indian society gets highlighted. Here is the minister’s response.

External Affairs Minister, Dr. S Jaishankar: Look, there is nobody who disputes that India is a pluralistic society and a pluralistic polity and in many ways a pluralistic personality. By the way when I am talking personality I am talking national personality, not a person’s personality. Now because you have multiple voices and different facets that doesn’t mean that none of them should be projected. The challenge for us is really, if nobody looks askance at the fact that today the Chinese or the Japanese or the Russians or the Arabs speak in their own language, I am choosing language as an example. So I don’t think we need to be defensive on one side and chauvinistic on other side about the use of our own metaphors, language, concepts etc. The larger point I am making is that if we believe today that we count more and we count more economically, we count more strategically, we count more politically – in terms of activity, that must be reflected in a fairer share of the conversation and a fairer share of the ideas of that conversation and the examples I cited were to make that point.

And certainly, I would say, and the paradox is you and I are having this conversation in English, we could have it in Tamil and in Hindi, but the fact is that it is, I think, natural today for a country in the position in which the India is, to articulate its ideas, use its metaphors, its language both literally and conceptually and introduce those into the international discourse. The idea that our, shall I say, thinking shaped from the brainwork of other societies, to me, defeats common sense certainly at a time when I feel that I am able to pull my own weight so much more effectively than in the past.

So I would urge you to look at this not so much in terms of India’s domestic discourse and that domestic discourse will be there in different society in different ways. I would like you to look at it as part of rebalancing. Rebalancing is not just in GDP number because the GDP numbers are important, it is also in terms of everything else you do in diplomacy which gives you that sense that world is today much more commonly owned, commonly led enterprise.

Question: Permanent media outlets in the US especially the New York Times and the Washington Post have been fairly relentless critic of your government and BJP and the Prime Minister, why do you think is the case and what do you think it matters for the like of you?

External Affairs Minister, Dr. S Jaishankar: There is a lot of change happening in India, a lot of change happening in the world and in many ways they kind of fade into each other. It’s not that India is today everybody is on the same page and there are no arguments or disputes in India. It’s also quite evident that in many ways a lot of our arguments within the country are reflected in global arguments of a different nature. So I take a lot of what our media comments and media analysis as reflecting the thinking, the viewpoints of different organizations. Whenever I am at the negative end of it I would regard it as a bias, obviously if it works in my favor I’d say insightful guys, you’ve got it right. Now, I will give you an example. Look at all that has come out on Article 370, almost impossible to find anywhere in global media on reference to the fact that 370 was a temporary provision of the constitution of India because it is inconvenient to the narrative which they are advancing.

Let’s not kid ourselves, the world is an ideological place, not everybody is as fair as objective as we would like them to be, perhaps we ourselves are not. So I think we take what comes from different quarters and we see who is saying that and when you see who is saying it, you shrug your shoulders and you move on. SO I wouldn’t lose sleep over it. I think at the end of the day, certainly in a society like India, the caravan would move and people will do what they have to do.

Question: Indo-US relations have taken a downturn after previous two presidents. I mean a number of trade disputes, security issues that have come up are much worse now. Three years of this is over. The question is there is talk of striking a deal with the USA on trade and our fellows are felt that we are under pressure. Do you settle now or say why don’t we hold out one more year just in case there is another president and then settle, in other words, should we take a hard line, I am saying, we don’t settle because some time has passed, let us wait, maybe we have to deal this guy anyway and but maybe there is somebody else.

External Affairs Minister, Dr. S Jaishankar: On your issue of trade disputes. Look, I have a larger concern and the concern is this. In India there is an inclination to put off decisions otherwise, so I would, the moment somebody comes and says, look, why are you doing it now, push it off. Now I am not saying timing doesn’t matter, okay, I take that. In our business, diplomacy, timing is very critical but I would not, I would say as a default position, kick my problems down the road because then they tend to accumulate and certainly on the trade side we have seen that over many-many years you know. There are issues which I remember from 20 years which are still being debated in many ways.

So maybe it is just me but I would certainly advocate that if you have issues I would like to engage, I would like to sort them out, I would not like to hold onto them and say maybe the world will be better tomorrow. Because my own sense is a year down the road there will be more issues. There will be things we haven’t foreseen today. And I think we have a backlog to deal with it, I mean there are legacy issues, there are issues we have been debating for last few years. So my inclination would be contrary to what you say that irrespective of what happens in the American elections, I feel that if there are issues that can be settled today, I would rather settle them today.

Question: I wanted to ask you a question on Jammu & Kashmir, which I am surprised didn’t come up until a year or so. It’s been about 60 days since the abrogation of Article 370 and the government, on the record, is basically laying up three objectives. One is to create a new political leadership that is aligned to the, so called sort of, idea of the India. The second is to create a vibrant economy that delivers for the local population and to do so on a way that is consistent with the rule of law, riding security instability. I wonder if you could give us a roadmap about how we get from where we are today to how we get to those three desire in states?

External Affairs Minister, Dr. S Jaishankar: Loo, I would, first of all, differ with what you said in terms of what our objectives are, I don’t think objective is to promote political leadership because I think the leadership of any state, or a set of states would come from the leadership. So its not like Delhi is going to say that these are the guys we like or not like but I’d tell you what, in a sense, the objectives, or I’d give you sort of a broad explanation. Look, at where we were on August 5 and after 70 years, after the accession of Jammu & Kashmir to India and about 30 years of what has been a fairly high intensity cross-border terrorism waged which has disrupted pretty much the fabric of state. There were limits to how much you could progress out there because particularly the last few years you had a lot of new elements to the challenges out there including the emergence of much more radical, fundamentalist ideologies and people bearing weapons in that name. You also had actually a social, if I were to give you a little history here, it is very interesting, just so that we all have you all the same page, the temporary Article 370 provided for the issue of presidential proclamations by which national laws then became applicable to the state.

Now over a period of time, initially the 1950s and 60s saw a very large number of these. These started trailing off, if you were to actually do a correlation, you do a correlation between the alignment of Jammu & Kashmir to the national laws of India and the terrorism and the law and order status of Jammu & Kashmir, I would suggest to you that you would find a very-very strong correlation out there. So the problem was that you had a state which actually as India progressed was less and less aligned with India in every sense of the term. I mean some of it could have been political, institutional and administrative but a lot of it was social and economic as well. As people know, a lot of the, the right to work, the right to information, the right to education, reservations, none of these provisions applied to Jammu & Kashmir.

In fact if you look at the representative sample of any legislation which was passed by the parliament, fairly high up you know page one, may be para two or para three you’d have but this law applies to all of India except to the state of Jammu & Kashmir. So surely from a common sense point of view, if you are in a day and age where every society is undergoing change hopefully for the better, the idea that one state remains unaligned and every time it has to do its own thing which is it didn’t do, a lot of it. If they were doing it on their own and keeping in step it was a different matter but you look pretty much at anything progressive, anything to do with women, anything to do with children, anything to do with property, anything to do with affirmative action, in fact the irony there was everything the liberal press thinks is good for the world was not happening in Jammu & Kashmir and yet people wanted to defend the provision which was blocking that good from happening. I mean look at the absurdity of it.

So the point is that there was a fundamental issue of governance in a way at state, how long do you continue what was meant, and a fair reading of the constituent assembly debates, I mean nobody has to take my word or that of the government, these are today all available on the net. Read the constituent assembly debates, look at the correspondence of that era, look how much even the temporary, you know the original draft of Article 370 was 306A but 306A was initially much more ambitious in what 370 happened to be. So there was a trade off at that time, saying OK, we will accept a more limited alignment but it will be temporary and over a period of time we will align. Now we have moved away from that and I don’t want to cast aspersions on people but we all know why that happened. There were consideration of various kinds at play. So today, I think, somewhere, somebody had to take a call saying enough of this and let’s find, shall I say, a more bolder, I accept that it’s not without its risks but the goal is towards de-radicalized Jammu & Kashmir rather than a more radicalized Jammu & Kashmir and I think those were our options.

Question: You mentioned that the era of benign globalization is ending and also talked a bit about the importance of your relationship with the Americans. So here my question is, given the Trump Administration is very much leading this change of globalization arguable de-globalization and takes a very, sort of, transactional bilateral view of foreign affairs. To what extent does this character of globalization, the character of relations between countries come into your conversation with the Trump Administration because I presume from your wording, benign is over, you sure it is benign, there some good things about the kind of globalization that that is receding?

External Affairs Minister, Dr. S Jaishankar: No, my use of the word benign was that it was viewed benignantly rather than is globalization benign or not benign. By the way I don’t think globalization is malign, okay, so let me be on record out there. In fact my own sense is globalization is there to stay. You can modulate it, you can alter it here and there but fundamentally the idea that in this day and age that economies would be primarily national, I think is a very, or mobility should not be allowed or that interpenetration of economy can be controlled, I mean all those and there are realities out there but the point I was making was, 10 years ago, we wouldn’t have even argued over this point because everybody more or less accepted this is the direction the world is moving. Today we are arguing over that part and whichever side of the argument I am on, I cannot be in denial of the fact that there is an argument and I have to factor it into my calculations.

Speaker 1: I hope we will have an opportunity to welcome you back. So on behalf of all of you I want to thank you Minister Jaishankar for coming here and I want to thank you all for coming early in the morning. So thank you all very much. Take Care.

(Concludes)

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