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EAM's remarks at Asian Leadership Conference 2020

November 11, 2020

Excellencies, Friends,

1. It is a pleasure to join you all this morning (Indian time) at the Asian Leadership Conference 2020. I thank Chosun Ilbo for inviting me to deliver this key-note speech. My congratulations on their completing 100 years of their foundation and making such an important contribution to the public discourse.

2. The theme that I have been asked to address is "Emerging geopolitics and economic landscape in Asia”. This is not just indicative of our changing times but eminently appropriate, given the integral connection between geopolitics and economic shifts in our continent. Indeed, these two developments are reflected in two key phenomena that drive current global politics: globalization and rebalancing. Both have had their own consequences and reactions. But feeding on each other, they offer an explanation for much that is happening in our contemporary world.

3. The merits of globalization needs no elucidation in a region that has gained so visibly from that process. What is perhaps less adequately realized is that their unequal benefits – within societies and between them – have also created a backlash. We have seen this expressed politically and electorally across different geographies. Not surprisingly, trade frictions have acquired a much sharper salience in overall international relations. It is also worth noting that in the recent American election, reshoring jobs was a shared position of the candidates. The issue is, of course, more complicated than just economics.The truth is that the inherent diversity of the world will not be subjugated in this era by global dominance, intellectual or material.

4. This then brings me to the dispersal of global power today, one that accentuates the multiplicity of interests and viewpoints. Since the Second World War and the revival of nations following decolonization, the world has seen a steady rebalancing. This was initially primarily economic and led by Asia. South Koreans know it better than most, having been one of the important pioneers of this process. Inevitably, the shifts in production and consumption was reflected not only in different GDP and per capita numbers, but also in politics and culture. In that sense, this multi-polarity is today in the process of creating a much more balanced global discourse and narratives. The unfolding of this process will not be an easy one because neither the parties gaining nor yielding ground will adjust easily.

5. In addition, this period has also seen the emergence of new metrics of power. Whether it is trade or investment, connectivity or debt, or technology and data, all of them have their own strategic implications. We have seen them leveraged in relationships and utilized in diplomacy. That this is done in a more volatile and uncertain world naturally has its own resonance.

6. So, where does this all leave the world? That we are heading towards new balances of power and interests is not in doubt. Nor is the reality that this will manifest itself in a more multi-polar global architecture. Recent events suggest that the accompanying mindsets will put multilateralism under stress. Not all of us want that, though actions rather than words will speak for intentions. If the old order erodes and a new one has yet to emerge, we are probably headed for a long transition. It will be one characterized by convergences among powers and working arrangements to give that practical shape. Middle powers are likely to have a greater role and regional solutions perhaps more space to unfold. New concepts and mechanisms will co-exist with established ones, leading to more animated discussions amongst us all.

7. Now, bear in mind that in a world that was already under stress, Covid-19 has been an additional – and really serious – complicating factor. We don’t need to tell each other what we already know. But for the purposes of this discussion, it bears noting that many countries have expanded their definition of national security as a result. Equally, there is a stronger sense of strategic autonomy with a greater emphasis on resilient supply chains.

8. A few words about how India has responded to the Covid-19 challenge. One part of it was the production of ventilators, masks, PPEs and testing kits that took care of our national requirements and beyond. The other was the establishment of dedicated treatment centres and harnessing of the medical infrastructure to that task. But underpinning all this was an extraordinary social discipline that was only motivated by leadership.

9. Like the rest of the world, India too is focussed on recovery and resilience. Our economic numbers for September and October have been encouraging and we are confident that they will only become better. However, we feel that this is also the moment to undertake ambitious reforms that would put us on a higher trajectory. Some of these have already unfolded in the domains of agriculture, labour, education and energy. Recognizing the importance of employment generation, the focus on ease of doing business has further increased. As a national strategy, we are aiming for aAtmanirbhar Bharat (self-reliant India), one that would expand its capabilities to make a greater contribution in the global economy. We want to make in India, and make for the world. I am sure that this is an aspiration that Koreans would identify with.

10. What does this mean for the collaboration between India and Republic of Korea? The changes underway in my country will surely mean more opportunities for Korean businesses. Not just in the Indian market but equally, in integrating India-based operations into a global supply chain. A closer relationship will also require more exposure and a better understanding at the societal level. This could mean more tourism, entertainment, cultural exchanges and language teaching. At the political level, the world that I described also necessitates our working together. In many ways, that is already happening. Foreign Minister Kang and I have been in various groups discussing current issues. I know that ROK has a New Southern Policy that complements our own Act East Policy.

11. But since the theme was about geopolitics, let me conclude by asserting that it is in our shared interest to work towards a multi-polar Asia. Given how central Asia has now become to the global economy, it is only then that we will get a truly multi-polar world.

New Delhi
November 11, 2020

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