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External Affairs Minister in Conversation at Raisina Dialogue 2020 : The India Way

January 16, 2020

Host: So, what we’re going to do this morning, is discuss Indian Foreign Policy, especially in recent times and we’re going to discuss it with the person who’s in charge of that foreign policy. And we’re going to try and uncover and unclutter some of his work over the last six months since he’s taken office and try and piece together what this session attempts to do is what we call the India way. So, let me start with that as my first question to you, Sir! What is that India way? How are we managing contest, conflicts, disruptions? And how are we making our presence felt in the international arena?

S Jaishankar: First of all, let me say that it’s very good to be here. Thank you Sameer and ORF team. I think you have done a splendid job as you have done the last four years. And it’s good to see so many people from across the world, from India. So, let me respond to your question, what is India way? Let me start with what is not the India way, I think it is not the India way to be a disruptionist power internationally, we should be a stabilizing power. There are already enough forces of disruption in the world. So, somebody needs to make up for it. It’s also not the India way to be self-centred, to be mercantilist. Therefore, it is important to be global, it’s important to be law-abiding or rule-based whichever way you like. I think of rules as something more than law, not as less than law, but that’s my view. It’s important to be consultative. If you ask me, for four or five sharp descriptions of what is the India way, I think the India way would be a country which brings its capacities to bear on the international system for global good, which is a net-security provider, which is a contributor to connectivity, which is firm in dealing with challenges like terrorism, which has her values and practices, which addresses global issues like climate change, that would be one. Two, the India way now especially, would be to be more of a decider or a shaper rather than an abstainer. And I would here pick issues like climate change or connectivity, as issues where India has made a difference in the last few years. Three, I would say India owes it to itself and to the world to be a just power, a fair power, to be a standard bearer for the South. I think its part of our history, its part of our political inheritance. So, I think India must live up to those obligations in a practical way and be the voice for the South. And finally the India way would be really ‘Brand India’. Brand India in terms of what is unique to us as a power, the fact that we have this extraordinary diaspora which connects us in a way, in which it does to very few powers. The fact that today we would be increasingly a pool of global talent, that our heritage, our traditions, what you’ve seen happen with yoga or what you see now happen with Indian traditional medicine and also in a more modern way, I would say shaping the discourse, even the international relations discourse, the concepts, the ideas, the debates, what is it that India will do? And I think there are obviously ways in which the India Way will be tested against global issues. Global issues like connectivity, maritime security, climate change, counterterrorism, democratic values, technology challenges of the kind which were discussed this morning and yesterday evening. I think all of that is part of India way.

Host: So, Sir, let me dive into the couple of issues that you have described. Let's talk about India as a contributor to some of the global aspirations, global infrastructure, global connectivity projects. There is a assessment that we make these big claims of being an actor in the connectivity space we don't deliver. We don't know how to complete projects. We are good talkers, we are not great builders.

S Jaishankar: I think it's somewhat unfair observation and definitely with regard to the last five years, an extremely outdated observation. And I’ll tell you why. Let me take the last five years, we have by my estimate a hundred and forty two connectivity projects in the different parts of the world. Fifty three of which have been completed, in the last five years. You said, we don’t deliver. So, let me start with the neighbourhood, what is it, which we have delivered. If you take Bangladesh, I think the pre-1965 road and rail connections which were disrupted, are all today restored. We have connectivity projects underway in waterways and ports, in roads and rail. If you look at Nepal, there are a whole set of roads which have been completed, there’s a sea change in Nepal’s electricity situation because of the transmission projects which, by the way, began in the last five years and have been completed. You have a pipeline of fuel from India to Motihari-Amlekhgunj to Nepal. If you take Sri Lanka, the rebuilding of the Sri Lankan rail network after their civil war was over, was really done by India. If you look at Afghanistan, again whether it’s electricity transmission, whether it's road networks, all of those have happened. So, I think to some degree, India is a prisoner of its past image. We have to leave that behind now.

I was talking the immediate neighbourhood, but I could go beyond. I mean as soon as this conference is over, I'm going to Niger to inaugurate a Convention Centre which we built in fourteen months, which would be among the largest convention centres in that part of the world. In fact, if I look around, in Africa, we've done Hydel Projects in Sudan, we've done in Rwanda, in DRC. We have sugar factories in Ethiopia. There was a time when we probably spoke more and did less. Today what has happened possibly not as conscious strategy but in reality, we are actually doing more than we speak.

Host: So, let me pick up another sector, Sir. Let me ask you about climate change. Again I think a while, of course, we have seen in the last five years there is a different discourse in Delhi and we've seen the mushrooming of huge solar energy projects. But are we punching at our weight in terms of what is needed globally to respond to climate change? You heard last night from the experience of the former head of governments in states. The climate is something of concern to all of us. Is India contributing enough?

S Jaishankar:
I had an inkling that you were going to being up Climate Change so, what I did was that I got the Climate Action Tracker Rating List. I don't know how many of you have seen it. But if you haven't, let me read it out for you. This is, the climate change actions of governments have been rated, and this is December 2019 rating. The highest category you get is something called Role Model. The Role Model by the way is Morocco and Gambia. Then the next category are countries who have kept to the Paris agreement 1.5 degree compatible commitments. Now, here's the list. And this you'll find very interesting. Philippines, Kenya, Ethiopia, Costa Rica, Bhutan and India. So, now who goes into the next category? 2 degree. Switzerland, Peru, Norway, New Zealand, Mexico, Kazakhstan, EU, Canada. Next category, by the way, they give up on the number, they just called them Insufficient. This is UAE, South Korea, South Africa, Singapore, Japan, Indonesia, China, Chile, Argentina.

Host: The last bunch are our attendee list.

S Jaishankar: Yeah, the last category is really diplomatically worded. It's called highly insufficient. It's United States, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Ukraine and Vietnam. So, does that answer your question?

Host: Partly. Let me move to the next thing that you raised, technology that was another area that we spoke about yesterday. Now as someone who engages with the technology sector and who came from the technology sector, I sometimes feel that we hear this huge buzz and conversations around the US tech, China tech as being the dominant ecosystems that are defining the 21st century and I feel sad sometimes that we have not done enough through international engagement to promote what is clearly a strong sect to the India tech. You know, we are creating bottom of pyramid solution and I know about that. But I sometimes feel, are we still not integrating technology into a diplomatic endeavour taking it to the world trying to create a whole new framework, a whole new approach to technology?

S Jaishankar: I'll answer that from a slightly different perspective. I'm not a tech person, but I'm in the image business. And what happened was between the Dot-com revolution and Y2k, the image of techie Indians actually took firm root all over the world, Many of us who were travelling and working abroad actually saw in those ten years how Indians were perceived very differently. But to your point, if you look at sources of tech today, or where is that innovation is happening, I would accept that we didn't move to that next level. And my intuition as an outsider to this domain would be that possibly if the kind of attention today that we are giving to start-ups and to digital development, what has come in the last five years, if it had come earlier, possibly we could have been sort of higher up the chain. But I still believe that, the digital domain is right for catching up. I think it's everywhere including from revolutions, there's a theory of the late comer having an advantage. It is conceivable if we go in the direction we now seem to be going in you could perhaps in the eighth or the tenth edition of Raisina be having a very different conversation on this.

Host: Let me expand that question a bit. You recently we read in the newspapers, you have actually created a division within the ministry, which is looking at emerging technologies. And again I want to pose a question. Is that a zero-sum division that is trying to protect India’s sovereign interests in the new technology domain or is it a division that is also going to be promoting India tech? And taking those technologies to the world with a development and digital public goods focus that the Prime Minister spoke about some months ago?

S Jaishankar: Well, you know, first of all the technology division we've created is in a ministry which by its very task mandate is a promotional ministry, is an analysis ministry. So, it's not a regulation issue. What is our thinking behind that? I would say there are two broad elements. One, there are technologies which are strategic by their very nature, and it's important for a Ministry which analyzes foreign affairs which contributes to national security to have a set of people who are competent , trained and focused to analyze those strategically relevant technologies. The second is there are technologies which when in the hands of strategic players become strategic. So, some of it is the nature of technology, some of it is the user of technology and the deployment of technology and the intent of technology. But some of it was discussed by the panel yesterday. So, I think it's a mix of that. Today I think it's no longer realistic to deal with technology as economics which used to be the old-fashioned way 20-30 years ago. Today technology is very much strategic and I think that's what we,in a sense, are responding to.

Host: Moving from domains to geographies, I think that we also yesterday at the in the opening session and in the dinner conversation, heard about important developments that will implicate all of us. So, let me start with, since I can see foreign minister Zarif here, let me start with the with Iran and you know, you're someone, if I remember correctly you were in DC and then you were in Iran but, you know, what does India do? At this moment, are we a bystander and an onlooker, are we someone who's going to be implicated by or are we going to be shaping what's happening? I think that's the question that some of us are asking.

S Jaishankar: Well look, I think you would get a shorter answer from me; you would get a larger part answer from Minister Zarif. But I would say this, I mean, where the United States and Iran are concerned, I mean, these are two obviously very individualistic, independent minded players. They have had a fairly recent history of dealing with each other. For countries like us and when I was in Tehran and discussing with Minister Zarif, our issues are really reflective of concerns which India and frankly most of the international community has about the direction of events in that part of the world. Because, what happens finally will depend on the players. There are parts of the world where perhaps the stakes are less and the implications of it for the world are less. But this is enormously important to us and therefore, you know, and the developments that you've seen in the last few days, I mean, it was natural for countries in the world, who obviously had interests out there; to talk to each other, to consult with each other, to discuss with the parties concerned as well. Which is why we had a conversation as I did with many other ministers. But, at the end of the day it is, you know, the ball is really in their court.

Host: So, you are also seen by many in New Delhi and perhaps around the world, to be a realist and I knew the diplomatic term, a realist on China. You know, in the last six month

S Jaishankar: That’s a political science term; it's not a diplomatic term.

Host: So, how would you assess this relationship and where do you think we are headed?

S Jaishankar: With China?

Host: With China.

S Jaishankar: Look, I would say, I mean, it's not where are we headed; to my mind there is a certain requirement for both countries. Neither country can actually get this relationship wrong and the reasons are these. One, we are neighbours, and whatever you might say, it's vital for neighbours to reach understandings as a general principle . And generally being neighbours, it's often that you have issues as neighbours, there are those the challenges which come by. But the India-China relationship, I think has a very unique characteristic which is that, very rarely in history have two powers who are neighbours actually gone up in the international order in approximately the same timeframe. So, each one of the countries is reaching a new equilibrium with the world but also with each other at the same time. I think it's very important today that, the two countries find equilibrium and find accommodation and understanding on the key issues which affect each other. So, for me this is a must; it's not a choice and I'm reasonably sure somebody strategic in China would have a similar view. The challenge would be not do you get along with each other or not get along with each other. As I said, to me that’s not a choice. We have to get along with each other. The challenges are, what are the terms and what is the basis and how does it actually work. I mean, and that's where, it is work-in-progress and it will continue to be work-in-progress because both powers are very dynamic in terms of where they stand.

If we kind of do an economic ranking, you can say, China is the number two in the world and India is number five or number six in the world. Probably, within the space of a decade, we'd probably be two and three and maybe in the space of the next quarter of century, I don't even know what our numbers are going to be. If you are going to be two and three and then you're going to be neighbours and you are the dynamic forces of the world clearly the logic of reaching and understanding is a very very powerful logic.

Host: Let's move through the next relationship which is of importance and we had foreign minister Lavrov and you saw the excitement in the hall and outside. Have we moved beyond nostalgia with Russia? From the Soviet times, that relationship.

S.Jaishankar:You know, I like nostalgia. I started my career in Moscow. So, I'm entitled to nostalgia but look, I would say something about the Russia relationship and I sort of, I've reflected on it a great deal. Just think of the last fifty-sixty years, okay, maybe a little bit more. You know, all the major centres of power have hard fluctuations in their inter se relationships. You know, Russia-America, Russia-Europe, Russia –China, lot of volatility there. America-India, America-China, America-Europe till now was steady, some volatility now. Now if you kind of plot these inter se relationships, to my mind, actually an extraordinary steady relationship has been one between India and Russia. It’s actually a standout relationship for its consistency and it has intrigued me why that is so. When, you know, the best answers that I can come up with and I'm open to more explanations. You know, at on the one hand it's very deeply rooted in a sort of a geopolitical understanding, if you would, I think there is a fundamental Eurasian underpinning to this relationship, which is often unspoken but it sort of expresses itself in different positions. And the other is, it has also been sustained by strong sentiment. And I think sentiment should never be underestimated in international relations. You know, look, my mother today is pushing 90, she still remembers standing on the streets in Delhi and welcoming Khrushchev and Bulganin in 1955, the year I was born. You know it’s still is there in her mind. So, if you look at actually what is popular, what does the street say. I think we tend to underestimate the contribution of the street to shaping foreign policy attitudes. I think the street has held very steady on Russia. I would say when it comes to United States, actually the street has changed. United States was not the most popular country a few decades ago but today look at the street sentiment.

Host: Let me push you on that particular point, United States. I think let's move to United States. Are we under the delivering in terms of the potential of that relationship and I am coming from the street side, you know, if you talk to the business folks, you talk to the cultural folks, you talked as political scientists, my community the academics; we have a far greater degree of convergence in and integration than, you know, what you would read in the newspapers, when you hear our foreign ministry speaking to their State Department on number of issues. Do you think we are lagging behind in what we are doing in strategic terms versus what the street should really want the relationship to be?

S.Jaishankar:Well look, I mean, I don't mean to be disrespectful of the media, but I think by its very nature, the media focuses on the formal processes on where there are issues of difference or divergence and, you know, if there are 10 things which you say positively about each other but the 11th one is not, someone will hone in on that 11th thing in. And that's their business, I understand that. I don't think we are under delivering on the relationship, in fact, I think the challenge has been really to sort of channel the energies and the positive sentiments. And if you look today there is virtually no area of activity where India and the United States don't work with each other and deal with each other. It used to be a very G2G and not always positively G2G. It is today our biggest B2B, there's a high element of B2G. There's a T to T; tech to tech. There's a P2P, people to people. Pick a sector and I will show you something substantive happening in that relationship. The changes which happen in the United States, in a sense the bi-lateralising of the United States. The fact that the United States for a variety of reasons, is looking beyond alliances and also the fact that we were are moving into a more knowledge driven world where the importance of talent and innovation would be more for global politics, global strategy, global power. I think those are all promising opportunities for really taking this relationship forward.

So I am going to be opening it up to all of you to come in, we'll take a few questions and as is the custom in at Raisina and certainly when I’m moderating I'm going to give two interventions to our young fellows and Amelia and Alistare are going to be posing those interventions. But before you do that let me just ask a short quick question because I just remembered I got a message from a friend of mine in Brussels and he says your foreign ministers’ visit is here, he’s come and met think tank. The Europeans are surprised by your outreach to them. Is that if that relationship changing in a positive way? I mean I received a message that he's come so early into his you know six months ago you were in Europe, you were meeting think tanks and I was getting messages and do you think that relationship is something that is changing also the India EU?S. Jaishankar: I think actually if you ask me about the relationship where we are underperforming, the word that you used, very honestly I would say it's much more with Europe and I think both sides need to focus more. If you take the European Union as a whole it's actually our larger trade partner, it's actually a largest financial partner. If you can estimate tech with some index, it would be a very substantial tech partner. But on the other hand collectively with Europe, we still deal a lot with individual states on a national basis. I think collectively with Europe and also with a lot of not so large European nations. I think there's enormous scope to grow. The scope to grow because in terms of technology, best practices, innovative solutions, opportunities for business going both ways. So whether it's connect, you know air connectivity, tourism, visa issues, I mean I think there’s lot of headroom out there. But for me what probably mattered most was we aren't having the kind of political conversations, strategic conversations with Europe on a collective basis and on a subgroup basis that we should be having. And my interest in travelling to Europe was really to see if I could kind of energize those relationships.

Host: Those who want to ask questions can move to mike’s near the aisle and I'm gonna probably take another couple. So can we collect three or four of them?

Audience: Thank you very much Minister for your comments. My question to you is as we look forward to Prime Minister Morrison's visit to India earlier this year. What do you think of the most important steps in taking forward the Australia India relationship?

S. Jaishankar: other than letting us win in cricket?

Audience: So thank you very much Minister. You spoke about the Indian way the importance for practical actions and the China India relationship but also now the need for strategic discussions in India's relations with Europe. So my question is what is the Indian vision but also the real-world actions required to fully realize the Indian Way of global governance and rules-based international system.

Audience: My question is sir, it is said that power is not given it has to be taken. So has India shied away from taking power? Like India can mediate between Iran-US, US-Russia, Israel-Palestine but India has always shied away from taking power India has always talked about being an emerging global power. But has not taken the power. So what do you think India is better off staying away from the complex issues or should India take these opportunities? Thank you.

Audience: Good morning sir. Thank you so much for your comments. I have a very specific question for you which is that on the one hand as you keep saying that India would like to engage with China in more and constructive ways. But on the other hand, India's denial of joining the RCEP despite Japan its close ally pushing for it. So in your opinion, do you think this is a kind of a disbalance? You know in India's perspective towards economic multilateralism and the other thing is that I.

Audience: Connectivity and development have been the underlining principles of Narendra Modi's governance from day one and that has also been the USP. There was a lot of excitement when the bullet train project started with Japan and Mr. Modi has an extraordinary equation with Shinzo Abe and that has really set things going. But on the domestic fronts there have been along with the excitement a lot of anxiety over the delivery date of the project and there have been concerns that because of litigation over land acquisition we may not be able to deliver things on track. To what extent is this going to affect India's relationship with Japan? Thank you.

S. Jaishankar: Okay well let me start with the Australia question. You know I think it's not a secret that we had hoped very much that the Australian Prime Minister would have been here at the Raisina dialogue and he had compulsions at home which we completely understand there’s an extraordinary situation there. Had he come I think you would have seen really a number of developments pertaining to the India Australia relationship. Unfold I would keep some of them in reserve because he will come in the fairly near future and I don't want to jump the gun on that. But if I were to give you a vision kind of description, today we really think that India Australia relationship is poised for a big jump because part of it is that when we look at the world, at the strategic picture, we look at the political picture. I think we are two countries whose interests and approaches are really very convergent .

There's also a realization that countries like India and Australia need to step up and play a greater role in terms of global responsibilities, regional responsibilities because there is a growing deficit in that regard we've had particularly, in recent years very very good conversations with our Australian counterparts. I with mine and Prime Minister with his. We are very confident today that both of us have you know each one has the other country more salient in their calculations and planning. So we are today trying to translate that kind of approach into practical outcomes. Which is where do we work together, what do we do what are the exchanges. The kind of issues that I laid out which I think today there are the big global challenges, counter terrorism, maritime security, connectivity, these are all issues where we have actually worked very very well with Australia.

In terms of what is our vision in terms of what is India's global vision. I think for every country and particularly bigger countries you will be abroad, what you are at home you know. There will be an extrapolation of your personality, of your national personality, of your national culture in a way. A lot of what we want to be abroad, the kind of world we want to see, we are a political democracy, we are a pluralistic society, we are a market economy, we have historically been very open to the world. I think you will see all those traits reflect themselves you can actually if you look at Indian positions that I think is very evident.

What perhaps has changed is that with greater capacities and more influence probably you know what would have been a preference or an opinion would today be perhaps expressed a little more firmly and decisively than that.

On the issue of you know is India on this taking power giving power, look I wouldn't quite put it the way you had posed the question. Today suddenly for a country like India it is much more issue of influence I would be more comfortable with that than you know taking power sort of thing. And I would I think the image of being reluctant of shying away I don't think holds true anymore and I'd pick one particular domain as illustrative of this. People speak of you know being a net security provider okay, look just at the Indian Ocean region. Today India has sixteen wide shipping agreements. It has given naval equipment ships to eight of its Indian Ocean neighbours, it has coastal surveillance radars in six of its countries, it has done seven HADR operations in the last five years, major HADR operations. It has today extended defence lines of credit close to two billion dollars to eleven countries, it has trained more than a thousand troops in the last five years, it has military training teams in eleven countries, it does hydrographic cooperation with five of its maritime neighbours. So, I put that to you saying look this is a practical example. I'm giving you numbers, region, places which shows really where our influence is going.

Regarding the RCEP, you know where RCEP is concerned at the end of the day RCEP is an FTA, okay. It's it has to be evaluated on its trade merits, its gains, and its costs, and its benefits. I think the bottom line at Bangkok was that the offers that were on the table did not match up to what we thought were our bottom line requirements. We haven't closed the door on it but the fact was it didn't there was a gap and there was a substantial gap out there and therefore we took the call that we did. The ball is in the court of the countries concerned whether they make it worth our while but we would evaluate RCEP at the end of the day on the economic or the trade merits of RCEP.

And finally the high speed rail question look big projects will have problems. I mean will projects don't come easy and particularly projects which involve you know land and construction and so on. I won't you know to be honest I don't have such a detailed fixtures to give you the sort of answers like timelines and so on but my broad sense is that look both countries are committed, it's a prestigious project, it's a major project, it will make a technology difference in India when it comes in and certainly I would imagine both countries will do their utmost to find something which works for both of them.

Host: Sir, time is up but before we go I have to ask you this question. Since you took charge as the foreign minister we've had interesting times in India, Kashmir issue, the Citizen Amendment Bill shut down etc. What do you tell the world when you go out?

S Jaishankar: About that?

Host: Yeah, lots is happening here you know. I'm sure people ask you questions right? These are the real questions.

S Jaishankar: What I tell the world is, if you look at a lot of this, partly the world has common challenges, terrorism is a common challenge, separatism is a common challenge, migration is a common challenge. So don't think that these are problems which are unique to India. This is a national variant of what our challenges in many parts of the world and I think when people look at it and assess it and analyze it, they should in fairness ask themselves how did they respond to it? They've also been in stress situations. They would have had you know disturbances in the neighbours, Europe saw it and North Africa. A large part of the world saw it when 9/11 happened. How did they all respond to this? When you look at a country like India which is dealing with these common challenges, the national variant of those common challenges, I think it's important to reflect on your own way of handling it.

Even something like naturalization. What is the pathway that other nations have taken in regard to naturalization of people? I think it's worthwhile looking at it. What are global norms on a lot of these issues? So that's one thought. The second thought would be you know don't get fixated on the dots and forget the line. There is a these are important issues. I'm not understating them. But at the end of the day they reflect a mindset towards governance. And a lot of what's happened in the last six months are sort of in the political sphere but the same mindset was also evident when it came to socio-economic issues, when it came to issue like gender gaps, when it came to sanitation, when it came to urbanization, when it came to skills, digital etc. The bottom line is are we going to just inherit problems, multiply them and pass them on or are we going to deal with at least some of the inherited problems and probably leave the people who come after us better off than when we came to power? I think that is an issue.

Obviously you know, people ask you this question because we live in a connected world no country is an island. I think people are entitled to have opinions but people are also entitled to have opinions on other people's opinions. I think life should be a two-way street , this conference for example has often spoken one of rebalancing of the world. And for me one aspect of rebalancing where India is concerned is, today are we going to define ourselves or are we going to let other people define us? I would like to believe that it's the first. Certainly that's my political outlook. It's a political outlook of the government.

Host: Thank you very much, Sir. Please join me in applauding him for his very frank interventions this morning.

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