(Bhumika Arora took time out to transcribe the full interaction of India’s foreign minister Dr S. Jaishankar with a host of world leaders in the Raisina Dialogue 2022 on Tuesday. It’s also in our video section. All NewsBred can say is: It’s worth your time.)
Moderator: In these two years where we’ve seen so much happen from the pandemic to political, action to disruptions, to wars to invasions to threats, what are the three things that would keep you up at night? What keeps you awake? What keeps you engaged?
Dr S Jaishankar: Well, to be honest, the only thing that keeps me awake at night is jet lag occasionally but not too often actually but if I were to think of three things, I think one – the shocks that the international order has been experiencing because if you were to look at the last three decades globalization spread of technology, even the rebalancing, the prosperity, the high growth rates in Asia particularly.
These were the dominant trends and in particular, in the last two years since we’ve had the last physical meeting of the Raisina dialogue, we’ve really had some big shocks, you know Covid was a shock, Afghanistan was a shock, Ukraine is a shock in a sense the sharper friction between big powers between the west and Russia, between the United States and China these two have added to it so I think I won’t say it keeps me awake at night but certainly, it’s something which anybody doing foreign policy needs to spend a lot of time trying to get the world right.
The second point I would make is if you are trying to get the world right you obviously need operational metrics to respond to the world which is changing so how do you keep you know how do you develop that, how do you update that, how do you course correct, and in our case you know we have, especially since 2014-2015 roughly the same time as Raisina actually has come into being, we’ve had much greater clarity about how we engage the world.
We’ve done it in a sense in concentric circles – there’s a neighbourhood first; there are these extended neighbourhoods in Southeast Asia and the Gulf in Central Asia;
there’s a very conscious policy of engaging all the major powers simultaneously in a multi-alignment. We still haven’t quite agreed on what the word should be and I would say also you know how do you develop a larger global footprint but the to do all of that the third issue is how do you develop the capabilities and I think Jay (Panda) before referred to Aatma Nirbhar Bharat- the more self-reliant India, self-reliant not just in capabilities but self-reliant and mindset and self-reliant in terms of shouldering greater responsibilities but again you need a narrative that would accompany that. A narrative in a sense of a new India, therefore to me getting the world right issue number one, developing the operational strategy to deal with that world issue number two, and then developing the capabilities and the narratives to deal with that would be my three big ones.
*Moderator taking questions from the audience*
The minister of Foreign Affairs Norway Anniken Huitfeldt: The major of the Raisina dialogue is that it is hosted by the world’s largest democracy. Russia’s aggression toward Ukraine is an example of an authoritarian state attacking a democracy. Indeed many would say that Russia attacked Ukraine precisely because it’s a democracy. How does India, as the world’s largest democracy, see its role in defending free societies globally?
Dr S Jaishankar: Well you know, I think in a sense some of that was debated with the earlier panel. I think where the conflict in Ukraine is concerned we have a fairly clear position that has been articulated— a position which emphasizes the urgent cessation of fighting; which urges a return to diplomacy and dialogue and stresses the need to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states but since you raised it as a larger issue I do think this is an issue of concern not just for India because the fact is that you know there are different countries who in a sense evolve a combination of values interests, history, experience culture to approach conflicts and specific situations so I mean you spoke about Ukraine I could also remember less than a year ago what happened in Afghanistan where an entire civil society was thrown under the bus by the world or we in Asia face our own sets of challenges which often you know I would say impacts on the rules-based order. I would say quite honestly all of us would like to find the right balance of the beliefs of our interests, of our experience and that’s really what we’re all trying to do and it looks different in different parts of the world. The priorities are different that’s quite natural but as I said at the moment these shocks are really for all of us to be concerned about because each of these events- Afghanistan, Covid, Ukraine, and big power rivalry have global consequences and consequences for the everyday person.
Minister of Foreign Affairs from Luxembourg, Jean Asselborn: You are a diplomat and you became sort of a very big country. I’m not a diplomat and I am since 2004, I am a pharmacist in a very small country, a member of the European Union so my question is, we know that a few weeks ago Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was appointed in 2004 same year as myself it was here in Delhi. Can you tell us a little bit about the justification of what Russia is doing in Ukraine, we heard in Europe always a denazification and then also to prevent the genocide of Russians in Ukraine so really the justification of such a military intervention after the 24th of February this year, how does he explain it to you he is a diplomat he has represented Russia in the Soviet Union before in New York, he is a minister since 17-18 years and I think everything that Russia is doing in Ukraine is against really against international law and also the Charter of the UN.
Dr S Jaishankar: Well, look if you want to know the justification of Russia that’s for Sergey Lavrov to do. I’m prepared to justify what India’s views are on Ukraine or any other matter and in terms of what justification he has offered I think he’s engaged many of you in Europe probably more on this subject than he’s engaged us so I don’t think I have anything particularly new to contribute to that but again I recognize today that the conflict in Ukraine is the dominant issue if not among the dominant issues of the day. It’s a dominant issue not just in terms of principles and values alone, also in terms of the practical consequences of it; the knock-on effects you have, I mean in this part of the world not just here; in Africa, in other parts of Asia people are seeing the conflict play out in terms of higher energy prices, in terms of food inflation, in terms of disruptions of various kinds so the truth is there is really nobody who wants to see this conflict. There will be no winners out of this conflict but I also stress and I say this to you because both of you are my European colleagues and I understand that at this moment this would probably occupy you to the exclusion of almost everything else but there is also a world out there and I’m very glad that you’re sitting here in India because it would remind you that there are equally pressing issues in other parts of the world- I mentioned Afghanistan, I mentioned the challenges which we faced, and if I were to put those very challenges in terms of principles I mean when rules-based order was under challenge in Asia the advice we got from Europe is do more trade, at least we’re not giving you that advice and that in terms of you know Afghanistan I mean please show me which part of the rules-based order was that justified? What the world did there so I think, see this in the right context you know our position is that we all have to find some way of returning to diplomacy and dialogue and to do that, the fighting must stop. I think that is really the focus of what we are trying to do.
Someone from the audience: I think this issue of genocide should be put in this context when asked of India, you’re talking about the country that sent an army to prevent the extinction of the people who would later become Bangladesh. I remember that because I was young when he said he would form a region to fight there as they had fought in the Spanish civil war so this is India the country that answers the call when people are facing genocide.
Minister from Madagascar Richard Mandela: I’m from Madagascar West Indian Ocean island next to Mauritius, Seychelles and my question is regarding the Indo-Pacific vision and the mission that we both share. To start with let me point out that India and Madagascar made the same choice with regard to Ukraine – we voted abstention if I may say so, we have something in common but my question has regard to this vision of the Indo-Pacific. How do you see the leadership of your country if you may take it as a natural leadership because your country is so big compared for example to Madagascar, How do you see it and where do we start? How do we materialize such a vision from the west Indian Ocean perspective because we spoke about you know the Chinese and that part of the Pacific but from the west side of the Indian ocean, how do you see that?
Moderator: okay can I just add something to that is there now a broader consensus that the Harry Harris definition of the Indo-Pacific from Bollywood to Hollywood is no longer valid and perhaps it has to go to the western Indian ocean as well is that a broader acceptance of that idea.
Dr S Jaishankar: Well, I think the minister’s question is a very valid one because there are really two-three sets of forces at play here. I think as Indian Ocean countries, we need to recognize and reclaim our history; that we wear a very vibrant pluralistic ecosystem for the passage of commerce and culture for many many years. Now, this was disrupted during the colonial times and I think as part of today the changing world a much more globalized world, a much more rebalanced world. How do you rebuild our economies, how do we actually do more interactions with each other rather than go through intermediaries, offer of a very different era and in that sense recreating the Indian Ocean I would say I’m using community with a small “c” here and also how do we look for solutions amongst each other not necessarily looking to countries far away because I think in this day and age perhaps many of those countries will no longer be here at times of need so when you have natural disasters as we’ve seen in East Africa and the Western Indian ocean it’s important that within the Indian Ocean we find solutions and we partner each other.
In 2015 prime minister Modi actually put forward a vision called SAGAR which is literally a word. It’s an acronym but it means ocean which was Security And Growth for All in the Region and that’s been in a sense the template by which we have really stepped up our cooperation with a lot of countries including Madagascar and now by the Indian where the Indo-Pacific is concerned, I think there is a slightly different issue there which is that the Indian Ocean and the Pacific ocean have become much more seamless because countries on either side of that imaginary divide are actually have political security and economic interests and therefore it’s actually untenable to see them in compartmentalized terms so I would say a lot larger geopolitical happening which is taking place and to me, the two are completely sort of reconcilable- stronger Indian ocean activities and actually contribute to the Indo-Pacific as well so let me stay with the Indian Ocean.
Maldives Environment Minister Aminath Shauna: It’s good to be here I was here years ago as a Raisina young fellow and minister I am representing the Maldives and I’m the environment minister as well. Climate change is an existential threat to us. I do believe the commitment made by India in COP26 is by far one of the most ambitious mitigation targets we heard and I also understand how complicated energy transition is for India particularly because we still have millions without access to power and development is a necessity for India and for South Asia as well but climate change as I said is an existential threat I don’t think it’s just for small island nations like the Maldives but even for India. We have the highest mountains in South Asia. We also have small island states like us which is one of the lowest countries in the world we don’t have a higher ground so my question is as we enter into a world which is complicated by energy conflict and issues like this we also have climate change before us that we can’t wait to address these things until countries are comfortable to deal with it so how do you see climate politics will evolve, given the nature given the urgency of this issue that we have?
Dr S Jaishankar: Well you know from the Indian perspective I mean first of all I agree with everything you said and from the Indian perspective there are two parts to this issue one is climate action and I look at it in terms of what we ourselves do and the other is climate justice and we need both which is everybody needs to do the utmost that they can but also ensure that there’s the more vulnerable, the more exposed less-resourced countries and societies are actually supported in this challenge. Now we all know you know the story of climate change you know how they’ve been repeatedly the promises of resources, which have been given in CoP after CoP, have not been kept but you know at the same time because others are not keeping the word doesn’t mean you don’t do what you would you can do and will do and that’s the approach which we have taken from our point of view you know if you look between I would say it’s now six years since Paris happened. We are probably among the few G20 economies which have actually kept to our Paris commitments and we are careful about making commitments. We don’t over-promise but we are sincere about what we promise. So I’m pretty confident that what we have committed to doing COP26 we will do. In terms of the challenges that small island, developing states are facing for us that comes right on top because they are actually the most vulnerable and whether it is many of our initiatives the international solar alliance initiative, the coalition for disaster resilient infrastructure initiative, some of the newer initiatives that we tabled at COP 26 are actually aimed at highlighting the predicament of small islands and again I say this look there are conflicts in the world I’m not minimizing them I fully understand the seriousness.
Speaker: I know we are in the largest democracy in the world but no one has actually expressed in terms of riots of going to the streets and something in terms of acting its role in trilateral relationships and you spoke about helping within sub-communities or communities with small “c” and how can India actually help the Indo-Pacific region and more specifically Seychelles and more specifically Mauritius
Dr S Jaishankar: Well look let me actually give you a set of answers let’s look at the immediate crisis we are facing the knock-on effects of the Ukraine conflict, you know as I said one impact of that we see in energy prices but one we see in terms of food shortages and food inflation and India can make a difference today by stepping in terms of export of agricultural commodities especially wheat and that is the case we are trying to see how we can supply more wheat to meet global shortfalls there are of course some constraints here which is that what we have in terms of public stocks there are WTO limits on on trading with those stocks but this is a very unusual situation so we hope that the WTO would look at it in that manner but uh if we can contribute today to alleviate food shortages whether it’s you know it’s government purchases, expanding the markets, helping the world food program, I think this is a very big contribution that we can make and we are prepared to make that in terms of something longer term. We’ve always had a history of cooperation even when our resources were less our income levels were lower. We’ve always tried to share what we could. It’s been visible in terms of projects, in terms of training, in terms of education, and in terms of sharing experiences and best practices. Now that has steadily expanded as we have become bigger and I mean in the case of Mauritius you know there are some very good examples of that development partnership the metro in Mauritius the supreme court in Mauritius, social housing projects these are all good examples and you know I can pretty much cite that across a very large part of the developing world I think today if I were to look in terms of our development projects I think probably there are about 65-70 countries in the world where we have done development projects which would actually be close to almost a thousand so when I said that, to me, self-reliance is not just having more capability at home, it is also bringing that capability to play in terms of larger global requirements and development.
Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Peru, Diego: My name is Diego I’m from Peru I saw a young fellow very happy to be here today that’s right I think that during your intervention you mentioned a lot about the tension between the West and Russia, your relationship with the neighbourhood South Asia Central Asia but nothing about Latin America. so I would like to know more about what is your objective with respect to this region of the world. What role can India play in the region? and also vice versa what the Latin countries could do more with India and together in the global governance?
Dr S Jaishankar: A good example of what we are doing what the of the relationship we have with the region actually I could think of in terms of the minister who didn’t ask the question, my colleague, from Argentina because when I met him we actually discussed today the doubling of trade which has taken place between India and Argentina that again these are interesting globalization consequences of conflicts. Ukraine was a very big provider of edible oil sunflower oil to India so one of the many consequences of the conflict in Ukraine is that those supplies have been cut. Now Argentina has emerged as one of our biggest sources of edible oil, soya oil largely in that case, so I think that era where distance meant indifference is behind us. Today if you look in terms of the economic benefits and the I would say the political commonalities, in terms of the technology you know bridges a lot of our IT companies for example have a very large footprint in Latin America. My colleague from Colombia whose ambassador sitting here reminded me that the second largest two-wheeler export by India is actually to Colombia so there is actually you know it’s very interesting that often things happen on the ground the debate doesn’t necessarily capture it initially but I would say perhaps for next year maybe we should have a greater focus on how you know India’s relations with Latin America and maybe Latin America’s relations with Asia have expanded in these years.
Ex- United States ambassador to India Kenneth Juster: I’d like to turn to the subject of economics which also is very strategic for the Indo-pacific region. As you know after India withdrew for a good reason from the regional and comprehensive economic partnership agreement in 2019, it launched a series of bilateral agreements including concluding one with The United Arab Emirates and with Australia but at the same time China is aggressively following a regional strategy leading the RSAT countries and also has applied for membership in the comprehensive and progressive agreement on the trans-pacific partnership it’s pursuing . Is India giving thought to approach the region economically in addition to on a bilateral basis and if so by the way through what mechanisms?
Dr S Jaishankar: well I think you’re right that in the last few months we’ve actually made some significant progress in bilateral FTA. We’ve concluded two of them with Australia and with the UAE. We hope that after you know especially after the visit yesterday of president funder line that our European union FTA and other negotiations will pick up greater speed we’re very confident that after prime minister Boris Johnson’s visit, a few days before that, that our FTA with you gathers steam as well so definitely on the bilateral side there is a lot of activity which is going on. Your question are we are we also thinking regionally but to some extent we have regional FTA so we are discussing an FTA with the GCC as a group we have a long-standing discussion with Mercosur so those are in play but we also ,you know, looking beyond the orthodox way of engaging and yesterday among the agreements which were reached where a trade and technology council launch with the EU which we have to work on and see and I think that would be very helpful for a deeper engagement with the EU on you know resilient and reliable supply chains on more you know on development of trusted technologies and with the United States as well I you know when I was there in Washington and with some of my economic colleagues again there are discussions underway whether there are new ways of engaging not necessarily through an FTA mechanism there’s something more contemporary something which would be which would be more practical and more acceptable to the current political circumstances so it is very much in play.
Former Prime Minister of Sweden, Carl Bildt: A lot about Ukraine but I would say that Ukraine is also about other things. it was about China and the worries that we have from say the European point of view if I can express that is that others might draw conclusions from what’s happening and that’s dangerous so my slightly difficult question to you and I can see it can be difficult to answer in public what conclusion do you think China will draw from what’s happening do they see that there’s a possibility to do things that otherwise would not be allowed or do they think they will draw the conclusion that well the international reaction is so strong that we might be forced to restrain ourselves and I think that’s a critical question because what China that conclusions China draws from this will have major repercussions for their security not primarily of Sweden but perhaps even more for India
Dr S Jaishankar: you know I’m tempted to say as I did to your colleague that you should be asking minister Wang Yi (Chinese foreign minister) that question but he’s not here but look let me say this because I can’t honestly answer that question but i don’t think international relations necessarily functions by precedence you know people don’t need to see something out there and say aha that’s what I’m going to do and that’s how mostly bureaucracies function but I think world affairs has a sort of a much more self-driven self-calculating way of working in terms of because again quite candidly we’ve been hearing for the last two months a lot of our a lot of arguments from Europe saying you know there are things happening in Europe and Asia should worry about it because these could happen in Asia.
Guess what things have been happening in Asia for the last 10 years. Now Europe may not have looked at it so you know it this could be a wake-up call for Europe not just in Europe. It could be a wake-up call for Europe to also look at Asia so there have been I mean this has not been an easy part of the world for the last decade and I mean this is a part of the world where you know boundaries have not been settled. Where terrorism is still practised and often sponsored by states. This is a part of the world where you know the rule-based order has been under continuous stress for more than a decade and I think it’s important for the rest of the world outside Asia to recognize that today it’s not the problems that are going to happen the problems have been happening.
Lucas lambert from Germany: My name is Lucas Lambert I work at Conadano Foundation in Berlin and I’m also a young fellow. So yesterday EU commissioner president mentioned the EU global gateway initiative. So I was wondering in which fields do you see the potential for cooperation for India…
Dr S Jaishankar: Well you know we discussed that yesterday and we have been very interested in how the EU is taking forward global gateway because on the issue of connectivity, it’s very interesting, if you remember, I think it was our 2016 Raisina ,where somebody out there asked me a question on the issue of connectivity and the issue of Belt and Road Initiative and we’ve been very clear on the importance of a market-based, transparent, and consultative connectivity initiatives it took us a few years to convince the rest of the world to come around to that viewpoint so today we are very pleased to see I mean it could be the global gateway it could be Build Back Better, it could be other initiatives we ourselves you know promote connectivity initiatives in the neighbourhood and beyond in a very substantial way. We do need today to find ways of working together. I say this for a large part of the world there was an earlier conversation on Liberalism but I think if I were to take the most expansive view of what is the democratic space, I think it’s important within the democratic space we recognize the diversity of that space and we find better ways of working together on the big issues of the day. India is prepared to step forward in a much more substantive way on the big global issues including in the multilateral arena.