About Us Speeches

Address by EAM, Dr. S. Jaishankar at the India International Centre, New Delhi

Posted on: June 28, 2023 | Back | Print

Ambassador Shyam Saran,
Mr. Shrivastava,
Dear friends,

First of all, let me say as a member, it’s always good to come back to IIC. I don’t get to do that very often. So quite apart from the chance to talk to you, as I said, it’s always good to be back.

The Modi government completed nine years in office at the end of May. And I was discussing with Ambassador Shyam Saran that this is a time when actually we as ministers are going around the country, familiarizing people with what has been the progress over the last nine years. In fact, my own particular responsibility is to do that in four constituencies of Delhi, which i have done three. From that talk, the idea came that maybe putting across in a place like IIC to its members what has been the foreign policy development over the last nine years seemed a very good idea. So thank you, sir, for inviting me, and thank you all for turning up and giving my remarks the attention.

So what I thought was in terms of achievements, I tried since it was nine years, to think of nine big things which had happened. So, let me start really by listing out and explaining really what I feel are the nine big achievements of the last nine years.

The first achievement, I think, has been our ability to play effectively on the global stage and on the global stage with the big powers. Now, at best of times, that’s a challenging task, but do bear in mind that in these nine years, we’ve had two and a half years of COVID. We’ve had about a year and a half of a conflict in Ukraine. We’ve had a whole host of economic challenges for a variety of reasons. So, even otherwise playing on the global stage, would have been quite a formidable challenge. I think to do it with all these factors in mind, I think, was particularly complicated. My sense is, and I advance our recent visit to Washington as a proof, my sense is that we have actually managed to do that quite well. We have managed to do that, one, of course, keeping in mind all these factors of turbulence that I spoke about, but also keeping in mind that it’s today a very polarized world. So if one looks at not just the COVID and its impact and the conflict and its impact, but also great power competition and how that makes straddling the global stage so much more challenging than it would.

At this moment, I would say really, and I’d be happy to respond to that in greater detail, I think you can see that our relations with the United States is doing exceptionally well. We, I think, have really had the most productive prime ministerial visit in our history. If you look at the outcomes, one part of it is, yes, it’s a state visit, yes, it’s the first time an Indian Prime Minister has addressed US Congress twice, but put all that aside if one just looks at the solid outcomes for the visit and at the level of cooperation today in different domains, in business, in defence, even in civil society in terms of the flow of people, the areas like space, the scientific projects, there’s really a long list here of practical achievements. Again, as someone who actually was with Ambassador Shyam Saran in 2005, when I look back at these 18 years, I think we were earlier in a stage where we were trying really to address the obstacles of the relationship. Today, again, for a combination of reasons, we have moved into the positive domain. We are really looking at what is it that the two countries can do together in terms of not just bilaterally, but also in terms of how we can influence or shape the world together for our common purpose.

If I were to today compare this, when I say the big stage, with Europe, again, the attention which has been given to Europe over the last nine years has really been remarkable. It’s been the big countries of Europe, it’s been the smaller ones, it’s sometimes in groupings, but if you take any measurable metric of how you evaluate a relationship, again, I would suggest to you that the European relationship is doing well. There are, of course, a lot of possibilities there still to be realized. I think the big issue before us is concluding the free trade agreement. But all I can say is we are obviously much more hopeful than we have been in the past.

Now, moving from Europe, the relationship with Russia, this relationship has been held steady, kept steady, despite all the turbulence in the world. So it is actually for us a very unique relationship, I think in some ways for the Russians also. In this period, for all the pressures on us, I think we have taken, made our own evaluation of the importance of this relationship. I do want to say that sometimes this relationship is dumbed down to things like, oh, we are dependent on them for arms. I think it’s far more complex than that. There is a geopolitical logic for what we are doing, what we have been doing with Russia. Today, many things which we were working on even prior to 2022, which is how to expand our economic cooperation, those have borne fruition. So you actually have an upswing in the economic part of the relationship with Russia, even as you have very steady politics and continuing security cooperation.

The difficult one on the big stage has obviously been China. I would say it’s a subject on which I have spoken and spoken publicly before. At the end of the day for us, we recognize it’s a neighbour, it’s a big neighbour, it’s today a very significant economy and significant power. But at the end of the day, any relationship has to be based on a high degree of mutuality. There has to be respect for each other’s interests, sensitivity for each other’s interests, and there has to be an adherence to agreements which were reached between us. It is that departure from what was agreed between us, which is today at the heart of the difficult phase that we are passing through with China. The bottom-line there is, at the end of the day, the state of the border will determine the state of the relationship, and the state of the border today is still abnormal.

Now all of that I really put in terms of the first achievement, which is the global stage. But there are three factors at the global level, which I think you should all keep in mind as well. One, that we are not just playing politics at the global level; we are also shaping the global economy and we are actually building our own economy as a consequence of that. That building of the Indian economy today has to factor in the opportunities that arise from competitive geopolitics, that if you look at global companies today, a lot of global companies are making choices which are through a geopolitical lens, and that today gives us possibilities which may not have existed earlier.

The second is that particularly after COVID, there is a search in the world for more reliable supply chains, more resilient supply chains, more redundant supply chains. There is discomfort with relying on a single geography, what you call economic over-concentration, and here too there are opportunities. In the digital domain, there is a growing concern about transparency and trust. So where your data lives, where your data is harvested, where your data is processed, all of these matter. So if you look at the digital world, at the supply chain world, at the larger investment patterns, which are today being influenced by geopolitics, that too is part of the big stage and some of that I think you could see as an influence over the outcomes, which we got during the Prime Minister’s visit. Now, and of course from our side, we made it significantly better for ourselves by improving the business climate in this country by building the infrastructure etc., but that’s something I will talk about later.

The second change is in regard to the neighbourhood, and you saw that actually on the first day that Narendra Modi became Prime Minister. The idea of inviting all the leaders of our neighbourhood to the oath taking itself was a divergence from our political traditions, certainly from the way the neighbourhood saw itself and saw us, and how we saw the neighbourhood. Now, over these nine years, we have pursued relentlessly what we call the neighbourhood first policy. The neighbourhood first policy essentially means that we look at our neighbours, there are some exceptions, we look at our neighbours and we consciously take a generous, non-reciprocal, long-term view of building relations with them. That means that if it is necessary for us to invest in greater connectivity, in greater flows between us, in making investments in their economy, we should be prepared to do that because at our stage of growth, it is absolutely vital that we have a benign neighbourhood. A benign neighbourhood doesn’t happen by itself. It happens when the largest country in the neighbourhood invests in the rest of the neighbourhood, and that is essentially what we have tried to do.

Now, if you look at the record of the last nine years, even if I say so myself, I would say it is actually quite an impressive record in terms of project delivery in the neighbourhood. So if you take a country like Nepal, the power generation in Nepal, the power flows from Nepal, the supply of fuel from India to them, the change, the facilities today at the border checkpoints, the roads between us, the railway movement between us, so almost every aspect of connectivity and people-to-people movement and economic interaction between us, that has undergone a dramatic change. It’s very interesting that over this period, as frankly we had expected, today we are less and less pulled into the politics of our neighbours. We are seen today as a permanent stabilizing factor in our neighbourhood who have the ability across political divides to get along with all parties and all governments. And that’s exactly the kind of neighbourhood we are trying to create.

We have had two stress tests in the neighbourhood, one on COVID, where we proactively moved to provide vaccines and even economic assistance, and secondly, in the case of Sri Lanka, they had a particularly serious financial crisis, and if you look at the speed and scale at which we gave financial support to Sri Lanka, we have never done anything like that ever in our history. So where the neighbourhood is concerned, I would therefore assert to you with a fair degree of confidence that neighbourhood-first policy has worked. It has built the kind of relationships and goodwill that we would like in the neighbourhood. In many ways, it has also been advantageous both for our neighbours and for us. Our mutual economic exchanges have actually gone up significantly in this period. So that’s the kind of report card I would present to you in the neighbourhood.

Just as China was an exception on the big stage, I would say Pakistan obviously is the exception when it comes to the neighbourhood. Again, it needs very little explanation. The fact is that we cannot allow terrorism to be normalized. We cannot allow that to become the basis for getting us into discussions with Pakistan. To me, it’s a fairly common sense proposition. In fact, if anything, I’m still a little perplexed by why we had not arrived at this position earlier. But we have arrived at it now, and the issue really is that until there is departure from, and I would say, an abrogation of this policy of cross-border terrorism, clearly it is not possible to have the normal relationship with that particular neighbour.

Now, going beyond the neighbourhood, I would actually introduce to you the concept of what we call an extended neighbourhood. The extended neighbourhood we see in all four directions. So I want you to really think of an India, India at a centre. Then the first circle is the neighbourhood. The second circle is the extended neighbourhood. There is a third circle, which is in a sense a world beyond and out there are also the big powers. But the second circle in the four directions, one of course is Southeast Asia. So what was the Look East policy became the Act East policy. It wasn’t just a change of terminology. It also meant that we were prepared to invest more in connectivity. We were prepared to engage more deeply when it comes to security. So the ASEAN and beyond ASEAN, the Indo-Pacific, that is something which has really intensified.

On the West is the Gulf. Now, the Gulf actually was again quite a discovery, I mean, in the sense that here is a region so proximate to us, and yet actually our political contacts with them have been incredibly conservative, and that is actually one of the biggest changes. I mean if I were to look anywhere in the world and say where has been the biggest change in the quality of our relationship in the last nine years, I would say no question it is the Gulf. That you actually had countries like UAE, which I think had not seen a visit after Indira Gandhi. Here again, some of the building blocks existed. You know, there was a diaspora there. There was an energy relationship. But there was the political closeness today, the strategic relationship that we have with them today, our ability to work with them in their own region and in the circle beyond, all of that has really been the advancement over the last decade.

The third direction is southwards, which is what we call the Sagar Policy, which is to take really an integrated view of the ocean space, that don’t look at it just as Sri Lanka and Maldives as countries or really as some kind of larger multilateral space. So we have tried from, I would say, Madagascar till the Philippines to try to envisage them really as an integrated theatre with an integrated policy, and to treat it as a neighbour, because in diplomacy, I mean, when we use the word extended neighbourhood, there were two reasons for it. One, if you look at historical India, this was our neighbourhood. Now, after 1947, we ceased to think of it as our neighbourhood. So in one way, you could say we were reclaiming history. But there was the other part of it when in our own system, if you tell people it is the neighbourhood, they attach a certain primacy to it. They give it an attention and resources, which they would not if they didn’t have that same concept.

The fourth is, of course, northwards towards Central Asia. That is the most recent of the four that we are trying to deal with in an integrated fashion. Here, too, when I talk of neighbourhoods, our group interaction, our bilateral interaction, at different levels, the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, the Defence Minister, the Trade Minister, everybody is wired into their counterparts, and the entire system, in a sense, is working these neighbourhoods.

Now, I’ll move to the space beyond, which is the fourth point I would make, which is our activities and our footprint in Africa has expanded enormously in this period. Out of the 25 odd embassies we have opened in the last nine years, 18 of them are in Africa. In fact, we are today one of the countries with the largest diplomatic footprint in Africa. And we have an enormous number of development projects, which I will also mention later on. But often when we thought of the world beyond our immediate periphery, we thought of Africa. Today, we are, as the fifth largest economy, as the most populous country, as a country with growing capabilities, we have started preparing really for what would await us a quarter century from now. So what we are doing is not meant for this term or for the next term or even for this decade. We are trying to think 25 years from now what Prime Minister calls Amrit Kal, and ask ourselves where are we likely to be in 2047 and what should we be doing now to prepare for it. And certainly in terms of foreign policy, what we need to prepare there is the basis for a global footprint.

A global footprint means being present in Latin America, being present in the Caribbean, being present in Central America, engaging with the Pacific Islands, doing something in Mongolia, going to Norway. So how do you actually, you know, set up shop, make yourself visible, do things so that the rest of the world engages with you. That has been actually the sort of the biggest strategy towards the rest of the world. And that is why, if I were to now try to help you connect the dots, that is why you will see Prime Minister going to Papua New Guinea for a Pacific Island summit, or which is why one of our biggest development projects is actually a refinery in Mongolia, or why, as I said, we opened so many embassies in Africa. Or if you look today at our trade with Latin America, it is close to $50 billion a year. In this, it’s not just a government. We also see business moving. We see different aspects, I even see academics, I see professionals. So there is a kind of a spreading out of India that we are encouraging, we are facilitating, we are guiding, and we hope that that in due course becomes really the foundation for a global footprint.

The fifth point I would make is security. Now, security, there is the obvious security, when I say security over the last nine years, you would say, okay, he will start with Uri and Balakot. Yes, I will. But I move on. Yes, again, our response to China on the northern borders has been one of our major, I would say, achievements in a way, because if you look at the scale of the response and the very daunting conditions in which it was undertaken, and I can see the chief of the era who did that sitting right in front of me. So definitely an Uri, a Balakot, the deployment on the northern borders, these have been big security achievements of the last nine years, but the important thing is to have today a broad sense of security. Security is no longer military or counterterrorism or physically securing yourself. Security is also economic security, it’s technological security, it is health security. So how do we actually take a larger sense of security and devise the policies accordingly and build it into foreign policy?

So, again, I go back to this Washington visit. If you look at many of the outcomes, when a Micron comes in or a Lam Research comes in or Applied Materials comes in, these people are coming here to really create to add to our semiconductor production environment. Today production of semiconductors is absolutely essential to our national security. So how do you broaden out the definition and then how do you implement it on the ground, that, I would say, has been our fifth achievement.

The sixth one is in the sphere of global issues, and global issues in the sense, there are international challenges. It could be climate, so you have something like Solar Alliance. It was the COVID. We did the Vaccine Maitri where we gave vaccines to almost 100 countries. It could be disaster, since that is happening at greater frequency where we have led an initiative called CDRI. It could be even food security. Today, we are seen in the world as the propagators of millet production, and millet production offers possibilities for food security, which are actually truly significant. When disaster strikes, we are increasingly capable and deploying as a first responder. Now, we did much of that initially in our immediate neighbourhood. But if you saw the earthquake in Türkiye, we were among the early countries to go in there, and what we did there was really quite impressive. So that too is part of what has changed in the last nine years.

The next point is, of course, our people abroad, because we have more and more Indians abroad and people of Indian origin abroad. It could be the diaspora in terms of people who have settled there. It could be students. There are today a million Indians who study abroad. It could be seafarers and crew members. You would be amazed how many hundreds of thousands of them today work abroad. So how do you secure Indians abroad? This is today, I would say, a very important objective of Indian foreign policy, much more than it has been, partly because there are many more Indians abroad, but partly, I think, also because you have a government and a Prime Minister for whom these people are very high in this consciousness.

So when you think back of a Madison Square Garden event or if you look at any other recent visit, when Prime Minister goes out there to communicate with the Indian community and people of Indian origin, this is not, you know, this is not just a feel-good exercise. There is an underlying message. The underlying message is that we are there for you, and we are there for you in very, very practical ways, and in the last nine years, we’ve actually had to demonstrate that repeatedly. We demonstrated it recently in Sudan, in Operation Kaveri, or in Ukraine, in Operation Ganga. In fact, if you look at the last nine years, almost every year, we’ve had one or the other occasion to do some significant operation abroad. But we are also trying to create a systemic basis for it, which is have the financial resources for it, have a standing force which is able to move quickly, have SOPs within the civil military system. I mean, when Kaveri, for example, happened, I was actually in Africa at that time. Within the first 24 hours, the first ships moved, the first aircraft moved, the first set of foreign service officers moved. So everybody actually today is geared today to respond to contingencies outside.

Now, associated with it, of course, when we think of people going abroad is something which also affects people who stay at home but who do visit abroad, and that is the passports. So, again, if you look at in terms of practical achievements, nine years ago, we had less than 100 places where people could go to apply for passports. Today, we have more than 500. If you, again, where, which I don’t wish happened to anybody, you had to lose your passport or to misplace it. Today, somebody would go to an embassy who will check the database and replace your passport. In fact, in these nine years, our passport issuance have almost doubled, and that’s part of the reason why you have more Indians going abroad, because we look, approach the world today as a global workplace. That, for us, facilitating people studying, people working, people serving, and looking after them at times of trouble, this is something which is very, very central to our foreign policy outlook.

Then I would, of course, like to mention the cultural aspects of what we have done, the narrative building which we have done. I think the International Day of Yoga and the propagation of Ayurveda would be two examples, but I think there’s a larger narrative also which we are trying to shape, really a narrative of a civilization, of our history, of our traditions, of making the world understand that cultural rebalancing is as important as economic and political rebalancing. That somewhere we should not be conducting world affairs on the terms of other people, that how do we gain respect and be treated in that sense as an equal stakeholder, that is the eighth achievement.

Finally, I would say, with all due humility, that there is something today like an Indian model or an Indian experience, which today we are trying to share with the world, and a lot of our projects, we have today roughly done projects in 78 countries in the world. So there are less than 200 countries in the world, 195, 196, depending on how you count them. So one-third of the countries of the world actually have today hosted an Indian project, and there are more than 600 projects that we’ve done across the world. Many of these projects are actually experience sharing, that when they see what we have done, one of course is the project itself. The other is the replication or the extrapolations from that project.

So these nine achievements, to my mind, have really been the record of the last nine years. We have tried to pull all these strands together in the manner in which we are now, I would say, celebrating the G20. So our hope, our expectation is that the G20 would be an occasion really to present India to the world, to demonstrate what is it that we are capable of, so that the rest of the world today actually has a better understanding of the transformations.

I’ll just take a few minutes more and come to another point, which is I have spelled out for you what I believe are the big changes, the nine big changes in the last nine years. Now you could ask me, okay, so what has changed. Why is it that, you know, a lot of this has happened, why didn’t it happen at the same pace or in the same way before? I do think that there is actually today a change of outlook, a change of outlook in the leadership, in the government, I would say even in the country. That today there is greater strategic clarity. Today, there is greater confidence. We are far more contemporary people. We look at the world and we judge what is. We are not looking at yesterday’s issues alone. I mean, I think today we are increasingly, if you look at the debates in India and the focus even of government policies, I gave the semiconductor as an example, that we are today, our agenda itself is much more updated.

I also feel that we have been able to harmonize our nationalism with our internationalism very well. That there’s no question that this is a much more nationalistic government and we are proud of it. But there’s no question, it’s also a more internationalistic government, that as I travel out in the world, for me nothing has generated greater goodwill than what we did during COVID. The Vaccine Maitri, I mean, there are people who literally become emotional talking about it. So the fact that we could be nationalistic and internationalist at the same time, contemporary and yet proud of our traditions and our history at the same time, that we have had strategic clarity and the confidence to act on it. I think the fact that we are today, in a sense, very, I would say, people centric in a way, that we respond to the needs of society, the popular needs of society. I think that has helped. But most of all, I think today, people do see us as a source of ideas, as a shaper of debates, and they see what, I would honestly say, a more authentic India when they look at somebody like Narendra Modi. I mean, to them, this man actually speaks for India. He exudes India in many ways, and I think that has had a big impact as well on the international community.

So these were some of the thoughts which I thought I would share with you. And I’d be very happy to listen to any comments or respond to any questions. Thank you very much.