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Valedictory Address by Minister of State for External Affairs at Raisina Dialogue in New Delhi (March 03, 2016)

March 03, 2016

  • As we approach the end of the first Raisina Dialogue, let me start by congratulating all participants for the quality of discussions over the past two days. This has indeed been a very productive round. I have been impressed not just with the depth and perceptiveness of many of the interventions made during the Dialogue, but also by the level and quality of participation itself. I understand that the dialogue saw the participation of about 400 delegates, including about 120 international ones from 40 countries, and nearly 90 speakers. Over the years, I see the Raisina Dialogue emerging as a major global forum and a leading venue to articulate and deliberate on geopolitical issues of the day.
  • The issue of Asian Connectivity that was the broad focus of this round of the Dialogue has acquired a new salience. One cannot imagine today any discussion on Asian geopolitics without talking about connectivity. Though I did not attend the sessions in person, I am given to understand that several new ideas and insights emerged on this theme during discussions over the last two days. A wide range of challenges and opportunities have also been identified. It may be difficult to recapitulate all of them in the short time available. But let me try to distil some of the most pertinent insights in my opinion that are relevant from our perspective.
  • I think that the first conclusion that we all seemed to agree on is the importance, relevance and immediacy of this theme. Connectivity is indeed the key to ensuring a stable future for Asia and for the world at large. It is critical not just for ensuring economic growth and prosperity in the region but also has implications for security and stability of Asia and beyond.
  • As some speakers pointed out, it is also important that the agenda of connectivity follow a consultative process. A shared and integrated vision of connectivity that brings in all stakeholders, actors, and partners from the conception stage itself can ensure that instead of getting dragged into competitive postures we can work together for common and mutual benefit. This, indeed, is India’s approach towards creating connectivity infrastructure within India as well as elsewhere in Asia.
  • The Dialogue participants also agreed that the concept of connectivity should be understood in a broader sense. Important though it is, the idea of connectivity goes beyond mere physical connectivity and is not restricted to building of roads, railways, ports, shipping lines, electricity grids, oil pipelines and fibre optic cables. It also includes coordinating the financial, regulatory, legal, institutional and commercial aspects as well. Of course, there is also the people-to-people connectivity and the cross-cultural and civilzational heritage that connects us in the region. This holistic view of connectivity can help create an environment of mutual understanding, contribute through building greater trust among different actors and thereby facilitate smoother implementation of the connectivity agenda.
  • I understand that there was also broad agreement that the task of promoting connectivity would require a shared commitment that Asia will continue to be governed by commonly agreed international norms, rules and practices. Absence of a well developed overarching security architecture in Asia makes this even more important as is the heterogeneous geography and dynamic nature of evovling power balances in the region. Many useful ideas also emerged on how despite these challenges, a viable security architecture can be structured in Asia. Several speakers spoke of the need to maintain an open, inclusive and transparent security order in Asia which is based on regular dialogue and exchanges. The value of ongoing work in this regard centred on the ASEAN led fora such as the East Asia Summit, the ASEAN Regional Forum and the ADMM+ was also emphasised. These are important points which would require attention as we go forward with the objective of creating a truly safe and connected continent in the 21st Century.
  • Another recurring theme during discussions on security related issues was the necessity of maintaining the sanctity and freedom of the global commons – from the Sea Lines of Communication to the Cyberspace. Emphasis was also laid on the need to take a comprehensive view of security, which go beyond traditional threats to include non-traditional ones. From the Indian viewpoint, both these ideas are important aspects of our own vision of regional and global security. For instance, our approach to maritime security, as captured in the acronym SAGAR or Security and Growth for all in the Region stresses the need to pool the capacities of the littoral states to jointly fight common threats while respecting each other’s security and economic concerns and interests.
  • Our emphasis on cooperation in Humanitarian and Disaster Response is also similarly an effort aimed at building trust and confidence and creating space for shared security. Having been personally involved in Operation Rahat - the large scale evacuation of our citizens from Yemen last year - I can attest to value of such an approach. Apart from HADR, the value of building capacities of countries in the region and working with our partners to create security networks for coastal surveillance to sharing of white shipping information was also highlighted by many speakers. In my opinion, these measures can significantly add to our ability to deal with non-traditional sources of disruption that can otherwise seriously impede the process of connectivity that we seek to establish in the continent.
  • Expectedly, the principal non-traditional threat that received considerable attention was the issue of Terrorism. It is the most immediate and serious security challenge facing modern societies, particularly democratic and pluralistic ones. Naturally, the phenomenon of Da’esh was the focus of discussions, which has redefined the methods and ideology of terror. However, some speakers also brought out that the principal terror threat from the viewpoint of countries like India emanates mainly from the ideological, logistical, and financial infrastructure that exists across our borders. It is this aggregate of state and non-state forces that encourages extremism in the subcontinent, indoctrinates youth into violent acts, and militates against our attempts to create space for peace. Nonetheless, in numerous Indian interventions at the Dialogue, our determination to pursue the path of peace was repeatedly emphasised.
  • The discussions on energy security were particularly pertinent for a country like India which imports a large proportion of its energy requirements. The geopolitics of oil and gas and attempts to impose constraints on use of fossil fuels, especially on development of clean coal technologies have important implications for countries such as India. We have set ambitious domestic targets for development of clean and renewable energy resources but need to continue the use of fossil fuels in the forseeable future, to not unduly impede our development prospects and while we continue to use fossil fuels, we are doing all possible to combat green house gas emissions that trouble the world. I am happy that the complex inter-play of issues that this creates was well brought out by the high quality of interventions in the Dialogue.
  • Similarly, the session on cyber comprehensively examined the complex issues related to internet governance, the need to maintain the open and democratic nature of internet, role of various actors in dealing with growing range and scale of cyber threats, the need to maintain safety, integrity and resiliency of the internet, and whether states have a special responsibility to protect the security interests of their citizens in cyberspace. The session also acknowledged how these considerations have become more complex with the proliferation of social media and their potential for mobilising political movements as well as for indoctrinating vulnerable sections towards radicalism and violence. The discussions also brought out the need for development of norms for responsible state behaviour in cyberspace and to work on developing disciplines to control and regulate the development of offensive capabilities by state as well as non-state actors. I am happy to note that there was appreciation for the Indian position on cyber-governance and cyber-security which is a judicious mix of supporting a multi-stakeholder driven architecture of internet governance, but calling for a more broadbased distribution of the critical internet resources, and stronger cooperation between states on establishing norms of responsible behaviour and in combatting cyber crime and ensuring cyber security.
  • An important issue that the Raisina Dialogue deliberated on was the interplay and competition between different connectivity initiatives, the mega-regional trading arrangements, and the emerging regional financial mechanisms such as the AIIB and NDB. The growing competition to set global standards and to determine the direction of trade and investment links through such arrangements can have significant implications for the region, especially in terms of establishing frameworks where security interests align closely with economic ones. It was clear from the discussions that there is a need for better management of these developments so that cooperation and not competition determines our future, both in terms of security and economic trajectory.
  • I am happy that the Raisina Dialogue did not just restrict itself to ‘hard’ geopolitical or geoeconomic issues, but also examined many of the social and developmental challenges that hold us back from benefiting from the full potential of global connectivity. In particular, the session on the role of women in decision making was an important contribution to the deliberations. The Indian experience shows that educating women and girls is the single largest multiplier for meeting many of the educational and nutritional targets. More women in governance and power would guide public policies towards issues that are more socially relevant and grounded in the realities of our social milieu.
  • Another important and instructive session was the one on politics and economics of water in Asia. We are all conscious that water will emerge as one of the principal arenas of contestation in the present century. It is important to establish and respect commonly agreed rules of behaviour on sharing of this precious reserve. It is important to collaborate to develop new technologies for conserving our water bodies, for water-efficient agricultural techniques, and for fighting the environmental challenges that bring unpredictability to the rainfall patterns on the continent.
  • An interesting session was on India’s democratic ethos, and how this can help advance the cooperation with other democracies. We in India are justly proud of our status as the world’s largest democracy. I believe that the fact that we have been able to preserve our democratic polity despite our developmental challenges, and despite being situated in a strategically challenging region, is a testimony to our commitment to political pluralism and freedom of opinion. It is also a useful example for other countries that are at similar levels of development as India, many of whom are our active partners for building their capacity to manage a democratic polity.
  • I am happy that the Dialogue found time to devote attention to issues such as South-South Cooperation, sharing of Asian and African experiences and the overall issue of development cooperation. We heard some of the best minds in the field deliberate on the challenges that still face Asian countries in the areas of health, education, energy, food security, and gender inequality. As one of the largest contributors to South-South cooperation, this discussion was especially relevant for India. Sharing is part of the India's civilisational ethos, and there is wide popular support in India for the developmental cooperation that we are able to extend to our neighbours as well as other countries in Asia and Africa. Our model is very simple. We love to create capacities in others that help them run their own countries. that is why we have succeeded in winning friends all over the world I do expect that the many of the insightful points made during the discussions will help strenghten our cooperative efforts in these areas.
  • Before I conclude, let me mention that I look forward to discussions on the prospects of SAARC and on creation and management of smart borders that immediately follows my intervention. The potential of both issues in helping connect peoples, goods and ideas are immense as also is their value in dealing with some of the security challenges that impede these processes. I am sure it will bring out important and valuable insights in moving forward in these areas.
  • I would like to once again felicitate the organisers and participants of the Raisina Dialogue for having set a high benchmark for the inaugural round of this forum. I think this round has demonstrated the value of conversation when it is conducted between discerning and knowledgeable individuals, and moderated through an intelligently designed agenda. I am sure it will contribute to better understanding of issues we have discussed and become important inputs in determining policies and postures of governments and countries in the region.
  • Thank You.
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