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External Affairs Minister's remarks at the WEF India Economic Summit 2019 on 4 October 2019

October 09, 2019

Børge Brende: Good afternoon Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen. It’s a great privilege for me on behalf of the World Economic Forum and our partner CII and also now the Government of India to welcome the External Affairs Minister, Dr. S Jaishankar here to our meeting. Thank you for coming and we know that you just arrived this morning from important visits to the US. I also know that Prime Minister Modi had a very successful visit to the US last week and also 50,000 Indian expats meeting him and President Trump in Houston, maybe Minister you were there too. Is there now, under Prime Minister Modi and your leadership, would you say a special relationship with the US and India, and is this something new because in 70s it used to be with Russia.

External Affairs Minister, Dr. S Jaishankar: 70s was a long time ago though mind you, I started to work in 70s, so I can still hazily remember it. But, look, I am not sure what adjective I would put on it but definitely the kind of event you saw in Texas, the Howdy Modi event, it’s not too many countries who can do that, so certainly that is something unique but the fact is if you look at our relationship with the US, how much it has changed, the extent of convergences that we have with the US, shared interest in many areas, the size of the economic relationship, the trade, investment, the knowledge relationship with the US, the fact that that has given rise to actually industries in the Indian economy, the community, we are today, I think the Indian Americans would be around 3.5 million, maybe two millions plus more of Indians living out there. So you put it all together and so many students,

Børge Brende: Very successful Indians, many CEOs in the big companies.

External Affairs Minister, Dr. S Jaishankar:
So if you put it all together I would say, in many ways, it is a pretty unique relationship and I think that was reflected partly what was visible in Houston.

Børge Brende: Yesterday we had Secretary Wilbur Ross of Commerce here and also had a discussion with your Commerce Minister. There is a lot of suspense, there is a lot of interest, is there going to be a trade deal between the largest economy of the world, the US and the fastest growing of the emerging economies of size of India, what did you felt when you guys were in the White House yesterday and met with the new National Security Advisor and other Trump advisor, is that going to happen?

External Affairs Minister, Dr. S Jaishankar: If you had our Commerce Minister and Wilbur Ross here, I will go with any answer they gave you because ultimately they have to work it out.

Børge Brende: I think Lighthizer is involved too a bit.

External Affairs Minister, Dr. S Jaishankar:
Yes, but what I can tell you as a foreign minister is I understand, as an interested spectator, that it is not that easy. It’s a fairly complicated set of issues because you are looking at trying to clear up issues there isn’t mirror imaging in many ways. So I guess if they are taking a little time they will be justified in doing so. From what I read in the newspapers today both of them sounded, kind of, cautiously optimistic, would that be right?

Børge Brende: I think that is the feeling I got also, we had a close meeting between them that I moderated, but you know also having been in Trade Ministry in my country so before I have negotiated it with India and US separately and

External Affairs Minister, Dr. S Jaishankar: Got their sympathy.

Børge Brende: I would say that it would be very interesting to be a fly on the wall during those negotiations because there's some of the best prepared trade negotiators in the world, both of you.

External Affairs Minister, Dr. S Jaishankar: Which is why you have my sympathy. Look, seriously, I do know a lot of work has gone into it, I know teams have been meeting and clearly Mr. Goyal has the lead on our side and ambassador Lighthizer has on the American side. And my last check on it was just before Prime Minister met President Trump and I think a lot of people heard them speak about it to the press. So whatever was the mood, you know the temperature check that you did yesterday I guess that would really be the latest.

Børge Brende:
But I think also, with all due respect, we know foreign ministry is also very influential in this context and trade negotiators can continue for decades just arguing about one agriculture product, but it seems that if there is a political will and if there is a will from the top and say, let's now try to agree on something, it can happen and it seems like now it is a special moment also in the relationship between those two countries and maybe the situation with China has also created more momentum for this deal, and Japan, is that correct?

External Affairs Minister, Dr. S Jaishankar: Look, I mean you may have a point but in our case what I can say is that certainly in this comment the concern ministers which is really Trade, Finance, Foreign and some of the line ministries because they’re sectoral ministries because their interests are involved people really work together very closely as a team. And I know that is a caricature of a trade negotiator that they can go on endlessly on very siloed issues, but you would have seen yesterday our Commerce Minister is a very strategic person. So he's completely capable of managing this, trust me.

Børge Brende: Talking about being strategic, we have seen that you and your government has also made a priority of South Asia. We have a lot of participants here and guests from Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh also Sri Lanka, Maldives. We also saw that you know stepped up the money that you are allocate for partnerships in many of these countries. Will we see an enlarged Indian footprint in South Asia and is also this due to the fact that many of these countries it's like India meeting China?

External Affairs Minister, Dr. S Jaishankar: You know I don't think it's so much India meeting China. I would put it quite differently. You know when you travel around in the world and you wouldn't disagree with me, South Asia, the Indian subcontinent is really among the least regionalized economies that you see. There various reasons for it. Now from the very start Prime Minister feels very strongly that we need to do something about this and we have to convince our neighbors that really the Indian economy is a lifting tide for all of them and because we are the largest economy and the largest country a lot of that responsibility is on us and you could see that even politically in his first steps when he was sworn in 2014, he invited all the regional, the neighboring countries for his swearing-in. That was a political signal but after that in those five years, the first term, we've really made a great effort really to do the things which other regions have done, you know build connectivity, increased contacts, have a greater flow of people, encourage more business between them, so and we've done that really without setting aside the old, sort of the more orthodox diplomacy. We don't talk reciprocity in our neighborhood anymore and you can see that reflected in the numbers. I mean today we have very ambitious lines of credit, soft loans to all our neighbors. There are lot of projects which are done under grant. The training numbers have gone up many times. We've gone into new areas and it's really hard it's already actually you can see the impact both on their economies, on our economies and the connection in between. And if I were to give you a very common-sense examples of it, you would have situations where, let us say, it's easier to go to a port of a neighbor then it is to your own port but in the old days you wouldn't do it. Or you would have excess electricity in one part of India, demand in a neighboring country but there is no way by which you could do the transmission.

So today if you look what we are actually trying to do on the ground, power transmission, fuels supply, building border roads, sometimes fairly deep inside the other country, connectivity to ports, creating effective waterways, so there's an enormous push, railways, and this is the case, I would say probably the most advanced would be Bangladesh. We are now making very good headway in Nepal, so there are road projects, rail projects underway out there. We have started about two three years ago power supply to Myanmar, it's still in the early stages. We've done a lot of railway lines in Sri Lanka. Bhutan has historically actually been our best partner in terms of development assistance. So pretty much, I would say, the entire neighborhood minus one, has been actually a fairly good story of regional cooperation. And I think you will see that continue, to probably see that scaled up, is reflected in our foreign ministry budgets. And I kind of see that going higher.

Børge Brende: Thank you for mentioning this minus one because that gave me a chance to also address, maybe, what some people in the room would say is like the elephant in the room I guess. Did you have any meetings when you were in the US where the Kashmir issue didn't come up?

External Affairs Minister, Dr. S Jaishankar:
Yes, I did have some in fact quite a few. There were some where it did come up and it didn't come up in my business meetings, it didn't come up even in some other policy meeting because I think people knew our position but it did come up on quite a few occasions. But you know that's natural because for many people there's a change of status quo, there's a change and when there's a change naturally there is interest.

Børge Brende: Looking forward would you say that minus one is permanent impasse?

External Affairs Minister, Dr. S Jaishankar: No, I won't. I won't because then I would as someone from a diplomatic stream be admitting that something is not possible, that diplomacy has limits and I cannot ever accept that.

Børge Brende: You know the Soviet Union was forever until there was no more of it.

External Affairs Minister, Dr. S Jaishankar: Look I would certainly hope one day that even the minus one comes around because you put Kashmir aside for a moment and I'll come to that. Today if with everybody else trade is on the increase, contacts are on the increase, business is on the increase, connectivity is on the increase, I mean surely at some stage that would have an impact because you would see everybody else prospering with that cooperation and contacts. So I always remain hopeful, I'm not unrealistic that I know that we have big challenges, that they have a mindset issue out there that they have to overcome, but going back to your question on Kashmir.

Look, I think what I spoke fairly extensively when I was in the US and in many cases when I made points to people giving them the background, the history, what happened, why we did what we did a lot of it was new to them you know. For example because mostly they read their own press, hardly anybody actually had a realization that this was a temporary article of the Constitution or the fact that the misalignment due to the fact that a lot of our national laws did not apply in the Jammu & Kashmir State. So these are all new things to them because the press normally what it does is it gives you a very black-and-white picture. On many issues it gives you a picture which corresponds to preconceptions which people have. The press is not without you know, it likes to shape the narrative in some way, so I think it was useful to talk about it in a very open manner and give people what was our perspective. I think many cases I saw people absorbing that and hopefully they agree.

Børge Brende: Thank You Minister. Just looking at world in more like in a macro perspective, we have gone to be a bit simplistic from situation with cold war to, maybe some people would say, hot peace. There's a lot of conflicts around the world. We also at the same time have a true multi polar world, at least it's starting to become so. Some people would say we have a G2 but I think there is also many arguments that there are a lot of players now. There is also less momentum around the multilateral processes. WTO is facing real challenges and the Bretton wood institution. Is India in this multi polar multi conceptual world, is the largest democracy in the world, 1.2 billion people, aspiration is $5 trillion economy by 2024, maybe $10 trillion economy by 2030. So India's influence is growing. Will that also lead to India taking, we will see a bigger footprint also from India on foreign and security policy in the region? In the 70s and 80s India was in many ways the leader of the non-allied world. Today it is a new reality and where will India place itself and what kind of political initiatives will be see from India in this multipolar world?

External Affairs Minister, Dr. S Jaishankar: Ok, a lot of questions in there. So let me let me make a few sharp points as a collective answer. One, no question the world is more nationalistic than in the past and a lot of that nationalism is economic nationalism and cultural nationalism. Second, I would say where India is concerned, we, in a way are a standout, we are an exception. We are an exception because in this country you could say yes, we are more nationalistic but at the same time we don't see a tension between being nationalistic and being international in the sense of dealing more with the world and engaging more with the world. So the nationalism is not a kind of a negative sentiment directed at the world. In fact people generally feel if you're going up you should be doing more things with the world not less things with the world.

Third, in a more multiple polar, your word, nationalistic, my word, world I think we will see diplomacy take different forms where the old ways of working will now not go away but be tempered by much more I would say creative, innovative, ad hoc kind of working arrangements often centering around issues rather than across the board. So the character of international politics will probably change in many ways.

Four, I agree with you, I think a lot of multilateral regimes will come under stress. How they survive will depend on how they respond to that. They will come under stress partly because of this nationalism that I spoke about. To some extent lot of them are also being critiqued for how well they work or don't work, so there's a kind of performance audit on multilateral regimes also going on. Sometimes that can take very unfair directions because if you do a performance audit with a very self-centered nationalistic view then I'm not sure I'd agree with the conclusions of that audit. But certainly that too is a factor. So all in all I would say a more complicated world, definitely a more interesting one, possibly a more difficult one, but where India is concerned, you also made a reference to G2. You know that's something we have never accepted, we've never been comfortable with.

I think partly what would also distinguish us from other countries is that we still have a very strong relationship with countries of the South and we, in many negotiations which you would have seen as trade minister as well, we not only stand for our own interest to large extent we voice collective interests of the developing world, G77 for example. Certainly when it comes to trade or when it comes to climate change. So I think that's also a constituency for us.

Now when you look at all of this you put on the one hand say, okay it's all getting more difficult, probably true, but it could also say that we are in a very unique position that today being a market economy, a democracy, socially pluralistic, we have comfort with the West. Being Asian, part of the rise of Asia we have comfort with a lot of this rebalancing in Asian countries. Having a G77 constituency, working with countries of Africa and Asia, we have a much stronger bonding with those countries. So I think we could be at the right intersection, a lot of it therefore requires active diplomacy to make sure that those constituencies are all brought together. That's very much the intention of the government.

Børge Brende: So.

External Affairs Minister, Dr. S Jaishankar:
So what you have seen really, definitely, over the last five years and you saw recently at the UN, is a willingness today to go out engage countries, visit more countries and therefore you can see a new energy in foreign affairs.

Børge Brende:
We have seen your very busy agenda. Following you on Twitter, you can be exhausted just by reading your Twitter account. And also your point about Asia, this is the first year at least since 1850 that Asia is 50 percent of the global GDP. I think one thing is certain that India's influence and size in the global economy is just going to increase in the years to come. When will we see Belt and Road kind of initiatives from India’s side or is that not your cup of tea? Will you join the Belt and Road initiative or will you will you not? Third question in the same area, you know super powers like traditionally but also like, today I would say, China is the second largest economy, US as the largest economy also have this view of that they follow very closely what is happening in their backyard. Of course there is no Monroe Doctrine anymore but this notion of Monroe Doctrines is still there. Would India except whatever happened in your own backyard when it comes to military establishment and etc. or that would also be quite interesting too if you could elaborate on that.

External Affairs Minister, Dr. S Jaishankar:
Okay, let me work backwards.

Børge Brende:
I'm glad you starting with the last one.

External Affairs Minister, Dr. S Jaishankar:
The world's a competitive place, okay. So all of us might have preferences but you know world doesn't run by entitlements, world runs by capabilities, by influence, by interest. So I would hope very much that we have the ability to influence and compete which will secure our interests. Now we are fairly clear what our interests are, you put it very diplomatically, I congratulate you. But the fact is that we will certainly make sure that our ability to compete, our ability to secure and advance our interests, our ability to influence other countries, which is all by the way this is what International Relations is about.

So I would certainly hope that that remains sharp, that remains effective and in all, in this exercise normally if there is an epicenter which is yourself then how good you are is a function of distance. So you start with your immediate neighborhood, if you can't influence your immediate neighborhood it is very unlikely you'll be able to influence beyond. So to me that's like the first circle of your interests.

Regarding your Belt and Road issue you know we have a long-standing position on that. For us it is connected with sovereignty matters, so that that hasn't changed. But the idea of do we do something similar, look, we are us, we are not some other country and I think it's not just on this initiative, I think in a whole lot of other areas, my own sense is as India becomes bigger, the fact is we will find that concepts and analytics which are developed for other countries would not necessarily apply to us and the expectation that we would copy models which are very different in nature, I don't think that's very likely. Because we do a lot of things even in our own neighborhood you know, some of which may surprise you, the scale of which, but it's not, this is in a way you do these things I mean it’s done within India if you look at it, it's the manner of which it's done is much more disaggregated, it's much more organic.

On connectivity for example, rather than say we have a grand initiative, we would much rather say okay, we have a development partnership in fact that's exactly what my Prime Minister said when he went to Africa last year where he said look, we are prepared to do very much more in Africa but we would like to know what you want and we'd like to know your priority and we'd like you to take part in it and we'd like you to actually own and operate it once we have set it up.

So I think that's very much more our manner of doing things so it may not make that splash but I think in many ways, I mean if you go to some countries, for example you go to Afghanistan, it's not a story which always comes in the headlines but I would really say with a degree of confidence that probably more Afghan's know about what India has done in terms of development than most other countries.

Børge Brende: So a softer form of diplomacy, from the last system?

External Affairs Minister, Dr. S Jaishankar: Yes, I would say softer, more collaborative, more co-owned. Look, I mean, this is us, okay. Other countries can legitimately differ. I would say if you're doing something I would much rather be that sense of partnership comes out rather than other people think that it's all mine. It's more likely to stay, it's more likely to give me the kind of returns that I really want.

Børge Brende: We also know from history that superpowers will be challenged to also try to deal with conflicts in the region. Would we also see India for example volunteering to also try to be a mediator in some of the conflicts in the region, could be, for example sea

External Affairs Minister, Dr. S Jaishankar: This is a very Norwegian question.

Børge Brende: Norway has never been a superpower.

External Affairs Minister, Dr. S Jaishankar: But that does not stop to mediate.

Børge Brende: I used to say when I was Foreign Minister the only organization in the world where Norway is a superpower is EFTA and EFTA is this free trade organization with Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Iceland and we try to establish a trade deal with India. But on this, for example we know the situation for Rohingyas between Myanmar and Bangladesh, could that be something where India could be a mediator, maybe an even a bigger question that I think we all are concerned about is the situation in the Gulf, and with Iran, that has been escalating, has been a little bit more quiet the last week because there are other things in the media but I don't think the structural challenges related to this is dealt with or is it ever in your perspective?

External Affairs Minister, Dr. S Jaishankar: No, I mean if I look back in our history there are times when we've done some of that. We took a little bit of interest in the Iran-Iraq war in the early stages, we did not successful mediation in Sri Lanka.

Børge Brende:
Not as bad as Norwegians though I think.

External Affairs Minister, Dr. S Jaishankar:
No, actually ours ended up worse. So there's been, it's not entirely without some past, but I think the Indian way would be very much more that if you have relationships to talk about it, to have conversations but not declare yourself a mediator and not really, kind of, create that space and create that profile. I don't think that's really been our style. I would say, personally, I'm not sure for a country like us, I mean I'm not prescribing for everybody else, but I would, it's not something which I see great profit in.

But having said that some of the examples that you raised, say you raise Myanmar Bangladesh, now we have excellent relations with both. We actually have made, I mean we are the first country to actually complete a project in the Rakhine State after the problems. We've done a housing project and we are hoping that that would be the nucleus for the first set of people to go back. So we have relations there, we have relations with Bangladesh, of course, are absolutely outstanding, the best ever. So it's not that we are staying away or we are, but I think we just handle it much differently from the manner in which the manner you put it.

Børge Brende: I think that the bigger the country is, the more power you also have in inspiring contours and you are I think the largest FDI investor in Bangladesh and the second one in Myanmar, I think the Chinese are larger there by far than you. But coming back, also to what you mentioned about connectivity and also technology. When you were, see I don't know if you felt it the same way, I was there last week and behind this trade war notion, there is also a lot about technologies. Who's going to be on top of the new technologies and I think there is Sputnik moments in many countries these days and many countries do see that those countries that are on top of the new technologies and in the platform economy, the winner has a tendency to take it all, will also come out of this interest the most influential ones. Last year at this time I was here and Prime Minister Modi opened the World Economic Forum's Center for the fourth industrial revolution in India that is placed in Mumbai, but on the technology side who do you see, technologies also I know as an important factor in foreign policy and you see that as an underlying factor more and more.

External Affairs Minister, Dr. S Jaishankar: Well, if you look at the global scene, yes the term Sputnik moment is used but by the way bear in mind the Sputnik moment was for the non-Sputnik countries you know. It was the US actually reacting to the Sputnik in a way the country which sent up the Sputnik didn't fare so well after that. So clearly today the political competition, the strategic competition is also expressing itself very much as a technology competition, if you would. So when there is, I mean first of all, as I said, competition is natural so the idea of course is while it is natural, it is not unconstrained, that somewhere the net result of that is positive. If it gives people more choices it's actually all for the good.

So in that sense it's a little bit like politics, I mean we would prefer a multiple polar world because it gives you more choices. So if you have a multipolar technological world that too gives you more choices. But on the issue of where we are, it's very clear that we have to go down that direction and if you look we are one of those countries where really our, I mean for every country its assets are its people but many countries have other assets too. As you know in Norway, but we are really completely, our future is completely HR dependent.

So a lot of it, to my mind, would be to prepare yourself for a future by improving the quality of your HR and getting your people prepared for a different world. And that can start right down to the basics, I mean it starts really from primary health and literacy and up to you know education, to skilling, to digitizing, to employing, I mean all of that is part of really improving the quality of our HR. And to my mind that is one area where we had lagged behind and I would certainly see that as really the core priority of this government. If you look at the totality of all the programs they do, there's a single thread that connects them and the single thread is really to improve the quality of human resources of this country.

Børge Brende: Well, I agree so much. I think this upskilling, re-skilling, building the human capital in the country is so crucial. I think on behalf of all the participants, I think we all feel that India is very privileged to have such an insightful foreign minister. At the end because we know that I clear the ground for the next session but just to, I think you've partly answered it at the end, about building on the human capital but you're one, I think you were the second minister coming from the Foreign Service, if you have a vast experience on foreign policy and security policy as a former permanent secretary and civil servant and ambassador for many years if you then look at what kind of footprint you would like to leave in the ministry and India's foreign policy, what, if you could just in a minute or two share with us that at the end, it would be we would appreciate.

External Affairs Minister, Dr. S Jaishankar: Look, I've just come in, I mean you're asking me what would it be when I leave. I think you need to give me a few years to think that through.

Børge Brende: I think you have made some reflections.

External Affairs Minister, Dr. S Jaishankar: No, but seriously I mean look, I would certainly like to see Indian foreign policy have a bigger footprint, to see it much more influential in determining the outcomes of global issues, to obviously see our interests and influence secured in our immediate periphery and beyond. But at the end of the day I'm very conscious that we are preparing a foreign policy for a country which I mean within a decade would be the third largest economy, which would be the most populous country and which carries a lot of burdens of the past, in the sense that you know we missed a lot of opportunities in the past beginning with 1945 when the global order was fashioned. So how do you make up for all the things which you lost out on and yet prepare for all the things that await you. So it will require a lot of thinking through, a lot of imagination and a lot of energy and I tried to at least prepare a launching pad for it.

Børge Brende: Thank you so much.

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