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External Affairs Minister's conversation with Valdai Discussion Club, Moscow on 27 August 2019

October 19, 2019

Speaker 1: Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. Dear friends thank you for coming to our event this afternoon. We have a truly joyful event this afternoon. We have many interesting guests but this is the most interesting guest ever, Minister of External Affairs of India Mr. Subramanyam Jaishankar. It's not just that he has recently become the minister and that's why it's so valuable that he was able to come to Moscow and visit us here but on top of that this is the first visit during his Moscow trip. The negotiations with the Russian Foreign Minister will start later, it's a great honor for us to receive such a guest.

Mr. Jaishankar is an experienced diplomat who has come through all career stages that are possible, has been ambassador to many important countries including Washington and Beijing. He worked in Moscow, as we have just discussed, it was a long time ago when Moscow was the capital of another country, the Soviet Union, and in recent years he served as secretary of Foreign Affairs Ministry in India and now he has come to us in his new position. We have just also discussed that India has been increasing its importance in international politics.

Everyone has always respected India, this huge country with rich culture and traditions and potential but in the past India was a little bit aside in terms of the main processes that have been developing but things have changed and India is everywhere, is present everywhere as an element of most important trends and there are two reasons of that. First of all India has been developing successfully. It's one of the drivers of Asian and global economies. This is a country with significant political ideas and that puts it to the front.

On the other hand there is an objective need, the previous global system has been disappearing what has come to replace it but anyway the new independent centers of power are as important as ever and these are the countries that are independent, that are not tried by some kind of obligations to other countries. Countries that have real, full scale sovereignty. They have their own interests and understandings and in this situation when they there's so much uncertainty in the world, such countries are becoming an important element of the balance and India is number one among these countries that I've just described. Thank You Mr. Minister for coming. We'll be glad to listen to your introductory remarks and then we'll have a discussion, thank you. You may have the floor.

External Affairs Minister, Dr. S Jaishankar: Thank you very much and I would say that it is a great pleasure to be at Valdai Discussion Club and as you noted it’s my first engagement coming into Moscow, so I am happy to share with you my thoughts on the subject which is Prospects for the Indian Policy in the Indo-Pacific.

And I must say I have read a little bit about your club’s activities and I compliment you on the fact that you have done a lot, both initially, to express Russia's own interests and perspectives and now serve as a forum for others to come and also share theirs with you.

I am in Moscow just a few days before our Prime Minister would go to Vladivostok to participate as the chief guest at the fifth Eastern Economic Forum at the invitation of President Putin and they will also, in Vladivostok, hold the 20th India Russia annual summit. So from our perspective this is an important time, a lot of preparations are underway and tomorrow I will be discussing with Mr. Lavrov a lot of the foreign policy related issues in our relationship and also talking to other colleagues in the Russian government about our bilateral cooperation.

I first came here almost exactly to the day 40 years ago. And in 40 years a lot of things have changed. The world has changed, Russia has changed, India has changed. I would say relatively speaking a constant in this 40 years has actually been our relationship. That if you look forty years ago at the big relationships that characterized international relations Russia, Soviet Union at that time- US, China-Soviet Union, China-US, Japan, Europe in all of this the first point I would make toys that India Russia has remained a much more stable factor in international relations than almost any other significant relationship of our era.

And that is why I think it is important that as the world changes, and when the world changes, there will be new thinking, there will be adjustments, there will be recalculations that this very stable relationship that has worked for both countries should follow the changes, should appreciate the changes and absorb many of the new concepts that change analysis.

So let me talk a little bit about changes in international politics and the concepts that they produce and I start from the Indian perspective. When the 1950s and 60s, which saw the Cold War, for India the guiding approach to international relations was non-alignment which was the ability, the right, the freedom to make our choices as per our interests in what, at that time, was largely bipolar international relations. After 1992 we, I would say, graduated to a policy of strategic autonomy which is the ability to safeguard our interests, to advance our interests at a time when international relations were largely influenced by one power.

Now, since then we have seen very profound changes, the changes include the 2008 financial crisis, the fact that the G7 gave way to the G20 as the premier international gathering of our times. We saw changes reflected in the rise of China which is a very profound development for international relations. Changes reflected in developments in Europe including Brexit, changes in the election of President Trump. Now all of this, if you look at them cumulatively, have moved the world in the direction of greater multi-polarity where there are many more actors, many more powers who exercise influence either immediately in the proximity or in greater distance.

And this world of more players, in a sense, had also become a world of, I would say, weaker rules so what you have really a stronger multi-polarity and weaker multilateralism and this world will throw up different ways of working because as old assumptions and old structures are questioned we would move, not completely out of, but significantly out of a world of alliances to a world of convergences. Convergences which may be less, convergences which may be more, but countries who find common cause on particular issues have an interest in working together.

And the indo-pacific is a concept which has grown out of this era of convergence and therefore I would, offer that to you as an example of changing international relations. Now it's not just international relations which are changing as I said India is changing and part of the change which Mr. Lucano referred to is also our willingness and our confidence in voicing our thinking with more clarity. We have today a number of foreign policy approaches. In our own neighborhood we have a policy called Neighborhood First which is a non-reciprocal policy of prioritizing cooperation in our immediate neighborhood. We had a policy towards the ASEAN which was called Look East. It started in 1992 when we also shifted our economic model. Over a period of time Look East became Act East because it developed aspects of physical connectivity as well as security cooperation.

Today as India's economic interests have shifted east of India towards the Pacific what began as Look East and became Act East has matured into Indo Pacific. We also have a much more integrated policy towards the Indian Ocean which we call SAGAR which in our own, it's an acronym which means ocean in our own language. We have a very focused policy today targeting the Gulf which we call Think West. So if you take India as a center I think the concentric circles of India are sort of broadening out and to explain to our own people and to explain to the world we need to put forward concepts which give a sort of certain clarity and discipline to what we are doing.

Now let's look at Indo Pacific itself, as I said, to me it's a maturing of what has happened really over the last 25 years which is an eastward shift in India's interests and priorities. But indo-pacific is also in one way not an approach or a strategy, it's a description of a landscape. What is Indo Pacific? There is an Indian Ocean, there is a Pacific Ocean, till recently we used Asia-Pacific as a concept. Indian Ocean is a different concept and suggested that there was some kind of dividing line up there between the two.

But if you look at history that was not always the case. In fact if you look at distant history, you know, if you go to the East coast of China there are Indian archaeological sites in the Fujian Coast. There are temples out there, there are trading outpost out there. If you go to Vietnam, the center of Vietnam had Hindu kingdoms. It had temples which today form some of the finest archeological sites of Vietnam. They centered particularly around a place called Mỹ Sơn. If you look at Southeast Asia, Southeast Asia's archaeology, its history is in fact heavily influenced by what came out of India. I mean whether you look at Borobudur or you look at Angkor Wat, I mean this is all the interaction of local civilizations with India.

So whether it was trade, whether it was fate, whether it was travel, spread of culture, there was actually a flow out of India towards the Pacific and it happened partly by sea, it also happened by land especially in the spread of Buddhism. So I would actually remind you that in a sense 500 years ago there would be some variant of Indo Pacific actually already existing in terms of cooperation. But it isn't just distant past, if you look at the near past, take a look at that part of the world till the Second World War. The British followed an Indo-Pacific policy even if they did not call it that and the British indo-pacific policy was really to Center an empire around India and then use it as a fulcrum to operate around the world including all the way up to China, Japan, Korea, even parts of Russia.

So whether it is far history, near history, actually indo-pacific was a reality, it was expressed in different activities, it has been very much part of people's thinking and then something changed, so what changed. What changed was actually the outcome of the Second World War and the dominance of the United States in that part of the world and once the United States came into play the focal point shifted actually out of the Indian Ocean into the Pacific Ocean. The US occupation of Japan, the revolution in China, the Korean War, suddenly the center of gravity, the center of action actually shifted to Northeast Asia and American priorities therefore now divided what was a relatively organic region into a Pacific part and an Indian Ocean part and a sense that there's actually a strategic separation between the two.

So the big point I wish to make is, in this changing world as the United States repositions itself, reorganizes its assets, the world changes more players, need for greater cooperation. Countries willing to work on the basis of convergences and not necessarily alliances, I think the natural interpenetration of the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean have started now to make themselves felt and which is why today there is a stronger case for the Indian Ocean.

Now Indian Ocean is a bit like, if you people remember the Kurosawa movie called Rashomon, everybody looks at something and has their own interpretation or understanding of what happened. So there is an Indian version of Indo-Pacific, there is a ASEAN version of Indo-Pacific, there's a Japanese version, there's an American version, I hope there'll be a Russian version. So everybody looks at it and finds their own interest, their own perspectives, how do they use it to advance it. Now I would say even those who don't subscribe to it, actually practice Indo-Pacific. If you have today navies of countries who are on the Pacific seaboard but those navies are active in the Indian Ocean, to my mind that's actually practicing an Indo-Pacific strategy.

So the issue today is a recognition of a reality, which is that it doesn't make sense to divide the world into compartments and say this is Pacific, that is Indian. An understanding today especially in terms of an American repositioning, this is a country which once felt it could dominate every space, no longer has the capability to do so and accepts that it is not in a position to do that anymore.

So you have actually more players today exercising influence, working out arrangements among themselves. So from an Indian perspective, for us today, obviously, Indian Ocean as the waters which are directly proximate to us, are the core area, I would say. And the Pacific is in a sense our maritime near-abroad where we have very strong interests, it borders on our areas of strong interest.

The practicalities require us to today look at it in a much more unified fashion and I think since there are multiple versions and a debate underway, it is important that everybody, all interested powers look at it with open minds. Treat the Indo-Pacific as part of changing world, look at it as a as an old concept which has found the new relevance and frankly join the debate. Now when it comes to India and Russia, I would say, I mean physically India is an Indian Ocean power with very strong and growing Pacific interest.

The Russia is a Pacific Power which has Indian Ocean interests. How do we cooperate and harmonize those interests, I think that is important. We have a history of doing so on the Eurasian landmass. That has been very much the basis of that seventy years of very steady ties that I've spoken about. I think it's important today that we also look at the maritime area and see whether there our interests can find new expressions of cooperation.

I think again part of the exploration of greater maritime opportunities would also arise from what is happening in with reference to the Arctic. The possibility of new maritime routes opening up. To my mind the fact that our next summit is in Vladivostok itself is an affirmation there is an indo-pacific message in Vladivostok. And I see, in a sense again, indo-pacific as reflecting the reality of globalization. That globalization means that the era where we could separate the world and separate activities and separate interests into silos and say this is mine, that is yours. This does not relate to that. That era I think is over. Globalization is very much an interdependence integration exercise. But what we are moving into is not an era of, I would say, imposed globalization.

I think what the last years have shown that the attempt to define globalization in terms of the interest of one country or one culture will not work. I think today there is also a debate about globalization, we need a more consensual globalization, a more democratic globalization, a more interactive one and a lot of this today is recognized by a country like India. I think it's also recognized by ASEAN. We feel that in the Indo-Pacific vision that we have certainly ASEAN has a very central place in it. It has been a meeting point for the larger continent, the most practical and effective one so far. We would like to see that continue. So my concluding message to all of you would be, today everybody needs to look at Indo Pacific with an open mind. It is an active debate, it's a debate in the early stages. It's important for us that Russia joins that debate, that Russia look at it from Russia's own interests and see what are the gains that it could make and we would be extremely happy to engage with Russia in that regard.

Speaker 1: Thank you very much Mr. Minister. Clarification, Russia joined this debate not, maybe later than it should, but since maybe year or year and a half is one of the most discussed issues Indo-Pacific and you certainly know that there are different views here and it was very interesting to hear your interpretation because what you said was that actually Indo-Pacific means decrease of American influence and focus while many experts here interpret in the opposite way. That Indo-Pacific is instead of Asia-Pacific is exactly increase of America strategic interest and extrapolating this interest on both oceans. So could you please elaborate on that a little bit more?

External Affairs Minister, Dr. S Jaishankar: Look, I think if you put this debate aside, I mean surely it cannot be anybody's case that America's influence and power today is more than it was five years ago, ten years ago, fifteen years ago, 25 years ago, even the Americans don't say that. So the fact that the United States is repositioning itself and is open to working with other countries, I think is frankly a fairly clear statement of where America stands. So my sense is it would not be appropriate, you know the kind of thinking that you are suggesting seems to feel that a particular American definition of Indo-Pacific or thinking of, is the determining factor.

As I said I think there are multiple accounts or multiple approaches in play. So perhaps if people here were to look at the full spectrum of views, not just at one country, maybe they're used to dealing with that country more so therefore they give it so much more weightage, sometimes maybe more than reality requires. So if you had a more democratic view of what is happening in Asia, I think you would probably take into account the views and interests of other parties as well.

Speaker 1: Now to put it, maybe more bluntly, the argumentation of some colleagues is that Indo-Pacific in fact is an attempt by the United States to contain China in a more efficient way than it used to be and that's why Americans are trying to engage with countries like India, Japan, Australia; all possible countries they believe are interested in containing China.

External Affairs Minister, Dr. S Jaishankar: See, containment is part of your history and your thinking, it's not part of mine. So you have to get over this cold war mindset, you know that era is gone. We are looking at a multipolar era, today we are in a G20 not in the G7 or a G2 world. So a lot of it derives from what is your understanding of the world, if we believe and frankly we believe partly because it also suits our interest, but we believe today that power, whether its economic power or political power or technological power, power is much more dispersed than it has been since 1945 and there are, as I said, many more sources of influence and energy and activity in the international order. So I think this idea that somehow everybody is working for one country or against one country, this is an old mindset.

Speaker 1: Okay. I hope so and of course you are right that here in Russia we have very profound heritage of the old period and it's difficult to think in different terms. But then I was very interested in one of your formulas from your introductory remark, world of convergences and I think it's very-very much right because this this is a world where many countries depend on each other multilaterally or unilaterally or bilaterally and this is very much variety of different models, so to say. But world of convergences does not exclude divergences as well. And we see that actually the atmosphere of conflicts and confrontations and tensions at least is being more and more visible and you feel it. If we take India you have complicated relations with your neighbor Pakistan to put it mildly and of course between India and China there are several problems as well. How you can reconcile this world of convergences and at the same time divergences which are growing?

External Affairs Minister, Dr. S Jaishankar: Today diplomacy is about maximizing your convergences and minimizing your divergences. It will be almost impossible to get full geometric congruence with another country because I think since the Alliance structures, I mean we were never part of any alliance, but even among alliances you can see they have loosened up, there is diversity in alliances. Even alliances have moved or are moving towards convergence and divergence rather than complete identity of use.

So the entire purpose of diplomacy and negotiations and interactions is, as I said, to maximize your convergence minimize your divergence. Now in the particular cases that you mentioned I think the two relations are very different. Our relations with China, our relations with Pakistan. With China you know it's a complex relationship but I would argue that in many ways it's a relationship with a great future. You know China is today among our top two trading partners depending on how you kind of calculate these numbers. We deal with China in a whole range of issues. We are China as a partner with you and RIC, in BRICS, in SCO. We discuss pretty much everything under the sun with China. We have an annual summit with informal summit at the leadership level. And I think there is an, certainly on our part, understanding that it is important for India and China to get along if we are to realize the promise of the Asian century.

We have issues of differences also with China including a boundary dispute. We don't hide it, our effort is to sit down and solve it. But the problem in Pakistan is very different because I would say today if you look at international relations, I cannot think of any other country in the world which actually uses terrorism as a diplomatic tool against its neighbor. So it's actually a very unique phenomenon. We have struggled to have normal trade, they wouldn't give us MFN status although they were members of WTO and GATT. They won't allow connectivity from India to Afghanistan, Afghanistan to India.

So if you have a neighbor who would not trade with you normally, will not allow you connectivity, who thinks that using terrorism as a means of pressurizing you is okay as a policy, this is not a normal neighbor. So I think we have some unique problems out there. We will find ways of dealing with it, I mean obviously there are complicated political and historical reasons for it, but we believe that the best way of dealing with it eventually is for the two countries to find some way of coming to terms with each other.

But none of this invalidates the larger proposition that I am making, which is that the world is changing, that there are more players, that players have to find new ways of working with each other, players should not have limited definition of a particular arena or a particular zone of operation. It is a globalized world and I think international relations needs to move along with the reality of the day.

Speaker 1: Can you imagine in the more or less foreseeable future a situation when convergence spirit will prevail between Indian Pakistan?

External Affairs Minister, Dr. S Jaishankar: Look, it certainly would be my hope that they would become a normal neighbor one day. I mean that has to be something which I would like to see happen.

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