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Remarks by EAM during the 6th Roundtable Meeting of ASEAN-India Network of Think Tanks (AINTT)

August 20, 2020

Your Excellency Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai,
Dignitaries from ASEAN and India,
Ladies and Gentlemen.
A very good morning to all of you.

It gives me great pleasure to address this Sixth Roundtable of the ASEAN-India Network of Think Tanks (AINTT). Let me begin by congratulating H.E. Don Pramudwinai for his recent elevation as Deputy Prime Minister, I believe this is the first time we are speaking since then, and I would also like to thank him for his very thoughtful opening remarks. I also appreciate deeply the presence of the Secretary General of ASEAN today at this event.

2. AINTT was established to provide policy inputs to our Governments on future directions of our cooperation. I think it is fair to say it has seen some success in this regard, but I would urge the think tanks today, specially ours, to push the envelope even more in the present world situation. Even in normal times, there is a need and space for new ideas. Because, obviously, not everything can be generated within Governments alone and we have seen fresh thinking in the past coming from scholars, media, businesses and civil society. What I can say with some emphasis is that they are probably more welcome today than before.

3. The world faces an unprecedented challenge. And believe me, the term "unprecedented” is not an exaggeration. None of us has seen a crisis of this proportion before, or indeed uncertainty of this level. How, when and with what result this pandemic will end is still a very open question. Even after several months, the true extent of its destruction in terms of losses of lives and livelihood remains unclear. We cannot pretend that this is just another happening, only bigger. On the contrary, the impact of the Coronavirus has been beyond our collective imagination. Current estimates put the cumulative loss in the range of USD 5.8-8.8 trillion or approximately 6.5-9.7% of the global GDP. The contraction of the world economy being predicted will surely be the largest since the Great Depression. It is against this background that your discussions today should examine our shared prospects.

4. The contemporary relationship between India and the ASEAN was founded very much on our shared interest in globalization. In Asia at least, the ASEAN were pioneers of that process and helped bring India into it. But as it comes under stress today, we need to go beyond its economic and even social definitions. Globalization may be reflected as trade, travel and financial flows. But in reality, it is something very much larger. In fact, what the pandemic has brought out is the indivisible aspect of human existence that underpins globalization. Whether it is climate change, terrorism or indeed pandemics, these are not challenges where those affected have a choice. The limitations of purely national responses or sometimes living in denial have become evident. It, therefore, underlines the need for the international community to work together much more sincerely in search of collective solutions.

5. The irony, however, is that just when multilateralism was most in demand, it did not rise to the occasion. If we saw little leadership, it was not just due to the admittedly anachronistic nature of key international organizations. Equally, it reflected the intensely competitive nature of current international politics. Indeed, if one goes beyond organizations and structures, this was even more evident in the individual behaviour of many states. Therefore, the big issue that confronts the thinking world is not simply the state of the economy, the damage to societies or the challenges to governance. It is actually a debate on the future directions of global affairs and what kind of world order – or disorder – we are going to live in.

6. As a result, the commodity that is perhaps most valued in international relations today is that of trust. We had already seen in many quarters national security being redefined to include economic security. More recently, this then led to questions and concerns about technology security. The pandemic has now added to that the importance of health security. In fact, the concept of strategic autonomy that was once fashionable in a unipolar world has now assumed relevance once again in terms of global supply chains. Whatever we may profess, the actions of nations during times of crisis determines how the world really perceives them, and they did bring up many of the risks inherent in the current global economy. Consequently, concerns about supply chains are sought to be mitigated at the very least through greater emphasis on their diversification and resilience.

7. For exactly these reasons, it is incumbent on all of us to think through these challenges and come up with a more positive and practical model of cooperation. And it is not as though the world lacks good examples even during times of crises. After all, there were many who also shared what they could at this time, whether it was in terms of medicines, supplies or resources. In fact, through their actions what they demonstrated was a need for broader rebalancing as well as a more generous and equitable world view. For India today, this means among other things the urgent requirement to strengthen its national capacities. It also underlines the importance of de-risking critical aspects of societal existence, specially health. And at the same time, complementing the domestic priority of building an employment generating economy, not just a profit generating one. We call it Atmanirbhar Bharat- self reliant India.

8. Ladies and Gentlemen, the ASEAN is one of the cross-roads of the global economy. India is the fifth largest economy in the world. We are not only proximate to each other, but together help shape Asia and the world. It is important that at this juncture, we put our heads together. There are conceptual issues to debate including Indo-Pacific. The Indo-Pacific Oceans initiative that we have tabled needs elaboration. As global relationships alter, we too need to take stock. Security, connectivity, economy and politics will jostle for space in your discussions. My remarks today are only meant to remind you all, how much the big picture has changed. As we come out of this pandemic, let us be clear on one fact. The world will never be the same again. That means new thinking, fresh ideas, more imagination and greater openness. We need to go beyond orthodoxies, whether of trade, politics or security. These are domains that all of you debate regularly and I am sure today you will have a very productive discussion. .

Thank you very much.

New Delhi
August 20, 2020

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