I am very pleased to join you all and share my thoughts about the Indo-Pacific. The subject of the forum itself speaks of how much contemporary changes are gaining traction. Artificial lines that separated theatres due to the politics of the day are now coming to terms with a more integrated existence. They also reflect different capabilities, broader activities and shared endeavours among the nations of the Indo-Pacific.
2. Let me make today, six points for your consideration:
(i) Globalization is the overwhelming reality of our times. However far apart, regions and nations cannot be impervious to significant events elsewhere. Nor can we cherry-pick them to our convenience. The European Union has major stakes in Indo-Pacific developments, especially as they pertain to technology, connectivity, trade and finance. It has to, in respect for, and observance of UNCLOS. Agnosticism on such matters is therefore no longer an option.
(ii) Established thinking – whether on politics, economics or governance – is being tested by the outcomes of the last two decades. How to respond to non-market economics is proving to be a more formidable challenge than most of us expected. The compulsions of the immediate are often in contradictions with the concerns of the medium-term. Therefore, conventional templates must give way to new thinking better suited to emerging realities.
(iii) Indo-Pacific itself is increasingly central to the direction of global politics. Among the issues that it throws up, are the problems inherent in the established model of globalization. Recent events have highlighted the problems with economic concentration, as also the need for diversification. De-risking the global economy now involves both, more reliable and resilient supply chains, as well as promoting trust and transparency in the digital domain. EU and indeed the world, is better off with additional drivers of production and growth.
(iv) Leveraging of market shares, production capacities and resources is an issue that can no longer be overlooked. Nor can connectivity and project financing any longer be taken at face value. A strategically more aware Europe should not limit its consciousness geographically. The Indo-Pacific is a complex and differentiated landscape that is best understood through more intensive engagement. A generous and strategic approach that caters to economic asymmetries will surely enhance EU’s appeal. The more European Union and Indo-Pacific deal with each other, the stronger will be their respective appreciation of multi-polarity. And remember, a multipolar world, which the EU prefers, is feasible only by a multipolar Asia.
(v) In such an engagement with the Indo-Pacific, the EU will naturally seek like-minded partners. India is certainly among them. There may be historical and cultural divergences but at the end of the day, we are political democracies, market economies and pluralistic societies. Transformations underway in India, like digital public delivery or green growth initiatives, certainly merit EU’s attention. India is also rapidly expanding its global footprint and will intersect with that of the EU more in the coming years.
(vi) Any evaluation of the Indo-Pacific will naturally factor in the Quad as a platform for global good. The agenda and the impact of the Quad have steadily expanded. I would also highlight the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) and the Maritime Domain Awareness initiatives as having potential significance. From an Indian perspective, let me also flag the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI) that we proposed in 2019. The EU will be comfortable with its objectives and may consider partnering in one of its pillars.
3. Keeping all this in mind, Indo-Pacific and India specifically, and the European Union, need a regular, comprehensive and candid dialogue, not just limited to the crisis of the day. Few Indian governments have invested as much energy and effort in engaging the European Union and its member states, as the current one. I myself am headed hereafter to Brussels for the first meeting of our Trade and Technology Council. Allow me therefore finally to conclude by thanking you all for the opportunity to put across our views on such a crucial topic.
May 13, 2023