Media Center

External Affairs Minister's interview to India Today

March 08, 2020

Interviewer: What is the big takeaway for India from the first state visit by President Donald Trump?

EAM: This is the seventh visit by an American president, and the first time you've had a visit only to India which, I think, says something. It comes in his first term, the fact that he has taken time off as the political calendar unfolds shows you the importance that we both give to the relationship. So I think the right way to see this visit is that you are actually seeing the India-America relationship kind of develop, mature... in many ways, there are new areas of is getting deeper, the numbers are getting is, in a sense, organically, smoothly moving forward, but there are many more dimensions...much, much closer cooperation and you can see that today, in the politics of the relationship, in the strategic convergence, in the quality of the defence relationship--there were some agreements that preceded the visit--you can see that in areas like counter-terrorism, homeland security, in the entire economic family of issues--trade, technology transfers... you can see that in the energy relationship, which was not there. For many years, nuclear was the focus with the US, but today we are importing substantial amounts of oil and gas from the United States... we could be importing even coal at some possible future. And you can see that in the people to of the unique characteristics of this relationship today is what a strong P2P component it has and, again, that is on the Indian side, people have had concerns about visas... It was to my mind, appropriate that this visit began with a P2P, and it began with an impressive P2P at the Motera Stadium in Ahmedabad. Because that really demonstrated today the fact that there is so much goodwill, and popular support for this relationship. Of course, a lot of issues that are on your mind are there...

Interviewer: Let's start with those issues, particularly trade. Given that President Trump has placed great emphasis on trade itself and has had concerns with India's balance of trade, saying that we have high tarrifs. We were supposed to get a mini deal on this trip maybe the centrepiece of it. Why did that mini-deal not work out and what is this big deal that's being talked about?

EAM: We have had negotiations between our trade ministers...most of those related to market access issues, some to tariff issues, and what they were trying to do was to put together a fair package. Now, in between, there was some sort of, I would say, people were of double know, do we do a mini deal, or do we do a bigger deal, do we do both, do we only do one... I mean, these were issues. So, finally, where it got settled yesterday evening was that we would do a deal. In fact, I'll read out to you the particular formulation which is that they agreed to promptly conclude the ongoing negotiations which they hope that can become the Phase 1 of a comprehensive bilateral trade agreement. So, I think, the idea is, look, you take the immediate issues, if you can resolve that, that kind of clears up some of the pending issues, gives you the foundation really to go ahead.

Interviewer: So what you are saying is we are going to get a Phase 1 deal pretty quickly, could be weeks.

EAM: Yes

Interviewer: And that will cover all the contentious issues...we wanted a restoration of the GSP, the Generalized System of Preferences that allowed us to export 3,000 goods duty free to the US..

EAM: You know by now a deal is a deal only when there is a deal. Forecasting a deal is never a good idea. But what I can say is that I know people have worked very hard in trying to put a package together...which is a fair package, which would then allow a lot of issues which have till now largely dominated the debate to be settle those so that we can actually now look at the bigger issues...

Interviewer: When we look at the bigger issues, there is talk of a free trade agreement with the US. This has been there for a while. When we say big deal, is that it, or is there some other kind of preferential arrangement being worked out when we say big deal?

EAM: You heard President Trump say that at Ahmedabad, you heard our prime minister also speak about a larger agreement. You will have to be a little patient. Because people have to discuss the contours, but the key issue is that... I am now giving you an Indian perspective. We have five major trade partners, big ones who are more than a 100 billion dollars in trade, which are the US, China, ASEAN, EU and the Gulf, not necessarily in that order. Japan is substantial, but it is not of that size. Now, we have to see, if we have to grow our economic engagements, increase our exports, which of these are the most complementary? Where is there room for growth in our export basket? Where is it that there is less clash of interest? And, clearly, the US, you know, it's a developed economy, it's been doing very well, the demand in US is growing. So, it's very natural today that we would look at the US. But we will also be looking at some other possibilities.

Interviewer: In the joint statement that was read out yesterday, there was a particular phrase that was used--comprehensive global strategic partnership. Is this an upgrade? Can you give us the crux of what this means as different from what was there before?

EAM: It is an upgrade, because people in diplomacy use words to characterise a relationship and people in the same business pick up the signals. It's a kind of a ratings process. Depending on the adjectives you add, and what those adjectives are... But if you come down to it, I think today what began really as a much narrower relationship, narrower in the scope of cooperation, the areas of cooperation, the significance of what we were trying to do... I think this relationship has really broadened today, it has global impact. And the rest of the world today follows this relationship, precisely for that reason. And it is truly comprehensive. There is no aspect of human activity which is not is some way touched upon by this relationship.

Interviewer: Part of that dealt with defence and co-production. Our relations with the US in terms of defence--purchases particularly--has grown significantly. It's now probably totalling, with this current purchase of helicopters, 20 billion dollars or so. We have also had exercises with the US armed forces. President Trump also talked of selling us hi-tech equipment. Are we now moving towards purchasing from the Americans completely? There is also an issue with the Russians as well.

EAM: No, I think broadly what we are doing in defence mirrors what we are doing in overall strategy. In the latter, we are looking today at a multi-polar world. There are different powers who have their own relationships. Our objective is to have many positive relationships and to leverage those relationships as effectively as possible for our benefit. So when you say, have you bought more from the US, yes, because for 40-odd years after the 1965 war with Pakistan we did not buy anything from the US, mainly because they wouldn't sell it to us. Since then, for over a decade now, the equipment supplies relationship with the US has been an option. Typically, in many areas, our military looks at multiple areas for sourcing, sometimes they tender it out, sometimes one option fits the bill, it depends on the situation, there are different models here. The fact that we have bought a particular platform from the US obviously has gone down well here. But we have procured from other suppliers as well. And to my mind, that is how it should be, for it is in India's interest to have multiple relationships and certainly to be close partners in defence as part of it.

Interviewer: The Americans have objected to us buying the S-400 missile systems from Russia. Has that issue been sorted out? They had said that interoperability issues would crop up, they even wanted to impose the CAATSA (Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) on us.

EAM: Well, I know there is such a press narrative involved here. What I can tell you is that we will do what is in the national interest. We have said that to the Americans very clearly, I have also said it in public. My hope and expectation is that people will understand. This is the Indian persona, we are an independent-minded country. We will make the best choice based on what is in our best interests.

Interviewer: Did it come up in the talks this time, did the Americans bring it up?

EAM: No, they did not.

Interviewer: We were supposed to sign the final foundational agreement on the maps and cartography, BECA is the terminology used. That was part of the 2+2 talks, is that on the anvil?

EAM: I think there are discussions on that. It is not my impression that it is close to conclusion. There is a reference in the joint statement to it.

Interviewer: The other part of the joint statement was the reiteration of the Indo-Pacific engagement we have with the US. How significant is that, is that again just terminology, or is it a counterbalancing effort to China?

EAM: Well, the Indo-Pacific is a reality, it is a naval reality, it is a political reality, a trade reality, an economic reality. Why is it a reality? Because Indo-Pacific means we cannot deal with the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean as two separate arenas and silo them. The whole idea of the Indo-Pacific is to get people to recognise and plan and act as if the issue is much more serious. Again, I am giving you the Indian perspective. We started 'Look East', then we added connectivity and security and a stronger sense of purpose and it became 'Act East'. The fact today is that our key trading partners include China, Japan, Korea and Australia, all of whom are in a sense beyond the Indian Ocean, except perhaps Australia. So it is not that India's interests, either economic or strategic, is limited to the Indian Ocean. It is not that the Indian footprint is limited to that. We operate beyond that, we operate politically, economically and strategically. So it's not like we have invented the Indo-Pacific as some kind of prediction, or some kind of future prospect. It exists, Indo-Pacific is the way we all operate. We don't think it is a prerogative of one country. What we are saying is that it's there, we have our approach, you are welcome to have yours, ASEAN has its, the Americans and Japanese have theirs. We want an open debate, an open approach.

Interviewer: Recently we upgraded what we know as the Quad Initiative with Australia, USA, Japan along with India. Isnt that a signal once again that this grouping is coming together seriously, because at one time discussions were at a much lower level, now it is at your level. This is again, not to contain or act as a countervailing force against China?

EAM: First of all, this is a diplomatic mechanism. And, well, if you and I meet, why should some third party wonder why we are meeting? I might actually like you, we may have a common purpose in meeting. I feel in this world everyone should be secure and confident enough to not have a problem. I don't feel it when other people meet. So every time my neighbours meet, should I say that I have a problem because you might be targeting me? I think it's our prerogative to meet anyone we like, that's how international relations function today is by working on our convergences. We do have convergences with these countries, which is why we meet. By the way, do understand we also meet as RIC, (Russia India and China) BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa), and it's a much older meeting. People need to be objective about this.

Interviewer: One of the things former US president Barack Obama said when he visited India was an assurance that he would towards making India a permanent member of the UN Security Council. President Trump too mentioned this, but is this just lip service. It's almost 10 years since they have been saying this. Is there any progress?

EAM: Well, the support of the US as a permanent member of the Security Council is welcome. Not just that, it's important and valuable. But the reform of the United Nations concerns may other countries. The lack of an outcome is not just an Indo-US issue. It is an issue of the United Nations. And our sense today is that an overwhelming number of countries support the idea of a reformed UN. The fact that we are still looking at a 1945 design of a particular organisation, indeed a 75-year-old design, it would be fair to call it anachronistic. So much has changed in the world in the last 75 years. Even the G-7 is now, in a sense, replaced by the G-20, which shows the world has changed. So if everywhere else it has changed, and people support it, why should we hold back in one arena unless somebody has a vested interest in doing so? We think today that the world is ready for a reformed UN, and we believe the vast number of countries support it. We would like to see text-based negotiations on this, and we would urge other countries, especially those with a prominent role in the UN, to support us.

Coming to what we had referred to as the concern in the US in terms of its migration policy and particularly impacting our H1-B visas and H-4 visas… Was that something that you got an assurance from president Trump, that in terms of looking at Indians, we would not be impacted by whatever policy he has?

EAM: I don’t think it works the way you put it. I would put it this way, and that’s how it happened. India is today itself a source of innovation and a very important source of talent. There is a high degree of trust between India and the United States, because we are democratic societies, we understand and respect market economic rules. There is a direct connect between talent and innovation. The flow of talent is not just in Indian preference. We believe it is in American interest. And most Americans recognise it. So the issue today is that, how do you…if the United States wants to remain as the leader of innovation and technology in the world, then it makes sense for the United States to remain open to the flow of talent. And India has interest both in talent and innovation. And talent in this particular though not only is significantly H1-B category of visas. Do we support and make a case for H1-B visas and smoother, more liberal, H1-B visas? Of course we do and we did on this occasion. Are we attempting to, would we like to convince others that it is critical to your remaining a technology leader? Of course, that is a natural and we are doing that.

Interviewer: Coming to energy, the US imposed sanctions on Iran and told us to take it off…purchases from there. Venezuela is the other place that they said… We are now importing oil from the US, and apart from that, there are some other energy deals. Is this, given the distance and everything else, is it price compatible? You had talked of stability. You had wanted, once the Iran sanctions came in, to also ensure that the price is reasonable. Has that happened?

EAM: I don’t know the details of our energy trade. That is something which people directly dealing with it know. But my understanding is that today, the sourcing from the United States or Russia is competitive. Otherwise, we won’t be sourcing.

Interviewer: And you also see energy as a growing partnership with the US? Is it, in some sense, de-risking our supplies from the Gulf and other countries in the region?

EAM: As a common-sense proposition, no country, on any matter, would like to be excessively dependent on one source or one geography... In that sense, the more you have, the more you hedge, the safer off you are. And contracts with suppliers like the US and Russia give you many more options

Interviewer: Coming to a more general foreign policy question. The old order has given way to what one would describe as the new global disorder. There’s receding globalism, a new nationalism and insularism, and the weakening of the international institutions. How do you pursue India’s interests in this era of tectonic shifts? EAM: By being confident, by not being risk averse, by being nimble. So when you see changes, it’s a bit like playing a game. If I see you coming at me and I can’t read you properly, I have to get into that mindset of adjusting to those changes. So what we have tried to do is really follow global politics and these global relationships very carefully, understand them well, then try to see how they work for us. I think we have done it reasonably successfully. If you look today at the state of our relations with…we have kind of ramped up our ties with the US. At the same time, our ties with Russia today are visibly better than they were some years ago. We have what is a very complex relationship with China. [It] has been managed reasonably well. We are today working with Europe with an intensity we have not shown for many years. The Japan relationship is great. With ASEAN, again it’s been very good. Part of it is you have to work the big league well. But also in this of what you call disorder, a lot of middle powers also become more important. You have Australia, Indonesia, Brazil, Saudi Arabia. If you look at the G20 countries, you will actually see, in the last few years particularly, there has been a very concentrated bilateral focus on those G19 relationship[s]. It’s not only the top four or five. And we have at the same time expanded our footprint. If you see Africa, for example, you have 18 new embassies there. We have had more of our leaders go to Africa in the last five years than probably in the entire time before. If you look at our development assistance programme, they range from Caricom (Caribbean Community) to Pacific Islands to Mongolia. So the footprint is bigger, the levels of energy are more, the commitment is more, the engagements are more substantive. But at the end of it all, you just have the ability to read the global tea leaves and build those relationships and manage them in a way in which you can actually do all of them together.

Interviewer: When you talk of the global tea leaves, and if you have read them, what are the big challenges of 2020 and beyond that India faces?

EAM: India faces the same challenges as the rest of the world, mostly. We have some unique ones [as well]. One big challenge is the sharpening contradiction between the US and China. Another one is the arguments within the Western world. Then, there is a repositioning of America, because America has had a footprint throughout the world, places like Afghanistan or the Middle East or maybe even East Asia. So I would say these would be among the important challenges, but they are not the only challenges. I think the rise of China will continue to play out and it will have its ripple impact. I would say West Asia—Middle East for the Westerners—is more turbulent if not less. And I think there are some big challenges out there in Africa. So it’s not an easy world.

Interviewer: What is the difference Prime Minister Modi has brought to foreign policy? What the shifts that he has brought in? Is there is ‘Modi Doctrine’, if we can call it that?

EAM: There is a very discernible shift. Everybody knows it. You may like it, you may not like it. It cannot be anybody’s case that he (PM Modi) has not made an enormous difference in our profile. I think he has brought a more modernistic thinking into foreign policy, much greater willingness to engage [with] multiple players, a very strong commitment to advance our national interests. But at the same time, a very genuine feeling for the world. So when people often speak about nationalism, in many countries a nationalist leader is one who wants to do less with the world. Look at our last few years, our track record. The record has been [of] much greater willingness… We are today first responders in humanitarian and disaster response situations. We have led important initiatives, like the International Solar Alliance and, now, the disaster resilient coalition (Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure). Our development assistance programmes have gone very much. Whether it’s the Africa Summit or the Pacific Islands, these have become much more serious exercises, much more diligent follow-up. There is a vigour with which they are pursued. I think people recognize that and top of that there is much better projection of the persona of India on the international stage. I think Brand India is much bigger and much stronger than it was before.

Interviewer: You've talked of the dogmas of Delhi. Have you been able to break through the prison in terms of our thinking? Have you been able to come out of that jail?

You know, I'm not the guy who is in jail. I was talking to people who, I think, sometimes are in that jail. But I think it is a work in progress. If you have many years of a certain approach, it doesn't change that rapidly. It depends partly on the demographics and on the way you are talking. I have found, for example, that audiences in Mumbai are very different from Delhi.

Interviewer: But when you said dogmas, what did you mean? There was a stuck thinking?

EAM: I think a lot of it was ‘don't do that?’ or ‘we haven't done it?’, ‘why we are doing this?’, ‘this is different’. See, it was almost like if it was different don’t do it, ‘don't take this risk, don't divert from that formula.’.

Interviewer: Let us deal with one of the dogmas with respect to our relationship with Pakistan. What has been the paradigm shift between us and Pakistan, in the way the Modi regime has dealt with them?

EAM: Look, I think there has been a difference in the agenda. There has been a difference in the approach and a much greater clarity. At the end of the day, what does it come down to? Look, we are neighbours, we all know that, but why is that important? What it finally comes down to is the issue of cross-border terrorism and whether, in some way, our approach ends up normalising it or contributes to normalising it and prevents or doesn’t sharpen global awareness about it. What we have to do is make sure that the world must not accept the use of cross-border terrorism as a diplomatic tool under any circumstances. Which means I must keep the spotlight on that, make it very clear this is simply not on. Also the issue is not ‘do you talk to them? Do you not talk to them?' The issue is what do you talk to them about and what should be the behavioural pattern as you talk. So if we, the victims, go soft on somebody perpetrating terrorism against us, how do you expect the rest of the world to do so? Will they stand up for you more than you're standing up for yourself? So it's not that complicated.

Interviewer: What did the strikes in Balakot and Uri change in some senses? Was there a paradigm shift in the way we did it? What it did give us?

EAM: I don't know what the answer is, but you know, people should realise that this is a government with a very strong determination to protect national interest and that it is not willing to be tested at the cost of the people's interest.

Interviewer: And the issue of now having what people call a cold peace with Pakistan—what can we do to bring this conversation back on the table in terms of a dialogue?

EAM: I don't think any sensible person will say, ‘we should not have a dialogue’. I mean, not just India-Pakistan, any two neighbors should have that. But I ask you the reverse question—where does a neighbor practice cross-border terrorism against another? Because the moment you get away from the question and pose all these other questions, you're ducking that debate. So, keep the focus on that.

Interviewer: You know, yesterday, at the press conference, US president Donald Trump offered to mediate between India and Pakistan, if the two countries were willing. Is there a role for the US in this?

EAM: I think we have made our position very clear that this is a bilateral matter and we are completely confident of dealing with it bilaterally.

Interviewer: Also, how has the abrogation of the Article 370 played out internationally? How have you been dealing with this at the various meetings you have been holding in Europe? There has been concern in the US as well about it. What is the general sense you are getting about this?

EAM: I think, if you explain to them what is happened in non-dogma terms, they do understand that there were multiple issues out here--of development, socio-economic rights and laws, of separatism and terrorism—and they are all kind of interconnected. My sense is if you explain the historical perspective to people, what your thinking is in these complete terms, those who are open minded are willing to listen and, you know, appreciate that kind of move. And, obviously, those who are not, are not. So, my own sense is that today, a few months since the abrogation in August, there is a larger understanding, especially among governments because governments are more serious about this exercise. I mean, I'm not disrespecting the media, but governments are less polemical, they are less ideological, so, they don’t take angular views where, you know, facts are adjusted to support a particular set of hypotheses. So I think most governments have today sort of acknowledged or, at least, heard us out and got a good grasp of what our thinking is. Now we have also had a number of ambassadors go to Jammu and Kashmir. They have seen the state for themselves and met people and my understanding is, sometimes people are critical of the government of India, but they come back and I think they have an overall sense that the direction of developments in Jammu and Kashmir is positive. I mean, obviously there are still issues to be resolved, we don’t hide that, but I think there is still a fair amount of international understanding.

Interviewer: Some sections of the US Congress has been wanting to pass a resolution against us. There were also some members of the European Parliament wanting to pass a resolution against us. How have you dealt with this particular aspect? Is that over now?

EAM: Some of it will be there because, remember they are playing politics too. These are not necessarily objective observers of what is happening in India. So they are playing their politics. When you look at the ideological positions of many of these people, I think it is pretty self evident. But overall, I would say that today, you know, there is a reasonable understanding of what has happened.

Interviewer: Has the detention of the major leaders of the Valley and the fact that internet communication has still not been fully restored, come up in any of your discussions?

EAM: I think people look at the progressive direction of the moment. It was never our position that things will instantaneously get back to normal and everything will be sorted out. That was never the government’s position.

Interviewer: Has the CAA and NRC come up in all your dealings internationally? How have we explained that?EAM: Well, sometimes it has come up—it came up, for example, when I was in Brussels—mostly people wanting to know... The way it happens is a foreign minister, or somebody like that will come up to you and say "This is what I hear, could you give me your perspective?” And naturally, we give them what is the accurate perspective on the matter. Now, we do explain to them—since you asked about CAA—if you look at the objectives of the changes in legislation, what does it do really? We already have a number of stateless people in this country. It reduces statelessness. It doesn’t take away citizenship from anybody. It gives a number of people who don’t have citizenship today... it gives them citizenship. So the result is, the total statelessness in India has come down. And you’re managing it in a way in which... you don’t want to create a greater ‘pull factor’ in your neighbourhood, because, you know, this country has its own challenges. It should not be burdened with the challenges of the larger region directly as well. Now, if you put it to them... you know, explain to them conceptually, somebody in Europe understands that. Because after all, what is today Europe trying to do when it comes to migration? Europe is also trying to reduce statelessness. Europe also wants to do it without a ‘pull factor’. While you’re sorting out the problem, you don’t want to create more migrants to increase the problem. And when you ask them—saying, "Look, you explain to me... there must be a naturalisation/ citizenship practice in your country. Does it have a context? Does it have a criteria? Do they not use certain criteria - social, ethnicity, religion, language?” When they look at their own rules and regulations, mostly the answer will be "Yes”.

Interviewer: The unfortunate incidents that have happened in Delhi, did it, in some senses, mar President Trump’s visit? What do you see behind the violence?

EAM: I would like to restrict my comments to foreign affairs.

Interviewer: Coming to China. We’ve had the ‘Chennai spirit’ that was there. We’ve had differences with China on the border issue. We have differences in terms of trade imbalances in their favour. And, of course, their relations with Pakistan, particularly to do with CPEC, the corridor they’ve built in PoK, or rather, the economic corridor they plan to build in PoK. How much of that have we been able to address in terms of China, the concerns that were there, given the kind of closeness the two leaders exhibited at Chennai?

EAM: I will make two separate points, and it’s important that you understand both of them. One, we have an extraordinarily complex relationship with China. You yourself said, there’s the boundary question, there are security issues, there is their relationship with Pakistan, there are trade concerns. Each one is a complex issue in itself. Put together.... It has taken multiple governments many years to grapple with these issues, and as China has risen, these issues have not become smaller, because China’s capability has grown, its ambitions have grown, its influence has grown. First of all, lets recognise that these are not issues that are going to be amenable to easy and ready solutions. If there were, previous governments and previous diplomats would have solved it.

The second issue which you have to look at is, recognising that these are complex issues, do you then deal more with China or less with China? At a higher level with China, or at a lower level with China? Deal more intensively and more open-mindedly with China, or not? I would put it to you that precisely because the issues are so serious and so complex, it’s important to have a very high level communication. And so, in 2017, this suggestion came from us, saying "You are a rising power, we are a rising power, our relationship with the rest of the world is going to be different, our relationship with each other will be different. So if we don’t communicate in a very honest manner with each other, it’s not good for either of us.” And I think they recognised that, which is why you have these summit meetings, and to my mind, these summit meetings are quite helpful, because if leaders—quite apart from the content of the summit—the fact that the leaders talk with each other with a degree of candour and directness, I think it sends a good message down the system.

Interviewer: On ‘think west’—apart from ‘acting east’, we’re now ‘thinking west’—meaning Saudi Arabia, UAE and others in the Gulf ….what has been the arrangement that we’ve done that is now transforming, in some senses, the relationship with them?

EAM: When you asked ‘What are the changes Prime Minister Modi has brought to foreign policy’—I think this is a very appropriate example. Here is a region, very close to us. We do a lot of trade with this region. But, till a few years ago, we looked at it largely in terms of diaspora, and we looked at it largely in terms of oil... and some trade. You had key countries here, where there’s been no strategic engagement for many, many years. Now, the paradox is that these countries were actually following the changes in India. And they were very keen to engage. But they were not part of our strategic calculus in that clear sense. Today, they are. Today, you have the UAE as even the chief guest on the republic day...

Interviewer: You are saying that’s a paradigm shift…

EAM: Yes...UAE, Saudi Arabia, a number of countries evening Israel.

Coming to Afghanistan. We’re likely to see a deal happen between the US and the Taliban for a new government. How much of this impacts us, what are our concerns of the kind of deal that could be arranged, and did we discuss this with President Trump when he was here?

EAM: Yes, there was a discussion on Afghanistan. There have been other discussions as well. I have had discussions with Secretary [of State, Mike] Pompeo, with Secretary Esper, I met Ambassador Khalizad and he briefed me when I was in Munich last week. So we do track what is [happening] in Afghanistan, our NSAs also talk to each other. And we have legitimate interests in Afghanistan—we have a strong civilisational connect, a people-to-people connect in Afghanistan—it is one of those societies you really feel proud going there as an Indian, because people acknowledge over many years that we’ve done an enormous amount of good in that country, and I think...

: We were assured that they would take some of our interests into account?

EAM: Again, the way you approach it, it is as though others are working for you! You know, at the end of the day, you are... if you have an interest, you should move to secure it. I mean, obviously, I will try and influence everybody to get outcomes. But finally, at the end of the day, it should be my endeavour and my foreign policy using my instruments and my capability, to secure my [interests].

Interviewer: President Trump had hinted at [the US] putting boots on the ground for security in Afghanistan. We are not considering any of those alternatives on that front?

EAM: (Shakes his head in the negative)

Interviewer: On the economic front, has the slowdown we’ve faced in our economy, in some senses, impacted our diplomatic heft? We were seen as one of the fastest growing economies, the size of our market was there… does this in any way impact your ability to...?

EAM: As in the other issues that you raised—370 in Jammu and Kashmir, CAA—I think the overall message that we are conveying abroad is that this is a government today which is deeply committed to deep reforms. Deep social reforms, economic reforms, political reforms, security reforms. The mindset is not that ‘We’ve come to power and we inherited problems and let’s kind of, somehow, get through it and leave these for people to carry as a burden’. I think there is a very active intention of sorting out problems. Including legacy problems...some of these issues that you mentioned the citizenship issue, the CAA or GST or, even 370..these are not new issues, by the way, these have been going on for many, many years..

Interviewer: But this government didn't kick the can down the road on these..

EAM: Yes, I think serious people understand what that means. So why am I saying it? Because serious people also look at what's happening in the economy in a similar way. So, my sense is, people, do understand the challenges that we are addressing, including, you know, issues like NPAs. They do understand that there is a big change—there's a systemic cleanup that is going on. They also appreciate that we have maintained a very good balance between you know, the imperatives of increasing growth and the long term requirements of maintaining the fiscal deficit levels. So, I think they see that as a very sort of responsible, prudent management of finances. So, overall, I think there is an appreciation of the budget, the overall economic management, but the answer to your question would also be that, wherever I go, I see enormous interest in, you know, doing business with India. People are continuing to bet on us. I don't see any let up on that at all. So, part of our problems and then sometimes, we have our own internal debate, which is okay—and in our democratic society, that's natural—but I tell people that look, sometimes we get too involved in our own conversations - we are talking to ourselves. Sometimes also listen to another opinion. Look at what more objective people are sometimes saying. And, I believe that today the world has a great sort of interest in India—I think people want to see us emerge as another driver of global economic growth. They think of us as a stabilizing power, as a responsible power. They see an India which is willing to make decisions, which will not duck the big debates. And I think a lot of the domestic's very fascinating, you know, I spoke to you about going to Brussels and you asked me did the CAA come up. People were enormously fascinated by what's happening on the social side in India—how the gender gaps are closing, how girls' education is improving, how skills program is growing, what is happening on the digital side. These are of great interest to them.

One final question on trade, you mentioned people are willing to do business with India. Why did we pull out of the RCEP? We were expected to sign it. Why did we not do so? Is it a closed chapter?

EAM: Look, again. This is the trade minister's remit but since I also happened to be there..I think the common sense answer was—because the offers we got were not good enough. Why were they're not good enough? Because I think they did not address a lot of the concerns we had. The possibility that if we had entered the arrangements as the way that it didn't protect us from what is already an enormous deficit, vis-à-vis RCEP countries. And we are concerned about the deficit because we believe that the deficits have arisen not as an outcome of competitive advantage, but as an outcome of non-tariff barriers and lack of market access and regulatory and policy impediments in different types of countries. So, we had key issues out there. And we, finally, at that time we have to take the call— has our concerns been addressed adequately or not? I think we took what I believe was a courageous but very necessary call.

Interviewer: And we are open to..if..?

EAM: Well, you know, the ball is not in our court.

Interviewer: And how would you describe finally India? Is it a building power, is it a leading power, what would your description be of India? You even talked of it as the Southwestern power at one point..

EAM: I think it is contextual. It depends on the question you ask me. I mean, I would say, as a country, which will soon, one day, be the most populous country in the world, we should certainly have an aspiration to be a leading power. I don't feel the need to be apologetic or modest about it. I think it is only right that we should. But you don't get there because you want to be or you aspire to be—you have to get there by hard work, by doing your diplomacy right, by strategizing. And that, in a sense, is what we are trying to do.

Why I said at that time, Southwestern was, people often say, well, they equate Western and democracy. Which, by the way, I think is a fundamentally flawed definition of democracy. I think today, much of democracy exists outside the Western world. But I wanted to remind people that we are also post-colonial society—we have struggled for our freedom; as also for a lot other countries of Asia, Africa, Latin America. There is a moral factor. I believe strongly in international relations.. And I think that's a constituency which has great respect and affection for us. So, for me, today, I do more than..I do almost 500 and something—535 and 540 projects outside India—a large part of them in these countries. And, the reason we do it is to send the message that look there is a fraternity of countries who have been in a sense victims of the age of imperialism, and today we are finding our rightful place, but it will take us some time.

Interviewer: A personal question, what is the difference you feel after being foreign minister, after a foreign secretary. What's the big difference the two?

EAM: Oh, that could take an interview all by itself.

Interviewer: Foreign minister, thank you so much for this.Thank you.

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