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Foreign Secretary’s Remarks on ‘India's Foreign Policy and Its Strategic Imperative: The Way Forward’ at the 6th JP Morgan “India Investor Summit" (September 20, 2021)

September 20, 2021

It is a great pleasure for me to speak at the 6th JP Morgan ‘India Investor Summit’. JP Morgan Chase is one of the leading financial institutions of the world. It is amongst the most international of American businesses and has a record of innovation and pioneering financial processes. It has played a significant role in driving globalization as we understand it today.

2. Any assessment of foreign policy and the trajectory it will take has to take into account our current predicament. As we meet today, we find that the world has not yet emerged from the cataclysmic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to the unfortunate deaths of millions across the world and seriously impacted the health of millions more, severely weakened the global economy and exposed the fragility of global supply chains, pushed our health systems to the brink and exacerbated the humanitarian crises across the world.

3. If anything, the COVID-19 pandemic has sharpened our awareness of the depth of global interdependence, and on the fact that the world is only as resilient as the least resilient country.

4. The world is struggling to "open-up”. It is doing so, however, while accepting that some things will change permanently. Zoom, mRNA vaccine technology, telemedicine are just some of the essential components of a new normal. We have almost unconsciously, moved into a hybrid existence.

5. The pandemic and its fallout pose the most serious challenge to policymakers in a generation and more. Governance structures, national and international, have been and are being, subjected to unprecedented stresses. Policy playbooks and prescriptions, and conventional wisdom, are being tested to the utmost.

6. J Pierpont Morgan, the legendary financier to whom JP Morgan Chase owes at least a part of its name, is reputed to have said that character and trust come before anything else in the world of business. An entire branch of the study of statecraft deals with the relation between politics and morality. Thinkers as diverse as Machiavelli and Rousseau have weighed in on it. Our own ancient text, the Mahabharata, is an entire treatise in the interplay of statecraft and morality.

7. Strategic imperatives, the subject of today’s talk, are not just dry calculations. They are about aspirations, they are about character, about conduct. This is an investors’ summit. We want to do business with you. We want you to invest in India. I will therefore try and give an idea of the kind of people that you will do business with. Our strategic horizons, our diplomatic priorities and our ambitions and objectives reflect the kind of government and people we are.

8. The pandemic took place in the midst of a larger geopolitical and ideational shift. Several parallel megatrends were already in operation before Covid descended upon us. The first of these is the phenomenon of rebalancing in which global activity is moving towards Asia. Increasing economic output and dynamism in Asia, including India, is redistributing global GDP in a manner that is more consistent with the long-term historical record.

9. The second major megatrend is the rise of China. This has geotechnical, geo-economic and geopolitical consequences. The unipolar moment that arose after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War has waned. International relations theory tells us that a change in power equations of this nature causes friction. While India welcomes a multipolar world, this should be predicated on a multipolar Asia.

10. Thirdly, this rebalancing is taking place in the context of an international system that is being severely tested. The main pillars of this system, the United Nations, the Bretton Woods Institutions and the world trade edifice, the G7, and the network of regimes and structures that were built on this foundation, were constructed after the Second World War. These treaties and agreements are what an analyst has called the "mainstream concepts of globalization.” They are the intellectual and structural pillars of the world order as we commonly understand it. The Black Swan event that has been the pandemic has, most of us will agree, highlighted the inadequacies of the current structure and the thinking that underlies it.

11. International diplomatic systems are historically created to forestall crises and conflict. They last as long as they are able to contain and defuse destabilizing impulses. The ability of the current system to contain and prevent crises is evidently weak. Even when the will is there, the solutions that are available are often unsatisfactory.

12. Fourthly, the current pillars of macroeconomic theories are under stress. A tardy recovery from the 2008 financial crisis and a slowdown in global trade are challenges independent of and predating the pandemic induced slowdowns. Economic realities imposed by the disruptions of the pandemic have further upended many of the assumptions underlying current economic and trade policies.

13. Amongst other things, supply chains and global value chains, one of the main pathways by which economies are interlinked and globalized, have demonstrated that they become vulnerabilities rather than strengths.

14. Fifthly, new and emerging technologies have proven critical in transmitting ideas, knowledge and economic outreach to millions of people across the globe. However, they can also be disruptive, and used by bad actors. This offers a particular challenge to democracies and open societies. After all, infodemics are as great a threat as pandemics. Technology and the Internet have created a whole new spectrum of sub-conventional security challenges. Responses to such threats to peace and security need to be as nimble and dynamic as the threats and challenges themselves. This has been a part of the discourse at some of the recent leadership meetings. It would be incumbent on the global leadership to find solutions to this issue without impeding the basic principles of free, open and inclusive societies.

15. Sixth and last, we are faced, for the first time after the fall of the Berlin Wall, with a battle between schools of thought. Unlike in the Cold War, however, the schools of thought are not always divergent. They have significant intersections. Competition and cooperation coexist. It is a system in which rivalries and alliances are non-linear.

16. The turbulent and fast-changing international environment impacts the strategic and operating environments of governments and businesses.

17. How does Indian diplomacy navigate this turbulent and challenging international environment? I have in the past spoken about the five pillars of Indian foreign policy which guide us. I will attempt to reiterate them here.

18. The first pillar is the very Indian nature of our strategic thinking. India seeks to be atma-nirbhar. In the language of international relations, India seeks strategic autonomy. Atma-nirbhar or autonomy does not mean seeking self-centered arrangements or turning the country inwards. It acknowledges that the current orthodoxies have generated an international economic order in which the distribution of economic activity has become skewed. It believes that a correction is necessary. It intends to work towards this correction, inter alia, by making Indian businesses and the Indian economy more globalized – not less.

19. Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has also called for ushering in a new globalization for the collective well-being of humankind and having multilateral fora focus on promoting the shared interests of humanity – the idea of human-centric globalisation. We believe that placing humanity and human beings at the core of efforts to improve global prosperity and cooperation is a good strategic objective.

20. The second pillar of Indian diplomacy is its multipolar focus.

21. We place our Neighbourhood First, we Act East and we Think West.

22. These policies have been revitalized with a focus on concrete outcomes. A massive effort has been made to improve connectivity in our neighbourhood through road, railway, inland water and multi-modal linkages. Railway projects with Bangladesh and Nepal; Chabahar and Sittwe Ports in Iran and Myanmar; and multi-modal transport corridors in Bangladesh are just some concrete examples of progress.

23. An audience such as this would appreciate the importance of creating a power trading system in our neighbourhood, with the appropriate regulatory framework; with the linking of energy grids of India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and Myanmar; and with Indian investments in power projects in Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal. These steps to create a linked energy space are being augmented by hydrocarbon pipelines that can link India with Nepal and Bangladesh.

24. Outside the immediate concentric circle of our neighbourhood, our SAGAR – Security and Growth for All in the Region – policy underpins our vision of the Indian Ocean region and the greater Indo-Pacific region.

25. Our Act East policies will link India through multiple channels to ASEAN and thence to East and South East Asia, one of the most economically dynamic regions of the world, and to the Indo-Pacific. India’s North East, which is being transformed by connectivity projects, will provide a land bridge with ASEAN. BIMSTEC, IORA and frameworks such as Ganga Mekong Cooperation also bring us closer to ASEAN.

26. Our think West policies have led to major positive changes in the content and tone of our relationships in West Asia.

27. Beyond our immediate and extended neighbourhood, we have maintained comprehensive strategic relations with major powers while maintaining strategic autonomy.

28. It will not have escaped your attention that India will participate in the first in-person Quad summit in the United States next week at the invitation of President Joe Biden. The agenda of cooperation under the Quad framework is constructive and diverse. The four Quad countries are engaged on issues of connectivity and infrastructure, emerging technologies, climate action, education, and most important of all, COVID-19 responses – which include vaccines collaboration, and resilient and reliable supply chains.

29. The Quad Summit, you will note, follows a BRICS Summit and India’s presidency of the UN Security Council.

30. The tempo of our diplomatic calendar conveys a deeper truth. India is committed to multilateral and plurilateral solutions and understandings.

31. India is negotiating trade arrangements with both the European Union and with the United Kingdom, with UAE and Australia, among others.

32. Plurilateral structures such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation – Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure (SCO RATS) and BIMSTEC National Security Advisors meetings are being utlilzed to project Indian security concerns.

33. Our engagement with Africa and our engagement with the Global South continue apace. More resources are being deployed through development partnership and through new-age initiatives such as the International Solar Alliance and the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure.

34. The third pillar of India diplomacy is to act as an international force multiplier for the government.

35. The business of Indian diplomacy is business.

36. The Prime Minister recently interacted with Heads of Indian Missions abroad and with stakeholders in trade and commerce. He gave concrete directions on how this Ministry’s network of Missions and Posts abroad can work in closer coordination and cohesion with central and state authorities and other stakeholders. Needless to say, our diplomatic missions across the world are at the service of investors and potential investors.

37. The requirement to reconfigure and diversify supply chains in order to make them more resilient and reliable provides us an opportunity to work together. You may be aware that we are involved in multiple initiatives, within the framework of QUAD and with QUAD countries individually, on supply chain resilience.

38. I would like to emphasize the value proposition that India offers as a hub for supply chains and value chains. It is a safe and reliable destination for global manufacturing units that plan to shift base in a post-Covid world.

39. We have been working with our Missions to seize these opportunities and maximize the Indian advantage.

40. We are working with our Missions to identify newer lines of goods and services as well as new destinations to enhance exports. We will be more active in B2G, B2B and B2C spaces.

41. I would, in this context, like to briefly inform you about my Ministry’s response to the pandemic.

42. A de novo vertical, the COVID Cell, that worked 24*7 to coordinate our COVID related operations, was created. This was resourced appropriately with some of our finest and youngest officers and coordinated with our diplomatic Missions and multiple stakeholders in India and abroad. Amongst other things, it worked on the Vande Bharat Mission - the largest logistical mission of its type ever undertaken. It played an equally central role with the Government of India’s Empowered Groups to mount a global procurement operation to source critical medical supplies during both the first and second waves. We were also represented on National Expert Group on Vaccine Adminstraion for COVID-19  and in the Task Force on the COVID-19 vaccines.

43. I do not believe that this is the last time an inter-agency response of this magnitude will be required. This capacity to react flexibly and to scale up rapidly in a short time will be central to our effectiveness in the years to come. As such, the Covid Cell has now been institutionalised as the Rapid Response Cell in the MEA, a recognition of the long-term responsibility that health emergencies and HADR exigencies will place on our diplomacy.

44. India helped several countries in the early days of the pandemic by providing essential medicines, vaccines and other COVID related assistance. This generated immense goodwill for us and was reflected in the support and assistance we received from our partner countries during the second wave.

45. Our agenda for action is helped by an enabling policy environment such as the Atmanirbharta package - that is estimated to have deployed about USD 350 billion or over 10% of the GDP as fiscal stimulus. Major reforms have been introduced in the spirit of Atmanirbharta. These are designed to deregulate, and to enhance economic openness, good governance and global competitiveness. Major reforms have been undertaken in the agricultural, mineral, education, MSME, and labour policy frameworks and in enhancing civil service capacity.

46. Private sector participation has been given a big push in eight areas: coal, minerals, defence production, civil aviation, power distribution, social infrastructure, space and atomic energy. The manufacturing sector has been further opened up to finance and technology flows.

47. Production Linked Incentive Schemes and a new Public Sector Enterprise policy are some other notable reforms. Most recently our telecom sector has been further opened up for global investment and many of its regulatory creases have been ironed out. We are committed to make it easier to do business in India.

48. These efforts have, even in the midst of the disruptions caused by the pandemic shown results. Economic growth, as you are all aware, has rebounded. FDI inflows are the highest ever. The start-up space is exceeding expectations with a record crop of unicorns.

49. The fourth pillar of Indian diplomacy is to be a force for global good.

50. It is to be Vasudaiva Kutumbakam in action.

51. I would like to point out here that even during the darkest days of the pandemic, India appreciated that it was a part of the global community. It has done its best to ensure that it is a reliable partner in global healthcare supply chains under extreme stresses. It has made its scientific expertise, its pharma products and its vaccines available for the greater good.

52. Within India, we are implementing our vaccination programme successfully, having administered an about 800 million doses so far, with a record-breaking 23 million doses in a single day last week.

53. India also believes in a broader concept of human security. India has made an enormous effort to improve the security situation in its neighborhood and extended neighborhood. A whole series of efforts that are preventive in nature and based on cooperative mechanisms are being pursued energetically. They promote sharing of information and interoperability. They are more about policing and law-enforcement than about the military. Outcomes include anti-piracy patrols; pollution control and maritime search and rescue operations; joint exercises; capacity building of partner countries to improve security in the Indian Ocean, etc.

54. India has been described as a net provider of security and first responder with good reason.

55. We also deploy large amounts of resources through development partnerships with our friends. Indian development partnership is a full spectrum operation with a presence in Asia, Africa, South America and in the Pacific.

56. Whether it is by constructing parliament or court buildings, hospitals, educational institutions for its friends or improving connectivity, India exports its values through such partnerships.

57. We hope that this practical demonstration of our values – and our track record of upholding them – gives you confidence that we are reliable business partners who take with a long term vision.

58. The fifth pillar of Indian diplomacy looks to the future.

59. We want to generate solutions – and not problems.

60. Climate change is one of the defining challenges of our time. India is amongst the front rank of nations with climate ambition. Massive investments have been made in augmenting India’s renewable power capacity. India will not just meet its Paris commitment targets but exceed them.

61. A green economy makes for good economics. India is on the path to creating a green economy that marches in step with a global economy headed in the same direction. These priorities are apparent in the newer generation of recent diplomatic initiatives such as those with the United States, Denmark, United Kingdom and European Union. These include a Green Strategic Partnership with Denmark, a comprehensive ‘Connectivity Partnership’ with EU focused on enhancing digital, energy, transport and people-to-people connectivity, a Global Innovation Partnership with the UK as well as a partnership that focuses on new and emerging technologies, and Strategic Clean Energy Partnership and Climate Action and Finance Mobilization Dialogue with the US.

62. India recently participated in the G7 Summit under the UK presidency and outlined its thinking, at the highest level, on priority areas including the global recovery from the pandemic while strengthening resilience against future pandemics; promoting future prosperity by championing free and fair trade; tackling climate change and preserving the planet’s biodiversity; and championing shared values and open societies.

63. In his interventions, Prime Minister pointed out that India is an open society and a democracy. These are values that will remain at the heart of Indian diplomacy.

64. The future of India is digital. Technology offers transformational solutions. New geo-tech regimes and arrangements are arising that deal with a complex and fast changing world of standards and regulatory regimes. Data regulation, e-commerce regulation, cyber warfare and cyber security, digital enablers - which include some developed in India such as IndiaStack, Aadhar, UPI - and the newest technologies have acquired prominence. Conversations in this space are reminiscent of earlier geo-political contestations and our capacity to navigate this geo-tech world and its intersection with geo-politics and geo-economics and link it with domestic priorities is a key priority.

65. Our Security Council Presidency, our turn as BRICS Chair and our forthcoming G20 presidency have reflected and will reflect our forward looking and positive agenda.

66. I would like at this stage to refer to recent geopolitical challenges in our immediate neighbourhood. The situation in our neighbourhood, particularly in Afghanistan, and with China on our eastern borders reminds us that while the new realities are making themselves felt, traditional security challenges remain.

67. An essential basis for the largely positive trajectory of India-China relations during the last 40 years has been the agreement between the two countries to ensure peace and tranquility in the border areas.

68. Chinese attempts over the last year to unilaterally alter the status quo in Ladakh have seriously disturbed peace and tranquility in the border areas. These acts are in violation of our bilateral agreements and have inevitably impacted other aspects of the bilateral relationship.

69. We have made it clear to the Chinese side that peace and tranquillity in border areas is essential for development of our relationship. Development of India-China relationship can only be based on ‘three mutuals’- mutual respect, mutual sensitivity and mutual interests.

70. Let me now come to the developments on Afghanistan. As an immediate neighbour, we are naturally concerned about the recent changes within Afghanistan and their implications for us and the region.

71. Our immediate focus in the last few weeks has been on the evacuation of Indian nationals from Afghanistan. Most Indian nationals have been able to leave Kabul in August. A number of Afghans, including minorities, who wanted to travel to India, have also been able to do so. However, this process could not be completed due to the security situation at the airport. Resumption of flights from Kabul airport is, therefore, a priority. We are closely monitoring the unfolding situation.

72. As you might be aware, India had the Presidency of the UN Security Council in August 2021. Under our Presidency, the UN Security Council met three times to discuss the situation in Afghanistan and at the last of these meetings, the Council adopted UNSC Resolution 2593, which comprehensively addressed the main pending issues relating to Afghanistan.

73. The resolution demands that Afghan territory not be used for sheltering, training, planning or financing terrorist acts; and specifically refers to terrorist individuals proscribed by the UN Security Council, including the Lashkar-e-Tayyiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad.

74. India is also monitoring developments related to the humanitarian needs of Afghanistan. In UNDP’s assessment, there is an imminent threat of poverty levels rising in Afghanistan. There is also a threat of an imminent drought and a food security crisis. It is important for the humanitarian assistance providers to be given unrestricted and direct access to Afghanistan. It is also important that the distribution of humanitarian assistance be done in a non-discriminatory manner to all sections of the Afghan society.

75. India’s approach to Afghanistan has been guided by our civilizational relationship with the Afghan people. We have extended over USD 3 billion as development assistance for the welfare of the people of Afghanistan. India has undertaken over 500 developmental projects spread across all 34 provinces of Afghanistan. These initiatives have earned us tremendous goodwill in the country. Our friendship with the Afghan people will continue to guide our approach in the future.

76. I would like to finish by taking recourse to an American idiom. I would like to say that we appreciate your business and we hope you will continue to bring it our way.

77. I would also like to repeat another saying attributed to Pierpont Morgan. It is said to run as follows: "Remember, my son, that any man who is a bear on the future of this country will go broke.”

78. I would like to say that this is true for the India of today and of tomorrow.

Thank you.
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