G20 has really replaced the G7 as the primary body for global deliberations : Jaishankar

So look when I thought I should come and avail of your invitation I felt I should really address what is the core mission of this institution, which was initially, to my understanding, a body which was set up to promote transatlantic understanding and then has grown beyond that to actually take on the responsibility of engaging the world beyond the transatlantic world as well. So my remarks today are really focused on those sets of issues which in a sense, you could say, how does India relate to the West, how does the West hopefully relate to India and where do we go on from here.

Now, you know, many of you would have heard in another country the term, a century of humiliation. India actually had two centuries of humiliation by the West because the West, kind of in its predatory form came into India in the mid 18th century and continued or almost exactly for two or 190 years after that. And it was interesting, I think a year ago, there was actually a very serious economic study which tried to estimate how much the British took out of India in value terms and a very calculated math ended up put a number of $45 trillion at today’s value. So that should give you a sense of really what happened in those two hundred years.

So while we will speak of all the things we shared today, the reality also is that the history of India and the West is also a history of really a famine of slavery of opium trade, so that is a very dark side to all of this. Now this is the hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. It’s almost on October 2nd is actually the birth anniversary and I think it’s worth a while to pause and reflect on how a leader like him actually changed India’s attitude towards the West, that in 1947 when India got independence it need not have had the kind of relationship with the West which it did thereafter. We can debate the merits of it but I think it’s extraordinary in a way that a country which struggles so long for its independence after that actually, kind of, reached informal understanding or a compact in a sense with the West. And I would sort of regard that as really the ability to set history aside and allow politics and economics and social connections to take over.

So what you don’t see in India and have not seen for the last 70 years, even at the most difficult times with the West, has been a kind of mobilization around an anti-western nationalism. That it has been actually, in many ways I would say, a cordial relationship, if it was not cordial it was certainly not frictional and part of that was also the way we set up our own institutions and created our own society and at the end of the day the fact that we are a liberal democracy, the fact that there is a governance model based on a rule of law, the fact that there is social pluralism, and that we are a market economy, I think these were all really very powerful factors which actually enabled us to put that history behind us.

And here I would make one point before shifting to my next argument, which is that India’s choices in 1947 and thereafter actually took what were Western values and Western practices and made them near-universal. So today if you have, in the developed world or the South whatever you call it, really Asia Africa parts of Latin America, if you have today a belief that democracy is an ethically superior model of governance, in part it is due to the fact that the first big post-colonial polity actually chose that and then sustained it despite extraordinary odds over the last 70 years.

So let’s look at the last 70 years and these last 70 years have really been a very complex history. At one level I would say the West has actually been very-very supportive of India’s growth, India’s rise if you would. You can see that in politics, you can see that in security, in trade, in investment, in services, in education particularly in the 50s 60s 70s and development assistance of various kinds. You can see that where the Indian diaspora, particularly the more modern voluntary diaspora, is located and I would say that forties to perhaps the late 90s, I mean let’s say the 20th century in that sense, this was a period where actually what I described as a cordial, non frictional relationship was largely in play and I think it’s had a very invaluable role really in building the India that we have today.

But having said that it is what I would call a Goldilocks era of our relationship which is the West didn’t want India to get too weak, it didn’t want India to get too strong. So it stirred the Indian porridge or tried to stir the Indian porridge just right and sometimes got it, say there were margins of error on either side. So you actually have a very interesting sort of situation where when India in 1962 after the conflict where we were defeated, actually the West comes to the assistance of India. But in less than a decade in 1971 when it seems to the West that India is seeking a primacy in the subcontinent, the West opposes India so there’s a sort of a bandwidth in which the relationship operates. Now this bandwidth is not just episodic, I mean if you look where is it that we got our relationship right and where is it we did not, pretty much across the development spectrum the West was very supportive, but when it came to industrialization, particularly in Heavy Industries or when it came to defense and security the West was very conservative.

So you had, sort of, both geopolitical or political moments as well as sectors where there was this very interesting, I would say, almost a management of relations. And today if you go to the archives and you know a lot of what where the internal thinking or multiple administration’s are very, they are for people to access, I think it’s more starkly actually laid out by President Eisenhower, but you can see strains of it before him, after him through multiple administrations but this idea that how do you keep India in play, a weak India is bad for American, Western interests, an excessively strong India is also a problem of a kind. By the way, those days mostly they worried about a weak India. So this in a sense was the sort of scenario through the 20th century.

Now somewhere along the way that began to change and I’ll talk about it, but even though it’s changed I do believe some of these structural issues which, where there are divergences between India and the West, do continue. It’s visible on trade, it’s visible on IPR issues, it can be visible sometimes on you know issues of non-proliferation, freedom, civil rights, you know. Which cause do you support, which cause do you not. Sometimes we look at situations where we say, why is why is the West broadly and the US looking away from what is a visible violation of rights. There’d be times when in some form the same question would be asked of us and the bottom line for me really is, for all that we have in common we also need to recognize that we are coming from a different place and we do have different histories. So a lot of the challenge today for us is to reconcile that.

So having stated that what is our current conundrum. From the Indian side I think there’s a clear sense that the power of the West remains very strong. That if you look at the world the institutions, the regimes, the rules, the practices, the narratives of the world are still largely shaped by the West. The West underwrites international systems in many ways, it really governs the global Commons also in many ways, but having said that what has been visible particularly in the last years and in the case of China perhaps even before that, there is a rebalancing underway. The rebalancing was accelerated by the 2008 global financial crisis and what was initially seen as an economic rebalancing is actually until they become a much larger, I would say strategic, cultural rebalancing as well. And if there is a single way by which you could capture that it’s the fact today that the G20 has really replaced the G7 as the primary body for global deliberations.

Now while I say that the West still retains great dominance over the international system, it’s also a fact that we see a much more divided West and part of the reason is – the United States has been, is the glue that holds the West together and I use West in the largest, most expansive sense of the term. I mean I would call Japan in that sense as part of the West, or perhaps Korea also, I use not really a geographical or ethnic definition but I capture the alliance constructs or the OECD part of it as well. And so today as the world is getting more multipolar, the West is also getting more multipolar and that’s a very interesting dynamic when you look at the West.

Now I see two propositions, one that the West needs India, it needs India because India is an additional engine of growth that the market access is important, that India’s human resources will become more relevant to the world, that we will move to a multipolar world, have in a sense moved to it and therefore it’s important to manage the multipolarity by having good relations with multiple worlds. The fact that in many areas there would be burden sharing of some kind, you can already see that. For example in HADR operations in our part of the world and then on global issues it’s important to work for with a country like India and I think nothing illustrates that more than climate change and what happened at Paris.

But having said that I would make the converse argument which is India needs the West and India needs the West for a variety of reasons but I would give you the simplest, historical argument for it which is that every major growth story in the last 150 years has actually, paradoxically, happened with the support of the West. So whether it is the rise of Japan, whether, even the rise of Soviet Union, the rise of Korea, of the ASEAN, of China, all these would not have been possible had they not been done in tandem with the Western interests and Western thinking of that period.

The direction of the global economy would also make a stronger argument for this body because as we move into a world of a more knowledge economy world, one of greater technology interdependence, clearly an important factor would be the flow of talent in the world and there I would suggest that actually India has a somewhat unique position vis-à-vis with the economies of the West. So the question which flows from all of this is that is it possible, is it likely that there is actually a new compact between India and the West because if this rebalancing has to be reflected in a different equilibrium, in different equations, in new methods of working each other, is there is there actually a sense of how to work that out. So that brings me then to the next question what does it take us to get to that new compact? And obviously the first point there is to have the realization that there’s a need for a new compact. I think that realization is today strong in the United States. I see that, to a certain extent, in Japan. I see that, less in Europe but moving in the right direction. So even the awareness aspect of it clearly need more work for this to develop further.

Now when I say what does it take, I would say that awareness first of all needs to translate itself into a recognition of the need for a new balance, which means you really have different kinds of collaborations, different conversations and in all of this obviously India would hedge enough to make sure that it will always have a strong bargaining hand vis-à-vis the West. So the fact that India has other equities and other activities does not detract from what will, at the end of the day, a sort of a central aspect of its foreign policy direction.

There are other aspects of what it takes and one of them is also an understanding of a changed India. A changed India that democratization over the last 70 years in India has had its own impact, that if you look today at India the politics of India, the social aspects of India, bluntly put the old elite is now out of business and really you have a new set of people there with different thoughts, with their own sense of roots who relate to the world obviously differently from the people who dominated the Indian political scene before them.

A third aspect of it, certainly from the Indian point of view, would be, one part of it is how do you build bridges and there the role of the Diaspora would be very important. But increasingly what we can see is that the treatment of the diaspora abroad becomes a factor in India’s responses to a particular country or Society. So I see that really not just as a conversation between India and its diaspora but also a factor in our relations with other countries and other partners. And in a sense that’s a two-way factor because the diaspora also relates, particularly the Indian diaspora relates much more to development in home country than many other Diasporas do. That’s something we can discuss if there’s interest.

From the Indian point of view as I said we, in the past noted the fact that the current world order is very much built on institutions and practices which were advanced, which were created, envisaged and socialized by the West. But we also, frankly looking ahead, our sense is really the theories of the decline of the West are grossly overstated. That if you look at technology, if you look at even defense budgets, if you look at the will to exercise power, in all of this, if you look at new instruments of pressure which have appeared on the international scene in the last ten years, in all of this actually the West very much maintains its leads.

So the task before us, if we are to move in this direction, is one of course to strengthen our convergences and there are issues today, very obvious issues to work together, issues like counter-terrorism, issues like maritime security, issues like connectivity. But there will also be divergences and I think part of the challenge would be to manage those. Lot of those would arise in third country situations like Russia or Iran and some of it would also be to overcome history. That one of the, I would say, burdens that India carries is the fact that it was not part, it was not a central part of the 1945 order. It wasn’t on the high table and that point of time.

So how do you make the world more contemporary, how do you make the world order more contemporaneous and here I would argue that it is very much in the interests of the West to do that but it’s obviously again not a task that is easy. The symbol of that is the UN Security Council but that’s not the only facet of that particular argument.

So I would end with a concluding observation which is that as India itself rises, we are today the fifth or sixth largest economy which certainly would be the third largest economy even in nominal terms by 2030. We will be the most populous country in less than the next five years, so the question which we ask ourselves and I guess in a way the world asks itself is really what kind of power India would be, and I think a large part of that answer is obviously with us but I think one part of that answer is also with the West and what kind of relationship we now forge together, to my mind, would really give us the full picture. So why don’t I stop my remarks there and I’d be happy to take questions.

Good morning. Thank you so much Dr. Jaishankar for essentially giving us the Jaishankar Doctrine and you know what anyway going to be a fascinating conversation has sort of been elevated by your willingness to engage in a preview really of a strategic vision of how India engages with the West in the 21st century under your leadership and the leadership of your government. Thank You ambassador Singler and your team from the embassy all of you, honored guests they’re very grateful that he would take time this morning to join us. So I’m going to ask the minister a couple of questions to get this conversation going and then of course open it up, you can indicate using your name tent if you want to ask a question I’d be happy to call on you, and again just to remind you that this is on the record.

So Dr. Jaishankar let’s start with, in a sense a softball if you would, right, we will start the bouncers in a minute, so starting with the Prime Minister’s appearance with President Trump in Houston then a very full week, as Damon alluded to, of bilateral and multilateral meetings in New York and then last afternoon with Secretary Pompeo in the evening. You’d probably you will leave Washington and the United States with a much clearer sense of how the West, as you’ve described them, is thinking about India at this US-India relationship to where you would like it to be. Would you be willing to give us a bit of a readout as it were about what do you take away from this very long set of meetings over the last week?

First, my meetings aren’t over yet so I still have a few more secretaries to go, so I’m meeting Secretary Asper I think tomorrow and the new NSA as well as the Homeland Security acting secretary and be meeting a lot of business in different formats. But look, I mean to my mind I’d kind of put my interest areas in two broad baskets, okay. One would be really the politics of the West, particularly the internal politics of the West because to say that the Western societies are today having an active debate would be the understatement of the year. Every one of them in some form has that as an ongoing activity, but really it’s actually a very, I mean to my mind, really these few years are going to also, probably, take us in a very different direction than in the past, that’s very obvious. And it’s also obvious it’s very differentiated, I spend a lot of time in Europe, not just in this job even in my previous job and as you can see today that if you take the breath of the political spectrum, both to the left and the right, I mean on both sides actually there’s been a kind of a expansion and I think to a large extent that’s true of American politics as well. And when you have the two extremes expanding, you obviously have, in each case, much sharper arguments with it but our concern is not to get into those arguments because we look at the aggregate outcome and where does, where do individual power centers and our nation stand and where do they stand collectively.

And that really brings me to the second basket, and the second basket is really the economic, technology basket, if you would, because I think the rate of change, rate of social change in the world is so extraordinary today and the importance of Technology, I mean it holds a promise actually beyond our imagination that if we were to think back every five years you couldn’t have imagined where you were out there. And what does that then do for our relationship because in India we can’t grow the old-fashioned way, we can’t go up the manufacturing ladder and then industrialize and then scale it up, so we’ll have to, kind of, do a very unique mix of leapfrogging of shortcuts, of improvisations.

So if you were to ask me, how is India going to grow, would it be manufacturing, would it be services, would it be startups, would it be skills, would it be exports, would it be you know globalized talent driven, would it be insular, my answer would be all of the above because I think we’ll kind of end up in that situation. And that kind of India and this much more differentiated complex West, they’re coming together, to me is really a proposition which is very desirable but is not it’s clearly not just not inevitable but not easy. It will have its challenges, I mean there will be issues, there will be decisions we would make which some segments here may not like, it would work the other way around as well and we’ll have to take our lumps as we try to forge a different and better relationship.

So I leave after this trip even more fascinated by the internal discourse of the places I visit, but I also leave confident from everybody I met and on all the conversations that I had that there is, if there are some issues on which everybody agrees, today certainly the idea that the Western world and especially the United States, which as I said has been the thought leader in that direction, the fact that our relationship today has a strategic significance I think I’ll leave very confident of that.

External Affairs Minister’s remarks at Atlantic Council, Washington D.C. on 1 October 2019


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