'Rough seas ahead... need strong leaders to guide India': S Jaishankar to HT

Nov 10, 2022 06:58 PM IST

The external affairs minister spoke at Hindustan Times' annual Leadership Summit.

India needs strong and experienced leaders to navigate turbulence and volatility that will affect the global economy in the short and medium term, foreign minister S Jaishankar said Thursday at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit. Pointing to a list challenges - including Covid, terrorism, climate change and the Ukraine war - he stressed on the need for India to manage fragile supply chains, particularly for strategically key products and services.

Foreign minister S Jaishankar (ANI)
Foreign minister S Jaishankar (ANI)

The external affairs minister also voiced concerns about the globalisation model in a time of great geopolitical and military flux and uncertainty, and made a pitch for prime minister Narendra Modi's overarching 'aatmanirbhar Bharat' philosophy - a policy for 'a new era'.

In a nearly hour-long conversation with Hindustan Times' editor-in-chief R Sukumar, the minister also touched on India's relations with the United States, China and Pakistan, and about the Modi government's hopes and plans for the prestigious G20 presidency.

Excerpts from the interview:

On challenges to the globalisation model and the 'stable global order'

I would underline that from 2008 - and I choose this as the inflection point because of the global financial crisis - globalisation has been challenged. There are political manifestations, like Brexit, the election of (Donald) Trump (as president of the United States. There were also economic manifestations... but regarding this a lot of people, in our country too, were in denial because many bought into globalisation without thinking of our own interest.

In a sense Covid brought a lot of these problems into the open... we saw supply chains that were overly fragile and realised that means of production (of some goods) are overly concentrated. Essentially, people were dependent on limited geographies. A lot of this, by the way, was politically leveraged as well.... not talking purely economic efficiency viewpoint

So this building up of tension and challenges one after the other (and the Ukraine conflict has added to the stress)… my sense is longstanding issues like terrorism or, this year, climate change, are affecting global economy.

Overall, I think we are looking at an unsettled world... one with a lot of turbulence and volatility... and this is a time we need leadership and the ability to guide this nation through rough seas."

On 'aatmanirbhar Bharat'

There is a common worry among all major economies... that we are going to go through difficult times. My sense is that we should not think about each factor (challenge) as a separate incident but as layers of complications. This is the general assumption on which everyone in my business is working.

Now, how do we respond?

A lot of countries today - they are giving it different names - are trying to de-risk daily existence. In many cases they are trying to become more self-sufficient or self-reliant - by limiting international exposure in areas where they don't need to or looking for redundancies.

Big economic churn centred on finding efficient and reliable supply chains.

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Now, there is also a digital churn - questions like 'where is your data', 'how is it processed', 'who processes it'. Some time ago - even though there was concern - people were not bothered about what is in our telecom networks.

I think today all these are increasing sources of legitimate concern. To my mind, when people today look at the government's goal of 'aatmanirbhar Bharat', we should not think of it as primitive or non-globalisation or protectionism.

READ | 'Many made fun of 'aatmanirbhar Bharat' vision': PM Modi at 5G launch

We, as a big polity with very large sections of vulnerable people - must see how we can safeguard ourselves in a difficult era. How can we build these capabilities... so it is a mindset, capability and strategic change.

On the globalisation model

This logic of going where it (any product or service) is cheapest to make... I have a fundamental problem with this. We say it is cheaper to make something elsewhere, so we progress by importing from there.

But what happens is we were not reforming our own economy - somebody reformed faster and stronger so our reform was limited... we were not building deep strengths and supply chains… you had GDP but not employment.

There is a fundamental problem with the model... not just a security or strategic question mark, I would say economic, social and political question mark.

Do we really think we can build a future based on other people building cheaper than us? Where is our competitive sense... that desire to take this nation forward. It was lacking till 2014... there was no vision about where this nation is going. Today, I would say progress is digital delivery of benefits, financial inclusion, idea of actually manufacturing in India.

On some companies, including Big Tech, manipulating opinions

There is no easy answer to this. There needs to be awareness that today you have private players whose size is bigger than some countries. If you take m-cap of some of these companies and look at it in terms of GDP of countries... they will be fairly high up there.

And it is not just a matter of size. We are now seeing they have agendas, views, interests... we pick on the tech companies because they are visible but think it is a bigger problem.

READ | Regulating Big Tech in India gets a push

Around the world you have people with ideological viewpoints who believe it is their right to certify/decertify, criticise/support, or legitimise/deligitimise.

We speak of democracy but when democracy gives results that does not suit an elite in some part of the world, you immediately start attaching caveats... this is completely ideological... this is politics.

Do not take that as 'debate'... it is pure politics.

On aspirations for India's G20 presidency

The G20 was envisaged as an economic forum. First, it is important it remains true to its mandate and focus on what it was meant to do. Second, there are broad global concerns and most people agree on these even if they quibble over solutions. For example, after Covid can't say health is not a priority.

From India's perspective, the G20 summit under Indonesia's presidency has still to take place, so we must wait for that to happen and take stock afterwards.

The prime minister has been holding consultations but my sense is much is expected of India, particularly from the Global South, and we also need to reflect the broader constituency we represent.

READ | PM Modi unveils G20 logo, theme with a ‘one world’ push

I think the Bali summit (Nov 15-16) will tell us something. Right now, polarisation would be one description for what is happening. In a sense it is seen as East-West but, in some degree, it has become North-South because the South is feeling the brunt of the impact without influencing policies.

There are other issues too, like economic, respect for international law, and for a country's sovereignty. Some of these will influence the talks but we should remember it is not the forum to settle, or even primarily debate, such issues.

Does India have a role in brokering peace in Ukraine?

This is a premature question. My sense is that countries which really believe in the prime minister's statement - that this is not an era of war - believe such issues cannot be settled on the battlefield and there is an urgent necessity to get back to the negotiating table.

READ | 'With Jaishankar's Moscow visit, India may try to broker Ukraine peace'

Such countries can see the suffering faced by others who have nothing to do with this issue but become collateral damage. For countries like this it is important to speak up to shape global opinion in a positive direction.

On India-China ties

Unless there is peace and tranquillity in the border areas... unless there is observance of agreements and no unilateral attempt to change status quo... the situation cannot be, and is not, normal. Clearly what happened in 2020 was an attempt by one party to depart from the agreement and understanding... and that is at the heart of the issue.

Have we made progress since?

In some senses, yes. There were multiple friction points and some dangerous military deployments but some of those issues have been worked out. There are others which still need to be worked on and it is important to persevere and keep pushing.

The present state of affairs is not even in China's interest.

On the relationship with the United States

The US is one of our principal partners... cannot overstate the importance of this relationship.

My sense of how it has changed over the past few years is that the two countries are strategising how it applies to a world in transformation. Now, obviously they will look at it from their world view and we from ours... but I think the level of contact and comfort and ability to work together today is remarkable.

There are historic reasons for our country's traditional perspective in relations with the US (and the West in general) but it is important that as we get bigger we must strategise.

Ultimately, India's interests are served well by working closely with Western countries and that feeling is reciprocated by them.

On Pakistan

The people of India want good neighbourly relation with Pakistan, as does the Government of India, However, good neighbours do not carry out or condone terrorist activities.

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