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West is our natural tech partner: Jaishankar

By, New Delhi
Dec 05, 2023 12:41 AM IST

Union external affairs minister S Jaishankar expressed confidence that these ties will continue to deepen irrespective of political changes in America.

Union external affairs minister S Jaishankar on Monday termed India-US ties as “structurally sound”, expressed confidence that these ties will continue to deepen irrespective of political changes in America, and stressed that, in the broadest possible sense, India’s natural tech partnership is with western economies.

External affairs minister S Jaishankar addresses the Global Technology Summit in New Delhi on Monday. (ANI)
External affairs minister S Jaishankar addresses the Global Technology Summit in New Delhi on Monday. (ANI)

Speaking at the Global Technology Summit, hosted by Carnegie India in partnership with the ministry of external affairs on Monday in New Delhi, Jaishankar countered those who alleged that India was getting “overdependent” on the US, calling it a selective political and ideological label. He pointed out that the label ignored the “overdependence” on countries that supplied a bulk of basic goods, in an allusion to China.

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But while favouring India’s ties with the West and highlighting the contradiction with China, Jaishankar staunchly defended India’s ties with Russia. He placed the relationship in a historical context, even crediting Moscow with “saving India” at times in the past, and explained the geopolitical logic of the relationship as being based on first principles of strategy, of convergence with a “neighbour’s neighbour”. This was yet another signal that Delhi factored in the China challenge when it decided on its posture towards Moscow.

“I have always been clearly advocative of the fact that when it comes to tech in the broadest possible sense, really our natural partner are western economies. That’s why Quad has been helpful, the Trade and Technology Council with European Union has been helpful. These are our technology partners, they are our markets, they are our investors, these are places where mobility from which this country can benefit and skill development can happen. There is a big agenda there, particularly with respect to US and Europe,” the minister said.

Asked about the argument of some that this is leading to “overdependence” on the US, Jaishankar shot back at critics. “Usually I find overdependence is a rationalisation of inaction. You don’t want to do something, you say don’t do it because you will get overdependent. It is a curious argument. You use it against some countries, not against others. Look at India’s trade figures and tell me where are we overdependent. I can tell you where we are overdependent. The accounts where we have enormous trade deficits and where often we are dependent on for very basic things. But that’s not where you hear the overdependence argument. Politics sometimes masquerades as national security. There are ideological agendas.”

Responding to a question on whether the partnership will sustain if there is a political change in the US — a question perhaps prompted by Donald Trump’s rising poll numbers — Jaishankar traced the history of the relationship from 2000. “If a relationship can actually prosper with five different presidents, the data clearly indicates a certain stability. There is enough investment from both sides. There is a structural soundness to the relationship.” He added that from the Indian perspective, the India-US relationship is “proofed” against political change.

Jaishankar’s ownership of the relationship with the US assumes particular significance given the recent controversy where US has said it has conveyed, in strong terms, its concerns over allegations that implicate an Indian official in a plot to assassinate a Sikh separatist on American soil.

But the minister also spoke of the importance of India’s relationship with Russia in the presence of an audience that also included a range of American officials, including the US principal deputy NSA Jon Finer.

When asked about India’s military dependence on Russia, Jaishankar once again pointed to the problem with the conception of “overdependence” and its selective use. “Look we have a relationship with Russia. It is an accumulated relationship of 60 years. It happened because the direction of world politics during that period forged that relationship. I see the problem defined in a way as if it is a handicap for India. This relationship has saved us at times. Whether we are overdependent depends on us. If we have multiple partners and skills to play them off while maintaining levels of trust and confidence with each of them, I am not dependent and certainly not overdependent on any one”. He also said that a glance at the map, and strategy 101, would show that India and Russia will have strong ties, based on the idea of a “neighbour’s neighbour”.

India had ended up in a situation, Jaishankar said, where its options were constrained. But in the past three decades, and definitely in the past decade — a period that coincides with India’s wider engagement, especially with the West - Jaishankar said that India’s options had expanded and it was natural for a country to make the best use of it.

The minister also spoke about the progress in tech relationship with EU, particularly through the mechanism of the TTC. He highlighted four central achievements of India’s G20 presidency — a push for digital public infrastructure, renewed attention to the setback on sustainable development goals, reforming the global order by giving Africa a seat on the table, and a push for green funding in the context of reform of multilateral development banks.

Asked about how he looked back at his term as foreign minister, Jaishankar spoke about five dramatic, mostly unexpected events that marked the period since 2019 — Covid, “the downturn in India’s relations with China and consequences for national security and diplomacy”, the American withdrawal from Afghanistan, the war in Ukraine, and now the situation in West Asia. “It is a different world. My considered self assessment would be in each case, we have sought to absorb the event, respond in the most effective way, and use it to advance and gain in some manner. From an Indian perspective, overall I would say we haven’t done a bad job.”

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Prashant Jha is the Washington DC-based US correspondent of Hindustan Times. He is also the editor of HT Premium. Jha has earlier served as editor-views and national political editor/bureau chief of the paper. He is the author of How the BJP Wins: Inside India's Greatest Election Machine and Battles of the New Republic: A Contemporary History of Nepal.

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