Underlining that issues with immediate neighbours are the hardest to resolve for any nation, Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar Friday said continuous dialogue was crucial to achieve any resolution.
“Neighbours first isn’t an expression of optimism but that of priority,” Jaishankar said at the Indian Ocean Conference in Singapore. He was responding to a question on how India aims to work with its neighbours it is in conflict with.
Focusing on the importance of strong connectivity between nations that are part of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), the Foreign Secretary said: “The Kaladan project that will bridge India’s eastern coast with Myanmar, the Trilateral Highway to connect Thailand and Myanmar with India, and the Chabahar port project to link with Iran and Afghanistan are examples of initiatives by India.”
Maintaining that cultural exchange is equally important, Jaishankar said Project Mausam is a vehicle for knowledge exchanges between the IOR nations. “It’s important to revive the ancient maritime cultural identity, which can be made possible by shared connections with ayurveda and yoga, Ramayana and Nalanda,” he said.
At the conference session on commerce, chaired by Minister of State for External Affairs M J Akbar, Odisha MP Jay Panda said the latest amendment to India’s Constitution by passing the Goods and Services Tax Bill is one of the most important in recent times.
“In fact, I would say the biggest since 1947. In the 1990s, with the opening of the economy, India did achieve economic freedom but the GST Bill brings it economic domestic independence,” he said, adding “until now, transporting goods from one Indian state to another was a very expensive affair; in some cases, as expensive as transporting from China. But the GST addresses that.”
Congress MP and former Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor, speaking on shared cultures in countries that are part of the IOR, said Indian culture, in contemporary times, cannot be viewed without accepting the influences of the Mughal invasion or even colonisation. “The sherwani, qawwali, cricket and English are as much a part of Indian culture today,” he said.
Tharoor said he appreciated the efforts of the current government to use its soft power to advance its foreign policy goals. “Efforts like instituting an international yoga day or even the Buddhist convention that was held in Delhi recently, these are excellent initiatives,” he said.
At the valedictory session, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar delivered the address to mark the conclusion of the conference. Speaking on the unique geographical position of nations in the IOR, he said these countries must come together to preserve diversity and harmony. “The South has the best of West and East. Let it flourish here,” he said, calling for initiatives towards peace in the region.
The two-day conference was organised by think-tank India Foundation in association with Singapore’s Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS). It aims to engage key political and intellectual figures from India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and host country Singapore, along with other nations from the IOR, including Malaysia, Maldives and Vietnam, on subjects of commerce, comity and culture.