For nearly five decades India looked upon the United States with suspicion and its overall foreign policy assessment of the US was of deep caution, but the country has now overcome the assumptions to forge a different relationship with America, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said on Wednesday.
Jaishankar also said he wanted to give out the message that it was in the mutual interest of India and China to find a way to accommodate each other.
Jaishankar was speaking at the Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs in New York with former Niti Aayog vice chairman and Columbia University professor Arvind Panagariya on ‘India in the emerging global order’.
“Take our attitude towards the United States…between the late 40s and I would say 2000; the year Clinton came to India. For almost 50 years, for various reasons I’m not saying we were at fault, or the US was at fault, but the fact was we regarded the US with suspicion with a lot of wariness. It was a very substantive relationship, but the overall foreign policy assessment of the US was of deep caution if not of deep suspicion,” he said.
“Now the fact is when the world began to change the tenability of that view came into question. We struggled, even the nuclear deal in 2005-08 was a struggle because on the one hand the US was offering some very clear advantages. What held us back was an innate historical deeply rooted, possibly validated, suspicion of the United States. We kind of said this is a gift horse might we really need to look at in the mouth,” he added.
Jaishankar credited Prime Minister Narendra Modi in reshaping India’s relation with the US.
“It has taken us a lot of effort to overcome the earlier assumptions in order to forge a different relationship with the US and one of the big differences which PM Modi has made…he has not carried ideological baggage, he’s not a person who is rooted in a certain world view which makes you fundamentally distant from the US,” he said.
Speaking on China, Jaishankar said, “The biggest change that we have seen in the world in our lives is the rise of China. No question about it…Because of the comparison mitigated someway the dramatic rise of India…If you evaluate India on own merits…It’s fantastic. But then you have China which has risen faster and more dramatically in the same time span. The issue for us today is how do two rising powers in absolute proximity to each other find a modus vivendi in a dynamic situation. That is a very complex problem…I was also using the occasion to really send out a message that it’s in our mutual interest that we find a way of accommodating each other.”
Speaking on the economic trajectories of India and China over the past few decades, Panagariya said China seemed to have pulled its weight a little more than India to which Jaishankar replied that it was an “understatement”.
“I think there were three big things which went wrong for us; one was of course at the start, the Partition, the delay in exercising the nuclear option, and delay in economic reforms…China grew in this period territorially. China exercised its nuclear option early in 1964, we did a half-hearted move in 1974 and we had to do it all over again in 1998. 1974 was tough enough but when you stretched it to 1998 you created a big burden on yourself and also allowed Pakistan to catch up in that period,” Jaishankar said.
“…I would argue in many ways China had a better strategy…Our model of globalisation and embracing the world was deeply flawed. We did not build our domestic supply chain, we did not support our MSMEs, we thought the world economy would be fair to us…,” he added.
Jaishankar also said managing China has not been easy. “Reassuring Russia hasn’t been easy, getting Japan into play hasn’t been easy; those are the natural challenges of a changing world.”
He added: “It’s like a high trapeze act with multiple balls in the air…in an interesting way that this year has been a demonstration of it. We have had challenges in the Indo-pacific, in Eurasia and we have tried to effectively address both.”
To a question on whether India can consider allowing dual citizenship, Jaishanker said, “with the challenges, the history of India, the Partition, etc., to move into dual citizenship is not something that can be readily and securely done. There are considerations which would urge caution as well.”
On when can India be foreseen to get a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council, Jaishanker said, “It’s a very hard task… The UN is a product which was devised 80 years ago. The number of independent countries have quadrupled in that period…within a few years, it will be the third largest economy in the world, the most populous society in the world and to not have such a country not there in the key global councils is obviously not good for us but it is also not good for the global council in question…I sense a greater support for India to be there.”