Outlining the NDA government’s approach towards the neighbourhood in its second term, newly appointed External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar Thursday said India should follow a “generous policy” and “incentivise cooperation… by often stepping out” and not emphasising too much on reciprocity.
“I will like to see a generous policy where we pave the way,” he said. There are already substantial lines of credit and programmes on the ground and livelihood in some neighbouring countries also derives from economic activity in India, he said.
Speaking at a public event for the first time since taking charge, Jaishankar also said that the government needs “tighter integration” between ministries and departments, and ministers have to take the lead. He said he has spent more time with Finance and Commerce ministers, than with his own External Affairs ministry, in the one week since he took charge.
Jaishankar was addressing the plenary session of The Growth Net Summit 7.0, which is being organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), Ananta Centre and Smadja & Smadja.
On Friday, Jaishankar is leaving for Bhutan on his first visit abroad as Union Minister (June 7-8), while Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be in the Maldives and Sri Lanka on June 8-9. In 2014, Modi chose Bhutan as his first overseas destination, while the then External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj visited Bangladesh.
In his address, Jaishankar, the former Foreign Secretary, said “globalisation is under stress”, but added that as the country’s top diplomat, he believed he had “very strong cards” as he entered the world arena.
He said India has the primary responsibility to work towards boosting connectivity as it is the largest economy of the region and its growth can help lift ties with the neighbours. But he also cautioned that New Delhi should not “over-negotiate”.
“We need to incentivise cooperation in the neighbourhood by often stepping out ourselves,” he said, adding that it cannot be reciprocal because India has more resources and larger capability.
Speaking about neighbouring countries linking to India’s economic activity, Jaishankar cited the example of Bangladesh which, he said, is leveraging its location and resources into enormous economic activity.
Referring to the BIMSTEC leaders who were invited for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s swearing-in ceremony, he said that India sees “energy, mindset and possibility” in the regional grouping.
“SAARC has certain problems and I think we all know what it is even if you were to put terrorism issue aside, there are connectivity and trade issues. If you look at why BIMSTEC leaders were invited for PM’s swearing-in, because we see energy, mindset and possibility in BIMSTEC,” he said.
According to Jaishankar, changes the world is witnessing are “very sharp” and globalisation is under stress, especially in terms of market access and mobility of labour. Then, there is the “growth of nationalism” which, he said, is being “validated electorally” across the globe. The third factor, he said, is the global rebalancing taking place, especially with the rise of China.
He said some of the changes are contradictory in nature. For example, some nations are increasing tariffs while others are focused on improving connectivity.
But, he said, “a large majority of people in India recognised that India’s stature in the world has risen in the last five years”, which played a role in the NDA government retaining power for a second term.
Striking a candid note, Jaishankar, who joined the Tata Group as president, Global Corporate Affairs, after his retirement said that “the government looks different from outside than from inside”.
He said that he will continue with his predecessor Swaraj’s social media outreach to help Indians abroad. He said “enormous emphasis” will be given to Indians in distress and they now expect the government to reach out to them. This has changed the image of the foreign ministry, he said.