A week since his swearing in as India’s second career diplomat turned External Affairs Minister, S. Jaishankar pulled no punches while describing the country’s foreign policy priorities in terms of the challenges it faced.
“Globalisation is under stress,” he warned, “some assumptions of globalisation such as supply chains, mobility of talent are no longer assumptions we can make with the same degree of confidence.”
He acknowledged the difficulties India faces in navigating this new world but said the country would not choose sides, as say between the U.S. or China. “I have a side, our side.”
India was facing multiple pressures on the trade front, from Donald Trump to China, but Jaishankar analysed it in terms of the world taking long term positions on India. “I’m entering the foreign policy arena with strong cards,” he said referring to the huge market India offered to the world. “My job is to manage the risks and maximise the opportunities.”
But more important, in his view, was the massive electoral verdict which showed the nation’s confidence in the new government’s ability to handle complex security and other challenges. “Nationalism in Asia is the nationalism of confidence, elsewhere it is the nationalism of insecurity,” was how he put it.
He signalled continued outreach to India’s smaller neighbours saying that it was this country’s primary responsibility to lift them up without insisting on reciprocity. “We should not over negotiate, benefits will come but we need to incentivise cooperation in our region, so I want to see a generous policy.”
He lauded Bhutan for having leveraged its ties with India “so beautifully”, adding, “look at Bangladesh, it has an appetite for more integration (with India), so connectivity will happen. Inland waterways of Bangladesh will become viable, it could have more ports. So the optimism about Bimstec, people are eager for any organisation that will allow them to progress. We see energy in Bimstec, mindset in Bimstec.”
As for SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) he said: “Saarc has certain problems. Other than cross-border terror, there are connectivity issues, trade issues.”
He admitted India’s tardy execution of projects posed huge credibility issues. “Where did we come up short? In a number of areas. Africa projects are coming up short because we did not have the right tools to conceptualise the project.”
The new government was working at speed to resolve this. “I have spent more time at the Finance Ministry & Commerce Ministry in the last one week than in my ministry,” the minister said.
He underscored the work done by his predecessor Sushma Swaraj, in making Indian embassies responsive to the needs of the diaspora and other Indians. “The foreign ministry is rooted in society.”