India’s Foreign Policy geared to strengthening multilateralism & engaging in intensive bilateral interactions: S Jaishankar

Prime Minister Narendra Modi attends Plenary session of 11th BRICS summit in Brasilia
November 14, 2019/ Photo Courtesy: Lalit Kumar

New Delhi: India’s External Affairs Minister Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar gave a suo moto statement in Rajya Sabha Thursday 28 November 2019 on the Government’s efforts to promote India’s foreign policy since the last Session of Parliament focusing on high-level visits that have taken place recently in order to ensure their full significance is properly appreciated.

The Foreign Minister said that the Modi led NDA Government has a comprehensive foreign policy outlook that reflects both the state of the world and India’s growing role in it. “We see a multipolar landscape that has been unfolding over the last decade, although its pace has hastened in recent years. Our own growing capability and influence is, of course, one part of this change. This requires us to strengthen multilateralism even while engaging in more intensive bilateral interactions. It also means looking beyond orthodox diplomacy and arriving at issue-based understandings with different combination of nations”, he added.

Jaishankar emphasised that in order to shape the global agenda more effectively, India has to engage countries large and small across all regions. It is not only a matter of advancing our own national interest. The expectations that the world has of us is also very much higher. In our own region, this is visible in the Neighbourhood First approach as well as in the SAGAR doctrine. We have pursued the Act East policy vigorously while building an effective bridge to the Gulf in the West. Our Indo-Pacific outlook has steadily gained greater understanding. Our commitments to Africa and other nations of the South are well under implementation. Regional summits speak for the growing salience of India in the perception of the world.

The cumulative impact of all this, the Minister said, is therefore a combination of greater diplomatic activity, more intensive development partnerships, stronger security engagements and growing global profile. Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas is the guiding principle of our foreign policy as well. That is visible in the high-level visits since the last session.

The President of India has paid state visits to Iceland, Switzerland and Slovenia in September, and the Philippines and Japan in October 2019. The Vice President has visited Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia in August and also to Comoros and Sierra Leone in October. The Vice President also headed the Delegation for the 18th NAM Summit, in Azerbaijan in October 2019. Prime Minister visited Bhutan and then France, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in August; Russia and the United States in September on a trip that included a visit to the United Nations; Saudi Arabia in October and Thailand for the East Asia Summit and Brazil for the BRICS Summit in November. The Defence Minister represented India at the Heads of Government Summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in November. Their diplomatic initiatives have been supported by my own visits and that of Minister of State to various other countries in Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas.

Through these endeavours, the Union Government has sought to cover a variety of regions and a broad range of partners, the Minister said adding the initiative has helped to shape the global agenda, bringing India’s interests and perspectives to the table. They have advanced our national interests by strengthening bilateral relationships and creating favourable plurilateral and multilateral outcomes. These range from big ideas on climate change to policy measures on counter-terrorism and anti-corruption, as well as practical steps on trade, investment and labour opportunities besides ensuring the welfare of the diaspora. And together, they have helped raise the image of India in the world.

Visits by the President and Vice President have enabled India cement bilateral partnerships. The President’s visit to Slovenia was the first ever Presidential visit from India to that country. During his various visits, the President had a chance to interact with the vibrant Indian community in those places, gave lectures at universities, unveiled a bust of Mahatma Gandhi in Switzerland in Villeneuve, a city which Mahatma Gandhi had visited in 1931, and signed important MoUs such as those on white shipping and tourism with Philippines and on science and technology with Slovenia. The President also addressed business forums in Iceland, Slovenia, Switzerland and the Philippines. His visit to Japan for the enthronement of the Emperor underscored the importance that we attach to this important partner, the External Affairs Minister told the House.

All the six countries visited by the Vice President during this period marked the first high level visit from India to those countries. Vice President’s visits have enabled us to further our economic relations with the Baltic States and highlighted our cultural and linguistic ties with those countries. His visits to Comoros and Sierra Leone were widely appreciated for they reiterated our commitment to friendship with African countries. The visits also resulted in tangible outcomes including cooperation in the field of defence with Comoros and an MoU for US$ 30 million Line of Credit with Sierra Leone, Jaishankar said.

The Minister firther said that Vice President’s visit to Azerbaijan for the NAM Summit highlighted India’s continued commitment to the NAM. It had added significance as it came just before the 65th anniversary of the Bandung Principles in 2020 and the 60th anniversary of the establishment of NAM in 2021. During the visit, the Vice President also had bilateral meetings with the Presidents of Afghanistan, Cuba, Venezuela and Iran, the Vice President of Vietnam and the Prime Ministers of Bangladesh and Nepal.

Further Jaishankar said since the last session of the House, Prime Minister paid a state visit to Bhutan from 17-18 August, 2019. This visit, early in the second term, underscores the Government’s continuing commitment to our “Neighbourhood First” policy. India’s unique and special friendship with Bhutan is evident from the fact that the Prime Minister of Bhutan, Dr. Lhotay Tshering, received our Prime Minister at the airport and accompanied him throughout his visit. Prime Minister had warm interactions with His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, the King of Bhutan, as well as with His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the fourth King. In his talks with the Prime Minister of Bhutan, the latter conveyed Bhutan’s appreciation for India’s continuing assistance to Bhutan’s socio-economic development, including in the hydro-power sector. The two Prime Ministers also jointly inaugurated the 720 MW Mangdechhu Hydro-Power Project and the Ground Earth Station for the South-Asia Satellite and launched the RuPay Card. They agreed on the establishment of a Indo-Bhutan Super Speciality Hospital in Thimphu. The visit was also an opportunity for both countries to re-emphasise the common and indivisible nature of our security interests.

Prime Minister was invited by the President of France to participate in the G7 Summit Outreach Session held in Biarritz, France on 25-26 August 2019. The invitation is an acknowledgment of the importance that G-7 countries attach to India’s leadership on matters related to Climate, Biodiversity and Oceans, and on Digital Transformation. Prime Minister’s call for a mass movement against single-use plastic was welcomed by the other leaders. At the Digital Transformation Session, where Prime Minister was invited to be the lead speaker, he highlighted the initiatives being taken by his Government for empowerment and inclusive social development. We will continue to work with G-7 countries on such issues, and also on the reform of the multilateral system in order to make it more representative of current realities. Prime Minister held bilateral meetings on the sidelines with President Donald Trump of the US, PM Boris Johnson of UK, President Macky Sall of Senegal and the UN Secretary General. He separately paid a bilateral visit to France and held wide-ranging talks with President Macron on ways to further deepen our strategic partnership with France including, inter alia, in the areas of defence and security, energy including civil nuclear cooperation, space, counter terrorism, and trade & investment, the Minister informed the House.

Further, Jaishankar said, in pursuance of Government’s determination to build even closer ties with the Gulf States, Prime Minister visited Bahrain and United Arab Emirates between August 22-24, 2019, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on 29 October, 2019. Prime Minister’s visit to Bahrain is the first ever by any Prime Minister, and was welcomed by the King and other leaders as a signal of our commitment to strengthen all-round relations. With the leaderships of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, with whom we have witnessed a qualitative transformation of our ties since 2014, Prime Minister’s visit afforded another occasion to advance our shared interests in the areas of energy, trade, investment and security, as well as to take up matters of interest to our large diasporas in this region. RuPay card was also launched in Bahrain and UAE. The King of Bahrain and the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi conferred their nations’ highest awards on Prime Minister as a gesture of close friendship and affinity. We have also established a Strategic Partnership Council with Saudi Arabia that will oversee the trade & investment, energy as well as security related cooperation, which is expected to further strengthen our strategic relations. Prime Minister delivered a key-note address to the Future Investment Initiative Forum on India’s economic prospects and investment opportunities.

The Prime Minister’s visit to Russia from 4-5 September, 2019, for both the Annual Summit with President Putin and to participate as the Guest of Honour at the Fifth Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, was also a new milestone in our bilateral relations. Prior to Prime Minister’s visit, a high-level delegation led by Commerce & Industry Minister, accompanied by Chief Ministers of four states and over 100 business persons, had visited Vladivostok to scope out possibilities for cooperation with the Russian Far East in sectors like energy, mining and agriculture. The energy agenda that envisaged a five year programme of cooperation was also prepared in advance by a visit of the Minister of Petroleum & Natural Gas. To support Indian companies to do business in the Russian Far East, Prime Minister has announced a special Line of Credit of USD 1 billion specifically for this part of Russia. The Annual Summit with President Putin was utilized to review and progress our multifarious activities and cooperation in defence and security, space (Gaganyaan programme), civil nuclear cooperation, trade and investment and people-to-people contacts. President Putin highly appreciated Prime Minister’s participation in the EEF in Vladivostok as a mark of India’s firm commitment to the Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership with the Russian Federation, Jaishankar told the House.

Also, the External Affairs Minister said, Prime Minister’s presence at the High Level Segment of the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York from 22-27 September, 2019, underscored Indian Government’s firm commitment to multilateralism during a period of global uncertainty. Prime Minister called for making the UN more effective and purposeful through fundamental reform. Prime Minister participated in three important events – the Climate Action Summit, at which he announced the launch of our new initiative, the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure, and also reiterated our decision to end the use of single use plastic; the High-Level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage, where he highlighted the Ayushman Bharat initiative taken by our Government and joined in the commitment by all Governments to “A Vision for Universal Health Coverage by 2030”; and the Leaders’ Dialogue on Strategic Responses to Terrorist and Violent Extremists Narratives, where he spoke of the urgent collective need for all nations to join hands in combating the scourge of terrorism. Prime Minister’s participation was welcomed by the general membership of the UN as a clear iteration of India’s support to the United Nations Organization as it enters its 75th year.

In his address at the General Debate of the UNGA, the Prime Minister focused on the development agenda. He highlighted India’s initiatives such as Swachh Bharat, Jan Dhan Yojana, etc as inspiration for the world. PM said that India’s development provides hope to the world and offered to share our experience and expertise to other developing countries in addressing their developmental challenges. He emphasised Mahatma Gandhi’s message of truth and non-violence for peace, development and prosperity, and Swami Vivekananda’s message of harmony and peace on a model for multilateralism.
A highlight of Prime Minister’s engagements in New York included, for the very first time, a Leaders Meeting with the Pacific Small Islands Developing States and a Leaders Meeting with the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). This outreach was greatly appreciated by all the leaders of these two regions. Prime Minister’s offer of financial assistance for high impact community development projects and concessional Lines of Credit, was welcomed. Prime Minister also had bilateral meetings with 16 others Heads of State and Government, including with US President Trump, Iran’s President Rouhani, President Solih of the Maldives, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and the incoming President of the European Council, Mr. Charles Michel of Belgium, on the sidelines of UNGA.

To mark the 150th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, Prime Minister presided over a special commemorative event on 21 September 2019 in the presence of the UN Secretary General, the Prime Ministers of Bangladesh, Jamaica, Singapore and the President of South Korea. A commemorative stamp was issued by the UN to mark the 150th anniversary of Gandhiji. Prime Minister also dedicated the Solar Panels installed on the roof of the UN building with an Indian grant of US$ 1 million, in memory of Gandhiji, the Minister went on to inform the House.

Jaishankar said the Prime Minister visited Thailand from November 2-4 to participate in the Annual India-ASEAN and India-East Asia Summits and related meetings. He emphasized the centrality of ASEAN in our Act East Policy and our initiatives to enhance this partnership, including our offer of the PhD fellowship programme for up to 1000 Asian students at our IITs. This is the largest single capacity building project by India for ASEAN. The ASEAN leaders were deeply appreciative of our vision of the Indo-Pacific. At the East Asia Summit, we proposed an Indo-Pacific Oceans initiative as an open, free and inclusive platform for cooperation. At the 3rd RCEP Summit, Prime Minister conveyed that India had participated in the RCEP negotiations with sincerity and in a spirit of cooperation, but was unable to finally associate itself with the RCEP Agreement since the agreement in its present form does not satisfactorily address all our outstanding issues and concerns. The Government remains firmly committed to upholding our interests in all such negotiations.

Continuing further, the Minister said that the Prime Minister has just returned from the 11th BRICS Summit in Brasilia from 13-14 November, 2019, where he also had bilateral meetings with the Presidents of Brazil, China and Russia. The Summit focused, inter alia, on national sovereignty, intra-BRICS cooperation for economic development, terrorism, multilateralism, digital transformation, and Science, Technology and Innovation. There were important deliverables in many of these areas. Five sub-working groups on terrorism have been set up to focus on practical cooperation. Prime Minister made announcements on several BRICS initiatives which India proposes to pursue in the coming years, including the hosting of the BRICS Digital Health Summit in keeping with our “Fit India Movement”, the hosting of the first BRICS Water Ministers Meeting, a BRICS Film Technology Symposium, as well as a BRICS Youth Summit. During the visit, Prime Minister had a productive meeting with President Bolsonaro of Brazil. Prime Minister invited the President of Brazil to India as the Chief Guest for Republic Day and he has accepted the invitation. As is customary, our leaders met with Indian communities in many of the nations that they visited. Rashtrapatiji had such interactions in all the 5 countries he visited and the Vice President during his visits to Europe and Africa. Prime Minister addressed the Indian diaspora in Bahrain, Houston and Bangkok respectively. The Houston event was notable for the presence and participation of President Donald Trump.

In the past three months, Jaishankar said, the Prime Minister also received several world leaders in India. Reflecting the excellent state of our bilateral relations with Bangladesh, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina paid an official visit on October 5. Several important agreements were concluded during this visit, including on the use of Chattogram and Mongla ports. This will greatly enhance connectivity to our Northeast. An Agreement for supply of drinking water in Sabroom town in Tripura from the waters of the Feni River was another notable outcome. Prime Minister and President Xi Jinping continued their in-depth discussion on overarching, long-term and strategic issues of global and regional importance at their second Informal Summit in Chennai on 11 -12 October. The 5th Biennial Inter- Governmental Consultations were held with Chancellor Merkel of Germany on 1 November at which the two sides agreed to step up cooperation in New and Advanced Technology, Artificial Intelligence, Skills Development, Railways modernization and cyber security.

Summing up, Jaishankar said, in the first six months of this Government’s tenure, we have re-emphasized our Neighbourhood First policy, re-inforced our relationships with all the major countries at the highest levels, worked to expand our relations with the Gulf, South East Asia and African regions, launched a new international initiative known as the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure, and also expressed our strong interest fulfilling our commitments to the Sustainable Development Goals and in reforming the multilateral system so as to make it responsive to the current requirements. In pursuing these objectives, our Government has always maintained its independence in the conduct of our foreign policy, and ensured that the national interest determines our objectives and goals.

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