The instability in the world is a challenge to national security and the Modi government is making every effort to address it, said the External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar while responding to a question on the current global situation in the face of the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the Chinese expansionist manoeuvres on India’s eastern borders and the Indian Ocean. “India is a $3trillion economy and the fifth largest economy in the world. We should not doubt ourselves and feel insecure. We are big and strong enough to overcome challenges,” said Jaishankar in an exclusive with The New Indian Express. Excerpts:
How would you define India-China relationship with Beijing’s continued aggression on our eastern borders and now in the Indian Ocean?
India-China relationship is very tense and it could turn into a dangerous situation because of the border issue. The relationship between us cannot be normal under the present circumstances. Despite 16 rounds of commander level talks between us on the Chinese disengagement along the LAC in Eastern Ladakh the issue remains unresolved. The Indian Army has been holding its ground for the past two winters, which shows our resolve on standing our ground. We have made some substantial progress in terms of the troops pulling back from places, where they were very close. There are still some places, where they have not. We have consistently maintained our position that if China disturbed peace in the border areas it will have an impact on our bilateral relationship with them.
Where does India stand in relation to its neighbourhood, which is not very comfortable presently? Has the unprecedented economic crisis in Sri Lanka, the Chinese aggression, a hostile Pakistan and an unstable Afghanistan placed India in a vulnerable situation?
India’s neighbours are culturally comfortable and economically bound to us. We are a big and more resourceful country and we must reach out to them. In 2015, Prime Minister Modi told him to craft a neighbourhood policy in which India played a bigger role with a larger heart. The PM said that we are bigger and more resourceful and we must not hold back from reaching out to them. That changed how we looked at our neighbours. Earlier, there were areas where we were complacent. We didn’t have enough connectivity. They (neighbours) didn’t have enough resources. We should have come forward and helped. We should not let the slower party set the pace of our relationship. As an example of the PM’s vision, on ‘neighbourhood first,’ today we are exporting and importing electricity to and from Nepal. We are the only neighbour to have helped Sri Lanka in their ongoing economic crisis for them to step forward to deal with the IMF. Similarly, with Afghanistan, we have sent back our diplomats to our Embassy there to carry forward our humanitarian measures.
Does our engagement in Afghanistan after August 2021 mean that we may recognize the Taliban?
India has historically maintained a relationship with people of Afghanistan. During their food crisis, we supplied them 40,000 tonnes of wheat. It was difficult because it was routed through Pakistan. We supplied Afghanistan with medical supplies and Covid vaccines. We have sent back Indian diplomats to our Embassy in Afghanistan to carry forward our humanitarian measures. The Chabahar Port remains relevant and a logistical route for our supplies to Central Asia and Afghanistan.
With Colombo granting Hambantota port access to the Chinese ballistic missile and satellite tracking ship ‘Yuan Wang 5,’ will the Indian Ocean become another flash point between India and China?
To call it a flashpoint will not be right. As the region gains prominence, we will see many countries getting active in the Indian Ocean trying to expand their influence. There will be crises. We need to take care of our national interests but can’t claim exclusivity in the region.
What about the recent technical stopover of the French Air and Space Force contingent, including three Rafale jets at the Air Force Station, Sulur on August 10 and 11 during a long-distance deployment from metropolitan France to the Pacific Ocean? Was it a display of capability to China?
That was a routine military exercise. Such exercises have been taking place between two and more countries for a long time. There is nothing beyond, to force fit it with the activities (the Chinese ship) in the Indian Ocean.
What is the global outcome of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict? You have well-argued our need to continue with our oil purchases from Russia despite the threat of US sanctions…
As the External Affairs Minister, it’s my duty to put forward our case. I’m a reasonable guy and don’t like to be pushed. The Ukraine-Russia conflict has led to an energy and food crisis with rising inflation. The conflict has impacted global trade, created volatility in supply of oil, wheat, semiconductors etc. and led to investment challenges. We were affected by the lack of sunflower oil from Ukraine. But we need to work around and overcome challenges. Politically, we have maintained that the conflict should be resolved through dialogue and diplomacy.
The conflict, the US sanctions against Russia and Iran and the Chinese expansionism has led to growing insecurity and the need to belong to a block backed either by the US or Russia. Where does India stand in the current geopolitics?
The instability in the world is a challenge to national security and the Modi government is making every effort to address it. India is a $3trillion economy and the fifth largest economy in the world. We need to get over the thinking of being on one side. Any global event or partnership like the QUAD, BRICS, G20 to name some will tell you India’s standing in the world and how world leaders look up to Prime Minister Modi. The global situation is delicate and the headwinds are strong. Every country has to compete in international politics. It is a natural process. No one is going to help you if you do not stand up for yourself. To think that others would defer to our sensibilities is an unrealistic expectation. We have to fight for our own interests and see how well we manage them. We have a government, which stands up for its people. There is a lot of gratitude across the world for our supply of Covid vaccines to other countries in the midst of our own vaccination programme. We are big and strong. India is a country on the move.