A Conversation With External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar of India

Tuesday, September 26, 2023
Maxim Shipenkov/Reuters

External Affairs Minister, India


Distinguished Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations; Former U.S. Ambassador to India (2017–21)

Introductory Remarks

President, Council on Foreign Relations

External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar of India discusses India-U.S. relations, India’s G-20 presidency, and diplomacy in the current era of rapid technological evolution.

FROMAN: Well, good afternoon, everybody. This is the last official event of our UNGA programming.  

And it’s befitting that we should end with our speaker today, given just how important India’s role is in the world and what we’ve seen over the last six months or year in its chairmanship of the G-20, in the very strong visit of Prime Minister Modi—the state visit to Washington earlier in the year, and the bilateral with President Biden, and really India’s emergence as an important voice for what some are calling the Global South. It has been very impressive, the way they’ve managed the G-20. And, of course, they don’t stop here. They will continue on next year as the chair of the Quad. They’re also chairing, I believe, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. So all of their diplomatic muscle is being—is being used. It was quite a remarkable G-20 in that the African Union was added as a member of the G-20. The India-Middle East-Europe economic corridor was agreed to. And there was very deft leadership by India in reaching an agreement at the end of all the countries there.  

With regard to U.S.-India relations, few people have been more central than our speaker today, Foreign Minister Jaishankar. He served as foreign secretary, ambassador to the U.S., ambassador to China. I understand you actually started your career at the embassy in Moscow. So you are particularly well positioned right now to deal with the range of challenges facing the international community. He was deeply involved in the negotiation of the U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Agreement back in 2005, and has been a worthy interlocutor, occasionally an opponent and a pugilist with us on various issues, including trade issues, but always a very strong partner throughout. And most importantly, he was a guest speaker here at CFR back in 2019. So it’s a great pleasure to welcome you back, Foreign Minister. And let me turn it over to our erstwhile moderator, Ken Juster, former ambassador to India. 

JUSTER: Hey, thank you very much, Mike. And welcome, everyone. And delighted to have with us Minister Jaishankar. You have his bio in front of you. He’s been the minister of external affairs since May of 2019, and before that was the foreign secretary from 2015 to 2018. And, I believe, the only individual in India who has held both positions, as both foreign secretary and foreign minister. You have the rest of his bio. 

Let me begin by picking up where Mike left off, on the array of intensive activities that have occurred in the last year—bilateral trips to meetings with the United States with Egypt, France. You’ve been to the ASEAN Summit, the East Asian Summit, the BRICS Summit. You chaired a very successful G-20 summit meeting in which one of the major announcements was the Middle East corridor. You had a meeting on the margins of BRICS with President Xi of China. You’ll be chairing—or, hosting the Quad leadership meeting next year. When you step back and look at all of these activities, what is the vision and strategy that shapes the way India approaches all of this? Not only in terms of the groupings it’s dealing with, but bilaterally when it also does not wish to enter into any alliance? 

JAISHANKAR: Well, Ken, let me first of all, begin by saying it’s a real pleasure to be back at CFR. And thank you, Ambassador Froman. Thank you, Ken. 

You know when I step back and look at it, or one part of it, from rom the way you presented it as well, is quantitative. I mean, you look at the number of meetings, the number of visits, just the—just the frequency of what is happening, and that’s partly because now, you know, we are the fifth-largest economy in the world. Obviously, your interests are more, your responsibilities are more, your contributions are more. You have many more countries and regions with which you’re linked. So one part of it, I would say, really flows from the—from the growth, from the rise of India. So, if you look even at relative, you know, parts of the world where historically we have not been that present or that, in a way, connected—like Latin America, or the Pacific, or the Nordics, maybe a little different. So you actually see an India today whose footprint is more, whose interests and activities are more. So that’s one part of it. 

The second is really the structure of the world itself. We have seen, particularly over the last maybe four or five years, in many ways more openings. You know, the nature of world politics has changed. The issues have changed. You know, the technology issues, energy issues. So, there isn’t—I wouldn’t be uni-causal about it. You know, I think there are a variety of issues which are driving, what is clearly a heightened Indian activity. And, in a way, we are also planning ahead, you know? Today, Prime Minister Modi speaks about planning for the next quarter of a century. So we have a particular Indian term for it. And the goal is really a quarter-century from now we should strive to be a developed country. And now, that’s the—that’s the goal at home. But if you look at the consequences of that, I think of what—you know, in that quarter-century, it will be logical that we would also seek to be a global power. And if you’re going to have global interests and a global footprint, then it takes time to prepare it. You know, you’re not going to turn on a switch and suddenly become global.  

So a lot of what we are trying to do—I mean, we are trying to do today’s interests, maybe the next decade, but also the next quarter of a century all at the same time. And what you spoke about, in a way, refers to all of that. Now, given the contradictions of the world, one of the contradictions—and it was very visible at the G-20—you will have a much sharper east-west polarization, whose immediate but not only cause is the conflict in Ukraine. You have—particularly because of the COVID but, again, not only because of the COVID, a very deep north-south divide. And I would say we are one of the few countries who have that ability to actually bridge both these issues. So that too is a factor for or a lot of the activity that that we speak about. 

Again, you know, it’s interesting, if you look at the last decade we have become members of more organizations. I mean, the Quad itself after 2008 was revived in 2017. It’s been upgraded steadily. It has become at the level of the president in 2021. The most recent is the Middle East-India, Middle East-Europe corridor. We have a grouping of the I2U2, which involves India, Israel, the United States, and the UAE. We joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organization at that time. We have a few other organizations of a more local, proximate nature. There are initiatives which we have actually fashioned, like the International Solar Alliance, or there’s the Disaster Resilient Coalition. So there are things happening. You know, world politics, international order is changing. And we are very much at the cutting edge of that. 

JUSTER: And you see yourselves as trying to be positioned as the bridge between the north and the south and the east and the west? 

JAISHANKAR: To a considerable extent, yes. But in a way, I’m simplifying it because, you know, it’s not always—it’s not always possible, it’s not always desirable to necessarily stay in the middle. There will be issues where you would want to do that. There would be other issues where it may not be feasible to do that. So depending on the issue in question, the positioning would adjust to that. I would say, if you take a domain like technology today, it’s hard to be in the middle because I think there are sharp choices in the field of technology. And but there would be—or, often, you know—but there would be other issues where maybe that’s more feasible. 

JUSTER: By the way, just as a matter of housekeeping, I should have said at the outset that the minister and I are going to have a conversation about twenty-five minutes, then we’re going to open it up to both the audience here and we have about 150 or more people online as well, which will be able to ask questions. 

Let me turn to China. You served as Indian ambassador from 2013 to 2015. So you know that country well. When I was ambassador, it seemed that despite the difficulties at times in the relationship, it had reached a certain equilibrium. There were informal summit meetings between Prime Minister Modi and President Xi. And then suddenly, in 2020, I think everyone was caught by surprise when China crossed over the line of actual control, amassed fifty (thousand) to sixty thousand troops there with heavy artillery, and was building an infrastructure. Has it ever become clear as to exactly what their objective was and is? And how do you see the realistic U.S.-China—I mean—India-China relationship going forward? And what impact has China’s behavior had on India’s activities in the region? 

JAISHANKAR: Well, Ken, you know, one of the pleasures of dealing with China is that they never quite tell you why they do things. So you often end up trying to figure it out. And that’s—it’s always—there’s a certain ambiguity out there. What had happened? You know, I was ambassador from 2009, immediately after the global financial crisis, till 2013. So I saw the change of guard in China, and then I came to the U.S. after that. 

Now, we—you know, it’s never been an easy relationship. It’s always had its share of problems. It’s had a war in 1962. It’s had military incidents after that. But after 1975, there was actually—there’s never been a loss—there’s never been a military—a combat fatality on the border. 1975 was the last time. 

In 1988, we, in a sense, normalized the relationship more when Rajiv Gandhi, who was then the prime minister, went to China. In ’93 and ’96, we did two agreements with China to stabilize the boundary. And the boundary, by the way, is disputed. You know, so there’s a negotiation going on. So the line of actual control, it was agreed that neither of us would actually mass troops there. And if you brought more than a certain number of troops, we would inform the other side. So it was pretty explicit the way it was laid out. There have been subsequent agreements after that, one and 2005 and one in 2012. So it was actually in many ways, a very unique situation because what would happen in the—in the boundary areas is troops on either side would step out from their military bases. They had designated bases where they were. They would do their patrolling, come back to the bases. If they happen to intersect somewhere, they were very clear rules about how they would conduct themselves, and use of firearms was prohibited. 

So this is how it was from—really till 2020. Now in 2020, when we were in the middle of our COVID lockdown, at that time China actually had managed to get the first wave of COVID behind them. We saw that Chinese troops in very large numbers were moving towards the line of actual control. And by—you know, normally, I am guessing now here, that it would have been very difficult when you are in the middle of a COVID lockdown, because our COVID lockdown was complete. I mean, you know, the country—it was like a—like a, you know, a ghost city or cities. You know, the airports were shut down, the railways were shut down. So in the middle of all of that, we actually had to mobilize and counter-deploy, which we did.  

And then we had a situation where we were, understandably, worried that the troops are now much too close. And we cautioned the Chinese that such a situation could create problems. And, sure enough, in middle of June in 2020, it did. So we had a clash in which twenty of our soldiers died. They claim that four of their soldiers died. So that’s one—again, one of the things we will never know. But the fact is that since now—during that period—after that—actually, before that, during that, after that, I have been in regular touch with my counterparts, other colleagues have spoken to their counterparts. At various points of time, the Chinese have given us different explanations. None of them are really tenable. And since then, we have been trying to disengage, because both of us have a forward deployment ahead of our regular military bases.  

We have been partially successful, out of whatever, maybe, let’s say ten places, we would have resolved seven, eight of these forward deployments. There are still some we’ve been discussing. But the basic problem, which is a very large number of troops are massed on the border in violation of agreements, continues. Now what it has done is it has completely, in a way, impacted the relationship because, you know, it’s very hard to try to be normal with a country which has broken agreements, and which has done what it has done. So if you look at the last three years, it’s a very abnormal state. The contacts have been disrupted. Visits are not taking place. We have, of course, this high level of military tension.  

It has also impacted the perception of China, in India. You know, it was—this perception was not positive in the 1960s and ’70s, because of the war we had in ’62, but we had—we had started to put that behind us when this has happened. So I think there’s both an immediate issue, as well as a medium-term issue, possibly longer than medium-term issue, out there. And if you have really the two biggest countries of Asia, of the world, with that degree of tension between them, it has consequences for everybody else. 

JUSTER: Yeah. By the way, sorry, I had dates for your ministership when you were in the U.S. rather than China. 

JAISHANKAR: Oh, no, no. 

JUSTER: Let me turn to China and Russia. As you know, in February of 2022, Putin and Xi issued a joint statement in which they said their relationship went beyond a traditional alliance and has no limits. Russia shortly thereafter invaded Ukraine. And the difficulties it’s had in Ukraine, along with the economic sanctions, have created severe problems for the Russians, and seem to make it increasingly dependent on China for political and economic support. What do you see as the realistic future for Russia? And how might this impact New Delhi’s relationship with Moscow? 

JAISHANKAR: Well, I think in a way, you know, Russia has historically seen itself as a European power, even though it’s spread across both Europe and Asia. My expectation would be that the turn of events, you know, since 2022, would be because its relationship with Europe and with the West has been so severely disrupted that Russia would—is, actually, turning to Asia. And to other parts of the world, but primarily to Asia because that’s where a lot of economic activity is. And it is also an Asian power, even though it has not always seen itself primarily as that. So I would actually predict that Russia would make very strenuous efforts to build alternative relationships, a lot of which would be in Asia. 

And this would reflect itself in economics, in trade, possibly in other domains as well. Now, I know that, you know, Russia-China would have particular profile, a particular salience in this. But I would also say that, you know, our own relationship with Russia has been extremely steady, you know, since the mid-’50s. And it’s interesting, if you look at the last about seventy years of world politics, U.S.-Russia, Russia-China, Europe-Russia, almost every one of these relationships has had very big ups and downs. I mean, there have been very bad periods in that relationship. There have been good periods in that relationship. Ours has actually—the India-Russia relationship—has actually held very, very steady.  

So we’ve had the—you know, the Soviet period, the post-Soviet period, the—and part of it is that I think there is an understanding in both countries that as, you know, big powers in the Asian continent, there is a—there is a kind of a structural basis for having to get along, wanting to get along. And so we take great care to make sure the relationship is working. 

JUSTER: Let me turn to the U.S.-India relationship which, as you know, has been on an upward trajectory for the last twenty-plus years. The prime minister had a very positive state visit to the United States with new initiatives in defense cooperation, technology exchange, people-to-people relations, and otherwise. And yet, one has to remember that India and the United States are not allies. They are strategic partners. India has, I think, a slightly different vision of a multipolar world than the U.S. vision for world order. In addition, you have some in the United States that are concerned about domestic developments in India relating to religious freedom and other issues, and some in India who are concerned about the reliability of United States overall. What do you see as the limits of the U.S.-India partnership or are there no limits? 

JAISHANKAR: (Laughs.) You know—you know, what did they call it? A limitless friendship? 

JUSTER: The Russia—it has not limits. 

JAISHANKAR: So I’m—yes. And so I—rather than limits, I would put it as possibilities. Let’s take a—take a sort of more optimistic view of how relationships work. Look, my sense is that actually today the United States is also fundamentally readjusting to the world. It’s doing so partly—you know, part of it is the long-term consequences of Iraq and Afghanistan. And that’s one part of it. But I think that’s only one part of it. It’s also, if you, you know, look at the dominance of the United States in the world, and its relative power vis-à-vis others, that has also changed in the last decade. And it’s logical, because as actually the world has become, in a way, more democratic, if opportunities are available more universally, then it’s natural that other centers of production and consumption would come about and there would be a redistribution of power in the world. And that has happened. 

So I would actually suggest to you, Ken, that, in a way, the United States—while it may not use that term—is adjusting to a multipolar world. In fact, the United States is actively seeking to shape, you know, what would be the poles, and what would be the weights of the poles, in a manner in which it would benefit the United States. And there’s nothing wrong with that. So we will actually be looking at a world—probably we’ve already entered that world—where the United States is no longer, in a way, saying, OK, I basically work only with my allies. And the Quad itself is a demonstration of that. The fact that you have a country like India, which is not an allied country, that the other two partners are treaty-based allies, that, in fact, I think we should credit U.S. policymakers with that imagination and with that overt planning. That they are—they have already started getting into this new, much more fluid, much more dispersed sort of centers of power. Very often much more regional, with sometimes different issues and different theaters producing their own combinations. 

So we are looking—you know, it’s no longer such a clean cut, black and white, or three axis solutions. I think it’s far more messy, in a way. It’s much more anarchic, in a way. But I think all of us are trying to adjust to that and find a way of working with each other. Now, where India and U.S. are concerned, we—if you look today at the role that we could play in enhancing each other’s interests, I think there’s a recognition that this has enormous possibilities. That if the U.S. looks at the world and says, OK, what is the competition and where are, you know, the partners’ real potential, and we do the same, I think you will find that, you know, the convergences today far, far outweigh the divergences. 

So, for me, you know, I’m really no longer prepared to think of it as where are the limits? I would say, really, where all are the opportunities? And, you know, how much can we step on the gas? How much can we take it forward? And just look at the last, not even decade. Look at the last five years. I mean, you know, our security relationship has changed and our political relationship has changed. Look at the economic side. You know, when Prime Minister Modi was here you had so many—you know, there were some really important technology agreements which were made. Look at the—you know, the human linkages between our societies. So I think we got a lot going for us. 

JUSTER: Let me ask one last question, then I want to open it up to the audience. I wondered if you had any comment on the recent allegations by Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau that agents of India—the government of India—are linked to the shooting—of the fatal shooting of a Canadian Sikh activist. 

JAISHANKAR: Yes, I do have a comment. (Laughter.) 

JUSTER: And can you share them with us? 

JAISHANKAR: No, I’ll share with you very, very frankly what we—what we told the Canadians. One, we told the Canadians that this is not the government of India’s policy. Two, we told the Canadian saying that, look, if you have something specific, if you have something relevant, you know, let us know. We are open to looking at it. So but to—you know, to understand the context of it in a way, you know, because the picture is not complete without the context, in a way, you also have to appreciate then that in the last few years Canada actually has seen a lot of organized crime, you know, relating to, you know, the secessionist forces. Organized crime, violence, extremism. They’re all very, very deeply mixed up. 

So, in fact, we have been, you know, talking about specifics and information. We have actually been badgering the Canadians. We have given them a lot of information about organized crime leadership, which operates out of Canada. There are a large number of extradition requests. There are terrorist leaders who have been identified. So do understand that there is an environment out there. So that is important, in a way, to factor in, if you have to understand what is going on out there. And our concern is that, you know, it’s really been very permissive, because of political reasons. So we have a situation where actually our diplomats are threatened, our consulates have been attacked. And, you know, often comments are made about, you know, there’s interference in our politics. And, you know, a lot of this is often justified as saying, well, that’s how democracies work. 

JUSTER: But if there are specific pieces of evidence that they provide, the government of India will cooperate with them in terms of following up? 

JAISHANKAR: I mean, look, if somebody gives me something specific—it doesn’t have to be restricted to Canada—but if there’s any incident, which, you know, is an issue, and somebody gives me something specific, as a government, I would look at it. Of course I would look at it. 

JUSTER: OK, let me open it up to the floor for questions, both here and for those online. If you could state your name and affiliation when asked, that would be great. 

OK, first the individual in the back there. 

Q: Hello. My name is Daniel Block. I am an editor at Foreign Affairs. 

I actually want to follow up with something you said in an India Today event a while ago. You were asked about India’s downgrading in Freedom House, and V-Dem, and other democracy scores. And the journalist asked you, quote, “how do you see this play itself out in terms of how India is being perceived by the world in these new reports?” In your response, you said, quote, “It is hypocrisy— 

JAISHANKAR: I thought you’re supposed to ask me a question. 

Q: I am asking you a question. “It is hypocrisy. We have the self-appointed custodians of the world who find it difficult to stomach that someone in India is not looking for their approval, is not willing to play the game they want to play.” That doesn’t actually answer the journalist’s question. So I want to ask you again. Are you concerned that perceived democratic backsliding in India is going to undermine its efforts to become a rising power in the world? 

JUSTER: And, by the way, let me just add, this meeting is on the record. So both questions and answers. 

JAISHANKAR: No, I think it answers the question, if you would be objective enough to understand it. I think it says very clearly that the people who are writing these reports have a strong bias. Often, they distort facts. There are—you know, many of these reports are actually riddled with inaccuracies. So I put it to you there’s an ideological agenda out there. I don’t know why that’s hard to understand. 

Q: Thank you so much for the conversation. It’s been very helpful. 

JUSTER: If you can give us your name and affiliation. 

Q: Oh, right. My name is Aditi. I work for CNN. 

My question is just in continuation to the Canada topic that you addressed. What would be your response to the latest reports that have come in, where it is said that intelligence was shared amongst the Five Eyes about the assassination—is what they’re calling it? And the other thing is, apparently, the FBI has told U.S. Sikh leaders that there are credible threats to them. So just wanted your reaction to that. 

JAISHANKAR: I’m not part of the Five Eyes. I’m certainly not part of the FBI. (Laughter.) So I think you’re asking the wrong person. 

JUSTER: OK, we have a question online. 

OPERATOR: We’ll take our next question from Shirin Tahir-Kheli. You may go ahead. 

Q: Yes. Good afternoon, Mr. Minister. It’s good to see you, even virtually. And I’m happy to—that you are here at CFR. 

My question is, looking forward what would you say are the three top priorities for U.S.-India relations? And globally if those are different? Thank you. 

JAISHANKAR: First of all, Shirin, it’s good to talk to you. I must tell the rest of the audience that we—Shirin used to work in the State Department and the White House. And when I was in the U.S. in the 1980s, in the Reagan administration, she was the person with whom we worked very closely. And a lot of what we are today taking as a given actually started at that time. 

The answer? You know, I do think today the India-U.S. relationship has to focus very, very strongly on technology. And I say that because, in many ways, you know, the balance of power in the world has always been a function of the balance of technology. But it is even more intense today. And the impact of technology on our everyday lives is very sweeping. Now, why does this then become a bilateral issue between us? Because I think when we each look out at the world and assess who are the technology partners, where can we bring value and where can we get value, I think we tend—India and the U.S.—to gravitate towards each other.  

Let me—let me give you a very practical example. You have the CHIPS Act, you have the IRA. Now, what they would do is really to—they’ve already actually, in a way, accelerated investments in a certain set of tech domains. But if one were to scale this up at the global level and look for other centers of production, and also look to see where the HR is to support an expansion of this business, I would suggest to you actually, India’s a very, very important partner for the United States. You will—we will have, like this, you know, other conversations. It could be on, you know, critical minerals. It could be on maritime security.  

But the fact is, you know, in a way, Shirin, I come back to the answer I gave Ken. Which is, the United States today needs partners in order to secure its interests more effectively. There are a finite number of partners out there. And those potential partners, or actual partners, and the United States, if this is to work, have to reach some kind of understanding. Now, when we look from the Indian perspective of the world, and again at the big—you know, at the top you can say there are an even more finite list of countries who would be your partners. 

And so often when if I have to make choices, to me, United States is really an optimal choice. So there is today a very compelling need for India and the United States to work together. And I think, to me, most of all, that is focused on technology. A big part of it, I would say, would also be a spillover into defense and security. A third part of it would actually be politics. You know, I’ve spoken about the north-south divide. The fact is, today, you know, the Global South is very distrustful of the Global North, the developed countries. They’ve had a very hard time in COVID. So it’s useful for the U.S. to have partners who, frankly, think well of the U.S. and speak well of the U.S., often behind your back. 


Q: Hi. Nayeema Raza from New York magazine. 

I just wanted to follow up, minister, with a quick clarification. You’re saying you have no evidence—this is related to the Canadian story, which I’m sure you’re sick of speaking about. Have the Canadian—there’s been reporting that there have been progressive visits from the Canadians to India, including in August. You’re saying that you’ve never familiarized yourself with the documents that were—or, no documents have been provided to you by the Canadians that purport to show evidence that Indian officials in Canada are aware of this—of this attack? You have not seen these intercepted—yeah. 

JAISHANKAR: Let me address Canada. Are you saying the Canadians gave us documents? 

Q: I’m asking you if the Canadians gave you the intercepted documents—the Indian diplomatic communications?  

JAISHANKAR: Now, look, I have said that if somebody gives us specific or relevant information, we’re prepared to look at it. 

Q: So you have not received those intercepted communications from the Canadians? 

JAISHANKAR: If I had, would I not be looking at it? 

Q: I’m asking you for yes or no. 

JUSTER: I think that means—the minister answered. 

Q: OK. And the other question I was going to ask you— 

JAISHANKAR: No, I am not answering a second question. 

Q: Oh. 

JUSTER: One question, sorry. 

Yes, Bob. 

Q: Thank you. Bob Hormats, former government official and former colleague of Ken’s. 

Thank you very much for a very thoughtful presentation. I would be very interested in your thoughts on what the Chinese are doing or planning to do in the Indian Ocean. If you look at the Indian Ocean, the Chinese call it the string of pearls. We wouldn’t necessarily use the same term. It’s a very benign one. But if you look at what’s going on, there’s a base in Djibouti. There’s certainly a lot more activity in Sri Lanka. There’s a lot of activity in Gwadar. There’s a lot more Chinese activity in Myanmar. And then, of course, in the Pacific Islands, that go through the Straits—or around the Straits of Malacca. 

So the question I have is, what do you see the Chinese motive as being in this? Is it purely commercial? Is that establishing commercial relations, but also establishing the basis for a greater degree of security presence? And if the latter, what do you recommend or think the Quad ought to do, if anything, to be sure that the power or the balance of power does not shift in a way that’s adverse to India or the United States? 

JAISHANKAR: Mmm hmm. Well, let me first say that pearls look benign unless you ask the oysters. (Laughter.) So they may have a slightly different perspective. But the point is, yes, if one were to look at the last twenty, twenty-five years, there’s been a steady increase in the Chinese naval presence and activity in the Indian Ocean. But there’s been a very sharp increase in the size of the Chinese navy. So when you have a very much bigger Navy, I mean, that Navy is going to be obviously visible in terms of its deployment somewhere. And, I guess, when you come out of the east coast of China, you either go into the Pacific or you, you know, turn westwards and come into the Indian Ocean. 

Now, in our own case, you know, we have seen, you know, Chinese port activity, port building. You mentioned Gwadar. There’s a port called Hambantota in Sri Lanka. There are a few others. Now, in many cases, I would say, looking back, maybe the governments of the day, the policymakers of the day, perhaps underestimated the importance of this, and what—how these ports could work in future. You know, each one is a little unique, in a way. And suddenly, you know, we obviously do watch, you know, many of them very carefully for any security implications that they have for us. So, from an Indian point of view, I would say it’s very reasonable for us to try and, you know, to try and prepare, to actually prepare, for greater Chinese presence than we have seen before.  

Now, when I say that, I also make one other point, which is, it’s not—you know, maritime concerns are not necessarily today between two countries. There are maritime issues there for countries to deal with. I mean, if you look at maritime threats, a lot of you know, threats of piracy, of smuggling, of terrorism. If there is no authority, no monitoring, no force out there to actually enforce the rule of the law, it’s a problem. And the fact is—again, I’m, in a sense, coming back to that thing—if one looks at what historically used to be the American presence in the Indian Ocean, it is much less so today. So what it has done is it has left gaps. And it has left gaps at a time when threats have actually increased, because the problem forces, in a way, the problem people actually are much more technologically adept than they were before. 

So, you know, I don’t really see the Quad necessarily as a grouping which is meant—you know, it’s, to me, a bit old fashioned to make it point towards another country. I think there are global commons there to be safeguarded. I think there are concerns out there which are better addressed if the Quad countries work together. In fact, I would—I would even give you the example of something like HADR. You know, when we had in 2004 the Boxing Day tsunami, the biggest naval presence and a very speedy naval presence at that time was from the United States. Now, I’m not sure if, God forbid, something happens today, that we’re going to see a repetition of that. So times have changed. Force levels have changed. Capabilities have changed. And certainly in those that have gone up, China is one of them. But it’s—you know, there are countries with which we work. And there are countries with which we don’t, or we work less. And I think you can—you can see that. 

JUSTER: Let’s go to the next question online. 

Q: We’ll take our next question from Akshaya Kumar. 

Q: Hello, Minister Jaishankar. Thank you for your time here with me. I’m Akshaya Kumar with Human Rights Watch. 

And I had a question about Manipur, in particular. We want to know what your government is doing to address the divisive politics that’s leading to attacks on minorities there. You have said that the comments from eighteen independent U.N. experts who express concerns about Manipur were presumptive and misleading. However, it took three months before Prime Minister Modi spoke out on the issue. So instead of acknowledging that entire communities have been devastated, isn’t it wrong that local officials, including the home minister and the chief minister of Manipur, are blaming the violence on infiltrators? What is the way the center will take forward this issue at this time? 

JAISHANKAR: So you’re giving me a question, or an answer, or both? 

Q: So the question is, U.N. experts have been dismissed by you as being presumptive and not providing the correct information about Manipur. But isn’t it the case that local officials have not responded adequately and, in fact, even the prime minister took three months before speaking out on the rape and trading of women in Manipur? 

JAISHANKAR: OK. So let me—if you ask me—I think the comment which, I mean, wasn’t made by me personally, but was, I think, made by a spokesperson, if I understand it right. Was that comment, correct? My answer to you would be yes. If you ask me, you know, what is happening today in Manipur? I think, one—you know, one part of the problem in Manipur has been the destabilizing impact of migrants who have come. That’s one aspect of it. But there are also tensions which obviously have a long history which precede that. And today, I think the effort is on the part of the state government and the union government to find a way by which, you know, a sense of normalcy returns, that arms which were seized during that period are recovered, that there is an adequate law and order enforcement out there so that incidents of violence don’t happen. 

JUSTER: OK. Questions? Yes. 

Q: Good to see you, Mr. Minister. Ramakrishna from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.  

Congratulations on a very successful G-20. And what you had done in taking that to the entire country is quite remarkable, something that has never been done before. The question is, given the leadership role that you have played as part of G-20, as part of the Global South, one of the big challenges facing the world now is climate change. And the divide that you spoke of eloquently is well taken. What is India’s role in bridging that? And what further—I mean, you talked about the International Solar Alliance, et cetera—but what further things can India do to bring the south and north together? Thank you. 

JAISHANKAR: Well, you know, we have done the New Delhi G-20 Summit. We are heading towards the COP-28 at the end of November, early December. And clearly this issue has become even more topical, though it’s one something which is always very, very high in the—in everybody’s priority. Look, I think the bottom-line problem today is the fact that there’s a very visible paucity of resources, and terms on which resources are available. So it’s—part of it is access to finance and the, you know, the terms of access as well, for green development to happen. 

So, one of the themes which the G-20 focused on was something called the Green Development Pact. Now, again, here we are talking about further development which is more environment—climate friendly. But sustainability itself is under threat. I mean, you’ve seen the U.N. report on the SDG, the midway status report on the SDG. The fact is, COVID has taken a tremendous toll on the ability of the developing world to progress on the SDG pathway. So, I would say today the—one of the key issues is how do we generate the resources really to deal with green technology—green development? Because you—with each passing year, the technology options are growing. You know, there’s a lot of things are today viable, which they were not even two, three, five years ago. So, in the past, we often had a problem that we—you know, we didn’t have a solution. Today we have a solution, the issue is to scale it up, to spread it out, to make it affordable. And only if it is affordable, is it really accessible. 

So the—you know, the SDG realization, the Green Development Pact, the reform of international financial institutions, these are all today deeply interconnected. We’re not going to get a fix on one without a solution on the other. So a large part of our presidency is actually focused on taking that forward. And there are—I mean, we still have two months left of our G-20 presidency. I think there is a possibility that, you know, there could be some progress on some of these issues.  

But it is—and, again, you know, if one were to list really the big risks, we’ve seen what a pandemic can do, we’ve seen what conflicts can do. Do think about it, how often big climate events are occurring, and what are the globally economic disruptive implications of those climate events? I mean, today, when we look at supply chain—you know, you talk about resilient and reliable supply chains. I mean, supply chains have to plan for climate events as well. I think if, you know, given, you know, there’s still a high degree of overconcentration of economic production in the world today. So there are some regions which actually, in a way, because they are so central to the global economy, they also represent risks. And part of those risks also emanate from climate. 

JUSTER: Is there an effort also to use public resources to try to leverage increased private investment in climate initiatives by reducing some of the risks that private investors might otherwise face? 

JAISHANKAR: I think, yes, you can. But, you know, this is one of those situations where the challenge is so big, that it’s kind of all of the above answers. But there’s also—even when one looks at the IPEF, it’s not—you know, or the discussion tends to go towards, OK, we need to recapitalize, we need to expand resources. I think it’s also question of whether we can leverage the resources we have in a different way than we have done before, to actually make that possible. 

JUSTER: Good question. Yes. 

Q: Hi. Munish Walther-Puri, Exiger. 

I really appreciate your comments about a shift to a multipolar world. And I very much agree with that. I would love your perspective, going back decades, Pokhran was twenty-five years ago, and India charted its own pathway. There were two options people gave, and India charted its own pathway. Could you talk about some of those lessons, how India’s applied those lessons today? And I’m particularly curious in technology, whether you’re talking about artificial intelligence, 5G, any of those areas where it can be a potentially good—chart its own pathway in terms of governance and geopolitical power. Thank you. 

JAISHANKAR: It’s interesting you ask that, because in a way it fits into the multiple picture that we are talking about. You know, if I were to reflect on the last decade, or not even—I mean, last three, four years, many of the challenges that we have faced actually we’ve had to think through the solutions for ourselves. There was no lack of advice, I must tell you. So and people did—you know, propose from their own experiences. So, but I think a country of the scale and complexity of India has to often assess its situation and dig into its own experiences and DNA to come up—come up with the right answer.  

I can give you very, very different examples in this, you know, an independent pathway. I go back to the COVID period. And, you know, when we—when the COVID first hit us, frankly, we had virtually no—I mean, no infrastructure really to deal with it. In a way, none—you know, no part of the world did, but we had even less because our health infrastructure was less developed. And yet, in terms of creating an infrastructure under stress, in terms of pushing for both manufacturing and inventing vaccines in India, using a digital backbone to carry out a mass-scale vaccination exercise, I think it was a very—it was a very unique way of dealing with it. I mean, if we look at the—actually our percentage of people vaccinated, the speed at which it was done, and the fact that we actually are a very complex landscape, being a much harder place to vaccinate than a lot of other countries. 

Now, again, during that period, you know, you had this debate around the world, wat do you do with your economy at that time? A lot of countries went in for pump priming, there were countries who actually thought that supporting businesses was one way of mitigating the problem. And probably in their situation, it made sense. Now, we had to actually look at a very basic sort of how do you deal with very large segment of population for whom actually a lockdown meant not just staying at home, it actually meant the loss of livelihood, it often meant that you didn’t have access to food, you didn’t have access to even, you know, finances—basic finances. 

And again, we found a way through. If I now look back on it, in a way, in the last two to three years, we’ve actually created a social welfare system. I mean, in India today we are able to give, like, the equivalent of food stamps to 800 million people. We are able to put money directly into the banks of 450 million people. We are able to do housing, really, in the last few years, about 150 million people have houses which they didn’t have before. And a lot of this is to develop through the embrace of technology, answers, even in telecom. I mean, today we are deploying our own 5G stack. So now there was a time when people said, OK, your 5G options are either China or Europe. So, we have, perhaps to our own surprise, actually proven that we are capable of devising and deploying our own 5G technology. 

So whether it is development, whether it is security, whether it is—you know, it is choices, policy choices, maybe on climate action or on food security, on energy. So I think it’s important for a country like India to think through for itself. I’m not saying that other people’s experiences don’t matter. They do. We are also—you know, we are very, very active and open to best practices around the world. We think every day you learn something from somebody. But at the end of the day, you know, we have to think through for ourselves. Which means you got to have that mindset—that mindset that, you know, you need to find your own solutions. And I think that’s one of the differences today in India. You know, we speak today of self-reliant India. A lot of people mistake it for economic protectionist. Actually, this is a time when we are very active inviting foreign investment, seeking foreign technology. We actually have incentive schemes, you know, in areas like semiconductor. But what we want them to do is to come collaborate with us, but do it in a way on our terms and on our strategic kind of pathway, rather than, you know, make us a part of their strategy. 

JUSTER: Well, I wish we could go on further but, unfortunately, we’ve reached the end of our hour. So thank all of you very much for joining us, and thank you tremendously, Minister Jaishankar, for your presentation. (Applause.) Oh, and transcript of the proceedings today posted on the CFR website. Thank you. 


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