'Present Dimensions of the Indian Foreign Policy'- Address by Foreign Secretary Mr. Shyam Saran at Shanghai Institute of International Studies
January 11, 2006
President of the Shanghai Institute of International Studies, Prof. Yu Xintian, distinguished scholars, ladies and gentlemen,
I am thankful to Prof. Yu and the Institute for this opportunity to share some thoughts with you on the subject of India’s Foreign Policy. The SIIS is one of the leading think tanks in China. It commands respect among China’s leadership. It has won recognition among scholars of international relations. In India, we value the growing exchanges with you.
As I speak to you, I must also congratulate you as residents of this remarkable city. I am not new to China and feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to see many parts of this great country. Shanghai’s energy to excel and determination to rejuvenate itself throughout history has always been impressive. Its extraordinary transformation into a world-class metropolis is a reflection of its pioneering role in China’s global integration. In many ways, it manifests China’s own amazing accomplishments in achieving economic development and her emergence as a global political and economic power.
The end of the Cold War, the accelerating process of globalization and the emergence of transnational challenges have become the defining features of contemporary international relations. India’s foreign policy has had to adapt to this rapidly changing international environment.
Our foreign policy has also had to contend with remarkable changes within India itself. For more than a decade and a half, India has been engaged in a thoroughgoing reform and liberalization of its economy. Its engagement with the rest of the world has increased dramatically. It has become more than ever important to ensure for India a peaceful and supportive international environment, an environment which contributes to our developmental goals.
While meeting these challenges, India has maintained a remarkable continuity in the fundamental tenets of its policy. The core of this continuity is to ensure autonomy in our decision making. It is to ensure independence of thought and action. This was and remains the essence of our adherence to the principle of Non-Alignment. It is also the basis of our commitment to the Panchsheel, or the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence, which India and China jointly advocated in the early 1950s, and still believe to be relevant in contemporary international relations.
There are other key elements of continuity as well. These include maintenance of friendly relations with all countries, resolution of conflicts through peaceful means and equity in the conduct of international relations. These basic principles are reflected in the Common Minimum Programme of the ruling UPA Government. There is a solemn commitment to pursue an independent foreign policy, promote multi-polarity in world relations and oppose unilateralism.
Ladies and gentlemen, in pursuing her national interests and in seeking an appropriate role in the global political and economic order, India has consciously promoted multipolarity in international relations. The corollary to this approach is to strengthen multilateral institutions and mechanisms. We believe that such an approach is indispensable in addressing global challenges, such as terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, pandemics like HIV/AIDS or avian flu, and drug-trafficking. Such an approach is also helpful in pooling together the scientific and technical achievements and collective wisdom of peoples around the world in overcoming the scourge of poverty, disease and the environmental degradation of our planet. No one country or even a group of countries, however rich and powerful, can hope to tackle these challenges on their own.
This brings me to the need to evolve a new paradigm of cooperation relevant to the emerging multi-polar world in which global threats demand global responses. India has actively pursued the strengthening of multilateral institutions, in particular the United Nations. We are committed to the comprehensive reform of the United Nations, including its Security Council, so that the concerns and aspirations of the majority of the UN membership are adequately reflected and multilateralism becomes an effective tool for addressing global challenges.
It is obvious that in any reform of the United Nations, the restructuring of its Security Council must be a priority. India believes that the Security Council must, in its composition, reflect the contemporary geo-political realities and not those of 1945. Its actions must be representative, legitimate and effective and its methods of work and decision-making processes more democratic, transparent and responsive. We believe that India, with its large population, dynamic economy, long history of contribution to international peacekeeping and other regional and international causes, deserves to be a permanent member of the UN Security Council. At the same time, we also realize that there is resistance to change among several powerful countries. However, this is the first time in many years that a certain momentum has been built up for a comprehensive reform of the UN, which should not be allowed to wither away. Here, I would wish to articulate our expectation that China will respond positively to our quest for Permanent Membership of the UN Security Council, consistent with our strategic partnership.
A basic tenet of India’s foreign policy since Independence has been the pursuit of global nuclear disarmament. We believe that general and complete disarmament, including nuclear disarmament must remain on the international agenda. It must be a key objective of the United Nations. India’s status as a Nuclear Weapon State does not diminish its commitment to the objective of a nuclear weapon free world. Aspiring for a non-violent world order, through global, verifiable and non-discriminatory nuclear disarmament continues to be an important plank of our nuclear policy, which is characterized by restraint, responsibility, transparency, predictability and a defensive orientation. As a responsible nuclear power with impeccable credentials on non-proliferation, we have earned increasing international recognition as a partner against proliferation. We hope to work more closely with our Chinese friends on this front, too.
Ladies and gentlemen, although the subject today deals with India’s Foreign Policy as a whole, I would like to focus particularly on Asia, where the interests of both India and China intersect. It is said that the logic of geography is unrelenting. Proximity is the most difficult and testing among diplomatic challenges a country faces. We have, therefore, committed ourselves to giving the highest priority to closer political, economic and other ties with our neighbours in South Asia. We have a vision of South Asia, unshackled from historical divisions and bound together in collective pursuit of peace and prosperity. We remain convinced that, on the foundations of its ancient civilisational and commercial interlinkages, South Asia can work together to emerge as a major powerhouse of economic creativity and enterprise. For that to happen, it is essential that we unlock the potential of South Asia by dismantling the existing barriers that restrict the movement of people, goods and investment within and across the region. It is with this perspective that we have extended our hand of friendship and co-operation to all our neighbours and proactively addressed whatever differences we may have, including with Pakistan. We look at the SAARC process as a stimulus to strengthen cross-border economic linkages, through initiatives such as South Asian Free Trade Agreement, by drawing upon the complementarities among different parts of our region. We are encouraged by a growing perception among our neighbours in South Asia that a prosperous and economically vibrant India is an asset and opportunity for them. We encourage them to take advantage of India’s strengths and reap both economic and political benefits as a result, since it is our belief that India’s national security interests are better served if our neighbours evolve as viable states with moderate and stable political and social environment and robust economies.
We regard the concept of neighborhood as one of widening concentric circles, around a central axis of historical and cultural commonalties. In this, we see India’s destiny interlinked with that of Asia. From this point of view, developing relations with Asian countries is one of our priorities, while pursuing a cooperative architecture of pan-Asian regionalism is a key area of focus of our foreign policy. Geography imparts a unique position to India in the geo-politics of the Asian continent, with our footprint reaching well beyond South Asia and our interests straddling across different sub-categories of Asia – be it East Asia, West Asia, Central Asia, South Asia or South East Asia. To those who harbour any skepticism about this fact, it would suffice to remind that we share one of the longest land borders in the world with China, that Central Asia verges on our northern frontiers, that we have land and maritime borders with three South East Asian countries, that our Andaman and Nicobar Islands are just over a hundred kilometres from Indonesia, and that our exclusive economic zone spans waters from the Persian Gulf to the Straits of Malacca. It is this geopolitical reality and our conviction that enhanced regional cooperation is mutually advantageous, which sustain our enthusiasm to participate in endeavours for regional integration, ranging from South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation to East Asia Summit and Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.
We believe that in our march towards economic progress, Asia in general and East Asia in particular, has been a natural partner. A common thread joins us. We stand to share the opportunities thrown open by the region’s increasing economic integration, just as we face the common threats of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, energy shortage, piracy and others. The Tsunami disaster has also brought home the point, in a tragic way, of how much we share our destiny in the region.
It was in this context that more than a decade ago, we launched the “Look East” policy, which is now a vital part of India’s foreign policy. More than an external economic policy or a political slogan, the “Look East” policy was a strategic shift in India’s vision of the world and her place in the evolving global economy. It was also a manifestation of our belief that developments in East Asia are of direct consequence to India’s security and development. We are therefore actively engaged in creating a bond of friendship and cooperation with East Asia that has a strong economic foundation and a cooperative paradigm of positive inter-connectedness of security interests.
Ladies and gentlemen, our relationship with China is a key component of our “Look East” policy. There is a strong consensus in India on improving and developing our relations with China. Together with China, we have taken a number of positive measures to improve the quality of our relations across a wide range of areas, without allowing the existing differences to affect the overall development of our ties. Despite our differences on the boundary issue, peace and tranquility has been maintained in the India-China border areas, which is by no means a minor achievement. We have an active defence exchange programme and an elaborate matrix of confidence building measures that have helped promote greater trust between our two armed forces. We have a range of dialogue mechanisms through which we are increasingly able to understand and appreciate each other’s point of view and address outstanding issues.
There are many who look at India-China relations with the old mindset of “balance of power” or “conflict of interests” and see Asia as a theatre of competition between these two countries. Such theories are outdated in today’s fast-emerging dynamics of Asia's quest for peace and prosperity and its interconnectedness. So are perceptions in some quarters that India and China seek to contain each other. To the protagonists of such theories, I would only like to say that India and China, as two continental-size economies and political entities, are too big to contain each other or be contained by any other country.
Today India and China are engaged in a positive way to expand their commonalities with extensive dealings in bilateral, regional and multilateral forums. Indeed, the determination of our two countries to qualitatively elevate our ties by establishing a “strategic and cooperative partnership for peace and prosperity” reflects our shared conviction that India-China relations have now acquired a long-term, global and strategic character and hence, must be treated as such. Our rapidly growing trade and economic ties are a testimony that we are not just passively bound by our common neighbourhood, but are constantly interacting through a positive and meaningful agenda of collaboration. That from a meager few hundred million dollars in the beginning of nineteen-nineties, our trade was expected to surpass US$18 billion last year should only underline the enormous potential for mutual reward that lies in store if our two countries cooperate. We are determined to take this process further ahead.
The simultaneous emergence of India and China as Asian and global powers in fact makes it imperative for them to be sensitive to each other’s interests and aspirations. The prevailing global paradigm of cooperation among major powers also demands from the two countries that they work together to mutually support their rightful place in the comity of nations. We in India believe that there is enough space and opportunity in Asia and beyond for the two countries to grow.
With regard to the resolution of the boundary question, we are committed to carrying forward the process of exploring a political settlement through the mechanism of Special Representatives. We acknowledge the complexity of this longstanding issue but remain confident that a mutually acceptable solution can be reached if both sides show willingness to take bold and pragmatic decisions, accommodating each other’s vital interests. As we move forward through negotiations, it is important for us to look at the boundary question from the long-term and strategic perspective of India-China relations, rather than as a mere territorial issue. There is a historic opportunity in front of us to settle this outstanding issue that we should not miss.
Ladies and gentlemen, if we are looking at Asia in the coming years, there is no doubt about a major realignment of forces taking place in our continent. Besides the emergence of India and China as two economic powerhouses in this region, there is Japan, the second largest economy in the world, which will retain an influential role in Asia’s political and economic future, and with whom our relations are developing on the foundations of “global partnership” with a strong economic and strategic thrust. With ASEAN as well, our partnership is steadily expanding and deepening. We believe that the ASEAN holds the potential to become the fulcrum of economic integration in our region.
The future of Asia is in reality the sum of the success of each of these components and the strength of their inter-linkages. The key to ensuring long-term security and stable equilibrium in Asia lies in the collective ability of Asian countries to build mutual economic stakes in one another. It is with this conviction that we espouse a vision of an Asian Economic Community. It can be a neighbourhood of peace and shared prosperity in which people, goods, services and ideas can travel with ease across borders. It may perhaps take the form of a dynamic, open and inclusive Pan-Asian Free Trade Area that could offer a third pole of the global economy after the European Union and NAFTA and would, in all certainty, open up new growth avenues for our economies. This will not be easy, but India is willing to associate with other like-minded countries to make it happen. The recently concluded East Asia Summit has laid the foundations for a cooperative architecture in Asia on an unprecedented scale and we hope, will potentially launch the process towards the possible creation of an East Asian Community. We would be happy to work closely with China towards progressive realization of such an East Asian Community and eventually, a larger Asian Economic Community.
Much has been said in recent months about India’s relations with the United States. It is true that this relationship has acquired remarkable maturity and dynamism in recent years. A number of independent developments, some of which I have already noted, have created the climate for this transformation, including the end of the Cold War, India’s emergence as a dynamic economic force and an objective assessment of the strategic implications of a world dominated by knowledge-driven societies. During the visit of Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh to the US in July last year, both sides agreed that India-US relations are moving beyond a bilateral partnership towards a global partnership, which is anchored not only on common values but also common interests. The visit served to highlight the strategic dimension of India’s relationship with the US and underlined our common interest in combating terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and enhancing global peace. There has been a convergence of views on strategic and security issues and on opportunities that exist for the India-US cooperation in defence, science and technology, health, trade, space, energy and environment. There is also a growing US recognition of India’s central and enhanced role in international institutions and processes. US’s economic and political stakes in the growth of the Indian economy and its integration with the global market have provided impetus to the India-US cooperation in a way that meaningfully addresses constraints on India’s growth, including the deficits of energy and infrastructure.
India has also embarked on strengthening her multi-faceted relationship with Russia, with whom her traditional strategic partnership has been renewed. Recent high-level visits, including that of President Putin to India and the visits of our President and Prime Minister to Moscow within the last a little over one year, have added great impetus to this process. We are also encouraged by the emerging contours of the trilateral cooperation between China, Russia and India.
We have also moved forward in rejuvenating our relations with the European Union through our new “strategic partnership”. There is a growing recognition of India as an indispensable partner within the EU. Indeed, the EU is as reflective as India is of a multi-lingual, multi-religious and multi-cultural society. Our shared values and beliefs in democracy, human rights, pluralism, independent media, and rule of law make India and the EU natural partners as well as factors of stability in the present world order.
Ladies and gentlemen, India remains committed to pursuing an independent foreign policy that best serves her national interests and accords with her expected role in the emerging global political and economic order. This policy seeks to promote multipolarity in international relations and to strengthen forces of multilateralism that help protect the interests of the developing countries and reinforce geo-strategic stability in the region and the world at large. To this end, we have sought to build on our traditional links with Africa and to cultivate stronger bonds with the Latin American countries. We believe that as two largest developing countries, India and China can together lend greater voice to the aspirations of the developing world and help the developing countries harness the positive forces of economic globalization. We should continue to work towards shaping a coalition of the developing world.
Ladies and gentlemen, today India is on the cutting edge of economic, technological and developmental transformation of significant dimensions. She is regarded as a factor of stability, a model of secularism and plurality and as an economic power that is destined to play a greater role in international affairs. In keeping with this changing image of India, we have adopted a foreign policy, which has a clear focus, a sense of maturity and responsibility, and a vision to make India strong and prosperous in the 21st century. As we do so, we remain steadfast to the core ideals of India’s foreign policy, which were laid down by our first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and which have guided us since our Independence. At the same time, we also remain vigilant to the new demands and compulsions imposed upon us by a rapidly transforming world around us. We are confident of our capacity and capability as a nation to respond successfully to these newly emerging challenges and opportunities. We also remain confident that India would continue its journey towards a destiny that was eloquently articulated by Pandit Nehru in 1947, a destiny in which India “attains her rightful place in the world and makes her full and willing contribution to the promotion of world peace and welfare of mankind”.