Source: Government of India
Ms Sushma Nair: Namaste and a warm welcome to FICCI’s annual convention and 93rd AGM where we will now have the ministerial session on Economic Diplomacy and Atmanirbhar Bharat. At FICCI we support India’s vision of Atmanirbhar Bharat and reaffirm the commitment of Indian industry to create a resilient and self-reliant India. Today’s session is in the form of a conversation with India’s dynamic External Affairs Minister, Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar. Conducting this conversation is FICCI’s incoming President, Mr Uday Shankar, who is also President of the Walt Disney Company for Asia Pacific and Chairman Star and Disney India. As a trendsetter in the media and entertainment industry for over two decades, Mr Uday Shankar is a leading voice in the Indian media and broadcasting sector, shaping reforms for the industry and its consumers. I now invite Mr Uday Shankar, President elect FICCI for his opening remarks.
Mr Uday Shankar: Thank you Sushma and a very warm welcome to our special guest and Minister for External Affairs, Dr Jaishankar and also to this distinguished audience that’s watching us from all over the world. It’s a privilege to have this conversation with Dr Jaishankar. I’ve always been an admirer of yourself. You are a distinguished diplomat and an intellectual and a tireless advocate for creating alignment between Indian perspective and the global growth. In your varied roles as a career diplomat of foreign secretary and the External Affairs Minister, Dr Jaishankar has been at the helm of an exciting transformation of India’s global interface. Dr Jaishankar has received the Padma Shri in 2019 and has recently published a book called “The India Way”, the strategies for an uncertain world. The book has received enormous critical acclaim. Thank you for agreeing for this conversation, Dr Jaishankar. The theme of the current annual conventionInspired India is a response to the world scenario. During the pandemic, like the rest of the world, India has been forced to innovate, build new skills and strengths and work with renewed focus on health and humanity. Inspiration is the key to fulfilling those goals. Today we are in the midst of a global health challenge that has forced to rethink on all these aspects. Here, I would like to invoke the words, of the great Thiruvalluvar, whom you quote at the beginning of your book Sir – “wisdom is to live in tune with the mode of the changing world”. And on that note, shall we start the conversation Mr Minister?
Dr S Jaishankar: Please, it’s a pleasure. Let me also say a few opening words. I mean first of all, it’s really great pleasure today to address the 93rd annual convention, and I think you, with Inspired India, you sort of just struck the right note. And I think it’s something I value these opportunities because one, when you are in charge of foreign policy, business is a very important element of that. It is not just expression of our national capabilities and a really sort of the driver of job creation in India, it is also a very important instrument really to shape the world, to exercise influence, to generate outcomes in our favor. So in a way, I mean, you may not explicitly think of it that way, but you are one of my partners in my business, if it (Inaudible). Secondly, there is a similarity in the nature of our business, you know, because a lot of it for both of us is about negotiation and I think in good negotiations and smart negotiations, you want everybody to come out ahead. Really smart negotiation is one where there are not winners and losers. So I sort of take a lot of inspiration from business practices and business thinking, as I practice my own profession. And again, it’s a great pleasure to be with you and I hope we have a very good conversation.
Mr Uday Shankar: I’m sure we will have a great conversation and thank you for that spirit of partnership Minister. Once again, you’re very gracious. On the conversations sir, let’s just start with something that is recent and while it is a normal occurrence in any democracy, it has evoked a lot of interest and entry given that nature and times that it has taken (Inaudible), I am talking about the US elections. What would be your view on the outcome of the US election? There are a lot of speculation and not necessarily all of them are very formal ones, but it’s clear that the relation between India and US is very important and do you see significant changes or new developments in the light of the new administration that is set to take the office there.
Dr S Jaishankar: American elections, you know, are really quite unique. Maybe it is because what happens in America has an impact on all of us. So, and if it has an impact then obviously we’d like to know, you know, what is it which is going to impact me. But I would say that, you know, probably other than cricket, I can’t think of any other subject where so many Indians have, you know, I never met a person who doesn’t have a view on the American elections. So, the point I would though make before we come to how it impacts us, I think it’s important to understand what are the debates in America? Because it’s only when we understand, follow and understand those debates, will we understand what does it mean for us. Now, what is really the number one issue in America? I think no question the economy. Two, when it comes to foreign policy, I think China is a big issue, Russia is a big issue, the situation in the Middle East has traditionally been an issue, it continues to be so. But, I would still come back to the economy because we are saying, you know, sort of debates and arguments in America, which are quite different for America. One of the interesting debates is whether actually this America, this time, should actually have an industrial policy. Now, for most Indians you’d be baffled by it, because we’ve always had an industrial policy. But, that’s not been the American tradition, you know, the free enterprise system in America is actually quite allergic to the idea of an industrial policy. So, I think today, you know, what should be the relationship between State and Market, and markets and livelihood. I mean these are big issues in America. I think the other is technology. I think, you know again the role of big tech, you know, there is an international debate about it, but there’s a very vigorous American debate about, that you know, how big should big tech be allowed to become? And what is the influence, what are the ripples of that? So, you know, if I were to sum up my takeaway from the Biden administration coming into office, I would say vis-à-vis the world, you know, quite apart from the security issues and the political influence issues all those, one big question I think for them is how do they may keep America competitive and the other big question is really how do theydeal with the climate change challenge, many of them have very passionate beliefs in. The difference we would make now is where would we stand vis-à-vis American priorities. You know, it would be natural for the United States to look at the world and evaluate countries, I don’t think I wouldn’t regard this as transnationalism, I think to me it would be a common diligence which you would do, as you approach international relations, you know, where does this country or these sets of players fit into my game plan. And, my sense is today that on key aspects of the relationship, certainly when it comes to security and defence, when it comes to economic issues, especially competitiveness, I think India can make a very big difference. And, most of all I think India, because we are actually doing today much more on global issues and global challenges than we’ve done before. Even on something like climate change, if you look, our policy under this government has been very much more, you know, enthusiastic and contributed than in the past. Today, the relationship is in such a different level that the only place for it to go in my view is up.
Mr Uday Shankar: That’s very encouraging and that’s what I’m sure most Indians would have liked to hear. But on that note sir, if I was to just take it a little bit forward, we have often heard that there is a trade deal in the works. And you know, we have heard from sources in government, also on both sides and do you think that process gets accelerated or some, you know, we should hope to see some outcome sooner than late?
Dr S Jaishankar: Well, there was a fairly serious negotiation between our government and the Trump Administration on resolving the outstanding trade issues. Okay. I think the general thinking on both sides was let’s deal with the differences before we think of something bigger. Now, there was a lot of toing and froing about it, lot of discussions, lot of people spend a lot of time on it, for a variety of reasons they didn’t close it out. Okay. I can tell you on our side, we were dead serious. We wanted to deal with those issues because we thought there was something much bigger that was in store for the relationship. But, it didn’t happen and often when it comes to, you know, these trade discussions, very frankly trade discussions are like business discussions between two governments. And you know, in business I think you and all our listeners know, I mean, it’s never done till it’s done. The devil is in the detail. You know, if you don’t close out the deal, it’s not a deal. So you may, a deal you come close by, still a deal you didn’t get done. So, I do realize that, you know, we made a very focused, serious, persevering effort, it didn’t get done this year. I do believe that in a very very basic way, the United States is a complementary economy. That, if you look at the products of the United States, the exports of the United States, there isn’t a fundamental sort of clash of interests out here. There are a lot of areas where we do what we do and they do what they do. There are areas of overlap, I think particularly on the digital side. I’m sure there will be vigorous discussions. But I do think at the end of the day the United States is a complimentary economy. And I think as a, you know, FTAs are also, they’re not just trade deals, I mean even trade deals are not just straight deals, because you know, you do think of it in a somewhat strategic way. You should think of it in a somewhat strategic way and I certainly hope that we have very serious discussions once the administration comes in. And I know, our Minister is very focused on it and it’s something which is rightly very important in his agenda.
Mr Uday Shankar: Thank you. So, you know Minister, the framework of this conversation actually has been borrowed from something that you said in your book, that this is a time to engage America, manage China, cultivate Europe, reassure Russia, and bring Japan into play. So moving from the Indo-US relationship comprehensively, if we come to our border situation, that remains a matter of concern. Now, I just wanted your point of view. You’ve been very forthright on what the realities are, and once again, I just wanted to hear from you, whether things are moving in the right direction and should we be prepared for this to be a long haul or should they be a breakthrough sooner?
Dr S Jaishankar: You know, we were discussing business and trade and I said nothing is done until it’s done. I think it is even harder to predict when it comes to National Security issues. So I won’t get into the prediction zone at all, whether you know, it’s going to be easy or not, and you know, what will be the timelines and so on. But, I would make two or three points here. One, that I think the events of this year have been very disturbing, they have raised some very basic concerns because they have happened because the other party has not abided by agreements that we have had with them about respecting and observing the line of actual control and not bringing forces to the line of actual control. So, in a sense, I would say it’s like in your world you will be dealing with somebody who has violated the terms of a contract, I mean clearly you can understand, and in a very substantial way. Now, I also believe that, you know, what has happened is not actually in the interest of China, because what it has done is, it has significantly impacted public sentiment. Professionally I’ve seen the evolution of you know, how the Indian public feels about China over the last many decades, and I am old enough to remember, you know, much more difficult days, I mean, especially in my childhood and in my teens. So, I think a lot of work had gone into the relationship on both sides and I don’t believe that the events of this year have helped, you know at all. I mean, in fact, I think the real danger is that the goodwill which was so carefully developed, will dissipate. But I also would say that yes, we are being tested. I have every confidence that we will rise to the occasion, we will meet that National Security challenge, but beyond that at this time, I would really frankly keep my own Counsel.
Mr Uday Shankar: Thank you, that’s very candid. Coming to the next question Minister, there is this whole new trend of using technology as a tool in bilateral negotiation and it’s almost, we are almost seeing a phase of techno-nationalism, you know, and it’s becoming more and more active factor in international and bilateral relationship that could fundamentally alter geopolitics. For a country like India, which has a great deal of strength in technology and you know and can also use technology for bilateral, commercial and business advantages, but can also be a very significant victim in this whole power play. Do you think that could be a matter of concern in our ambitions to grow to a five trillion economy and bring benefits to our society at large?
Dr S Jaishankar: Well, you know, I’d really be a little careful with that term techno-nationalism because somewhere, maybe I’m being oversensitive, but somehow it sort of doesn’t give you a good feeling. Okay. Sort of makes out, as though, you know somewhere you’re doing something wrong by being techno-nationalistic and I would put it differently. I think, today as the power of the digital is being increasingly appreciated, it is natural that across the world there will be many more countries and societies and people who would want to have some influence over their own digital future. Now what, you know, when you use the word techno-nationalism and maybe that’s not your intention, what it does is, it somehow implies as though transnational players have some kind of natural legitimacy, and you know one should not somewhere sort of, we should accept their influence and their dominance in a very unquestioning way. Now, my sense is you are seeing a lot of that today happen in the digital domain, just like you saw in the industrial domain, which is we are playing digital catch up. Now, if there’s one country, one society, which should be doing it, it’s us. Because, you know, it should not be our fate. That like in the past we ended up as a market for other industrial economies. Today, we end up as the generator of data and the consumer of data with no benefits for our enterprises and our talents. So, I would say today it’s very important that we actually generate that greater awareness about the enormous potential which the digital world holds. You know, the potential of really delivering on so many of the essential requirements of life, of actually creating value, of actually creating employment, of encouraging innovation. So, I think, you know for me one of the very encouraging sets of you know policies which have come out in the last six years have been in that digital India, innovate, startup, you know, that zone but I would also say this that the world itself will be a knowledge economy in a very fundamental way. You know that if you look pretty much at any product, any sophisticated product you use, any service that you avail of, it is increasingly knowledge driven, and knowledge means talent. So, I would develop our talent not only, you know, because it will make me a stronger Nation. I would actually develop our talent because I see ourselves as an HR superpower. That I think, an India which actually deploys its talent globally and the American relationship is the prime example of this. You know, that it is actually a talent connect which has been the game changer with America, and I think that talent connect today has a much broader possibility, you know, I hear, I see a lot of interest expressed in it in Europe, I think there are societies, economies which in the past, you know, we’re more conservative in this regard, but today are opening up. I think some of it is also related to global demographic trends, but some of it is, you know, at the end of the day, I would say the engineering capability of India, The innovation capability of India, the medical capability of India, I think these are today increasingly of interest to the world.
Mr Uday Shankar: Clearly, you are thinking very verydeeply about these issues and that, I guess that is why you set up new and emerging strategic technologies division in your own ministries of the first time. We would like to know as a matter of interest, what is the thinking behind that?
Dr S Jaishankar: I think the thinking behind that was very basic which is an appreciation of the growing role of technology in foreign policy and diplomacy. And, I sort of give you an example, say one geography where we have a very tech sort of centric reputation is Africa. Okay. There’s a lot of interest in Africa in working with us in the digital domain. Now, what we have done is, we have actually started a set of tele-medicine and tele-education sort of projects. So, you know, in many cases we have seen our own companies that, you know, we do run the centres of excellence for training in their digital domain in Africa. And what happens is when people become familiar with that, they’re also open to initiatives and governance, practices. A few weeks ago, in fact, I was talking to the Foreign Minister of Philippines and he was enormously interested in actually e-education. So, you know it fits with the world’s image of India. Okay. This in their eyes is, this is our branding.
Mr Uday Shankar: Yes.
Dr S Jaishankar: We need to leverage that branding and make it into a bigger than national business. We need to go out there, you know, for me if you know, we are into education, health, tax, you know, social security delivery, it can’t be bigger than that for me as the Foreign Minister. I mean that then gives me a degree of goodwill and sort of empathy, which no amount of traditional diplomacy would do. So, a lot of our nest ideas, I mean, theNEST itself was more to evaluate and sort of shall I say, alert. But, it obviously impacts the thinking of the rest of the ministry as well.
Mr Uday Shankar: Right. Now coming to a supplementary question around that which could be of interest to our own constituency at FICCI. How can FICCI and our members work more closely, because clearly there is a business angle to it, you’re talking about NEST and you are talking about other countries, where brand India has a certain business potential. How can we work more closely to leverage that potential?
Dr S Jaishankar: You know to some extent we are doing. So, I want people to be aware of that. That you know, I think you and I ourselves have, we have done a number of events this year. I’ve done many with Sangeeta as well, but where it is helpful is that, one we have a very big development partnership initiative, which is, you know, it helps to build connectivity, to build the basis for economic cooperation, a lot of it is centered around South Asia, our immediate neighbors, but it extends to Africa, it extends to, you know, we are trying now to take it into Central Asia in a big way. So the whole idea, you know, where it makes a difference is, if the Indian, you know, if business India, if FICCI and MEA partner together, and we you know, we support each other. I mean your successes rebound to our national credit. Okay. Our national credibility opens up doors and provides revenue for your business and that is important because your business, every contract to get abroad, means that many more jobs for me at home. And one of the changes I would like to see, you know, in our own system and my own Ministry, if that’s the kind of thinking I would like to see, that at the end of the day, you know, for me the success of foreign policy has got to be in national development, has got to be in, how it shows up in terms of job numbers and employment creation at home and here I think this works very well and my senses are again, as someone who’s been around out of hair length of time. I would say, you know, suddenly today we work much more closely and comfortably with you and you know your members then we’ve ever done before. I think today any Indian business which goes into any Embassy, I mean, we don’t even have to tell our ambassadors, you know, they know even if somebody comes that, you know, it’s they consider it a very natural part of their representing India abroad, to look at the business interests, because again at the end of the day, they know it is contributing to National growth and National power.
Mr Uday Shankar: Thank you. I’m conscious of the time Minister, but one question about the Indo-Pacific region. You’ve a very distinct point of view and a vision for the Indo-Pacific region, and I think from a business point of view, the region is of great importance to us. How do you think we should be approaching the Indo-Pacific region to explore its full potential and also build a great strategic partnership?
Dr S Jaishankar: You know, if there is one set of people in India to whom I should not be explaining Indo-Pacific, it’s the business world. And I’ll tell you why. Just ask yourself, look at the last 20 years, with the 20 years before that. Tell me today, how much more Japan, Korea, China, ASEAN, Australia, matter to you now and how much, you know, how big were they in your thinking 20- 30 years ago. And, you will agree with me, there has been a huge shift. I mean as a sweeping proposition people say, more than half our trade today goes east of India. Okay. Now when we began this, you know, this was in 1991-92, as we were coming out of our situation then, we saw sort of lessons in the ASEAN. Okay. So, it began if you see the reform era, actually began with a kind of look East. And you know, a lot of the ASEAN countries were very close partners. Now, in the 25 years that has passed we have developed, we have become bigger, you know, the Indian economy has grown, the Indian footprint has grown, Indian corporates have grown. So what has happened is, as we have grown, the zone of our interaction and zone of our interest has also broadened. Well, somewhere there was a sort of mental barrier, you know, there is the ASEAN, that’s Indian Ocean, that’s like, you know, the end of the world after that, it’s a cliff. Now, we discovered that wasn’t the case. That, the more we sort of went out, we discovered more and more opportunities. So to me, Indo-Pacific at the end of the day is a very emphatic statement that don’t artificially separate the Indian Ocean and India from the Pacific Ocean and those countries. The world is much more seamless, only a person who’s in denial of globalization would actually contest Indo-Pacific. And, certainly an Indian who understands today, our interests are beyond the Indian Ocean will see the logic of it. Now, I am giving you the economic argument. Now, a similar thing appears, you know happens on the security side as well. So, so to me, it’s a very natural evolution. It represents evolution of India.
Mr Uday Shankar: Right and thank you very much that again as you said the trade and business community from India have been looking at the Indo-Pacific region, but I think that context helps. That brings us to the end of the time that we have (Inaudible) conscious of other companies. But, before I thank you, I just wanted to share with you that as part of our efforts to adapt to the virtual and digital connect for doing business, FICCI has launched a year-long expo, which we call Expo 2020 covering agriculture, manufacturing, and services sectors. The FICCI annual Expo 2020 offers an engaging and progressive platform where buyers and sellers from across the globe can connect, interact and grow to their fullest potential in spite of the challenges thrown up by the pandemic. This has been inspired by the vision of our Honorable Prime Minister for creating Atmanirbhar Bharat movement, FICCI Expo also propose spotlight and showcase the important initiative and key schemes of the government. Visitors can access exhibitors round-the-clock across all 365 days with translation, B2B, and virtual exhibition facilities. FICCI institutional partners worldwide would channelize global participation for this, one-of-a-kind largest virtual exhibition. With your permission, we would like to see now one minute video film about the Expo, Ministry.
Dr S Jaishankar: Please. Thank you. Let me say after seeing the film, I think it’s very commendable initiative for a variety of reasons one. I’m very glad you did it virtually, because I think that’s very much in keeping with the sort of, shall I say, the fashion of the year, but I think beyond as well. The second, it’s good, you are actually showcasing Indian industry, Indian businesses, because I think the world needs to know more about India, and that is something again as a Foreign Minister I can tell you, is something which is very much in our favour. So, I’m really very glad you’ve done this virtual Expo. And once again, let me take the opportunity to wish on 93rd annual convention all success and to you in your tenure, in this very important responsibility.
Mr Uday Shankar: Thank you Minister, you are truly kind and thank you for your words of encouragement. You’ve always been an inspiration and you’ve always embraced FICCI, very very the supportively and we are proud to be a partner of government of India, Ministry of External Affairs, and support you in your endeavor to build a resilient self-reliant and future ready India. Thank you for your time.
Dr S Jaishankar: Thank you.
Ms Sushma Nair: Thank you President elect and Honourable Minister for joining us today for this very interesting discussion. We thank all participants from industry, government and FICCI’s partners worldwide for being with us for this session. We invite all of you to stay tuned to FICCI’s annual convention and the next session on, could this be the decade for the emerging markets? Thank you and stay safe.
December 12, 2020