Expectations from India in the Emerging World Order Post COVID-19
(This is Foreign Secretary’s Lecture at Haryana Institute of Public Administration, on February 22, 2021)
I would like to begin by thanking the Haryana Institute of Public Administration for inviting me to speak today. I would like to particularly thank Smt. Surina Rajan, Director General of the Institute. I would also like to acknowledge my colleague and friend Ambassador Kheya Bhattacharya. Warm greetings to Haryana Civil Services Officers and other participants of the training module on ‘Global Issues’.
2. India has been described as a Union of States. We live in a federal system in which the states have been assigned specific roles, powers and responsibilities. In an increasingly globalized world, states, such as Haryana, are key players. They are destinations for investments. They are homes of our diaspora. Rivers flow across them to other countries. International boundaries sometimes run along their borders. They house airports, ports, businesses, universities and other entities with global connections.
3. The Ministry of External Affairs is highly cognizant of the international outlook of our state governments and has created a States Division to act as a nodal point for interaction with them.
4. It is apt that I speak to you today on the subject of India’s emerging role in the post-COVID era.
5. The COVID pandemic has had a far-reaching impact on the geo-political and geo-economic landscape. It is the greatest shock to the international system since the Second World War. We were also confronted with the most severe economic slowdown in living history. The human cost of the pandemic has been substantial. Lives and livelihoods both have been lost.
6. Every facet of our national life has been affected by complexities and difficulties. Indian diplomacy and our external policies are no exception.
7. India has acted with resolve during this unprecedented crisis. A series of public health measures and carefully calibrated lockdowns have produced an unique epidemiological profile. Several major economies are still living through a deadly second wave of infections. In India, the rate of spread of infections, the number of fatalities and the number of cases requiring hospitalisation and critical care have all shown a consistent decline during the same period.
8. The government has also reacted boldly on the economic front. Its initial reaction was to launch one of the largest and boldest fiscal stimulus packages in recent economic history. This was accompanied by a simultaneous focus on building an Atmanirbhar Bharat. Its record in the field of essential medical supplies is instructive. India had worrying deficiencies in PPEs, in masks, in ventilators and in testing kits in the initial days of the pandemic. Domestic industry rose to the situation and has ramped up output to a point where we now export some of these essential health-related items.
9. There is enough evidence to indicate that we have turned the corner in economic terms. The IMF has projected 11.5% growth rate for India in 2021. This would make India the only major economy of the world to register double-digit growth amidst the pandemic.
10. The speed at which economic activity picks up is a key determinant of the health of the economy. Just a fortnight ago, the IMF said it believed the “Indian economy had been significantly revitalised.’’
11. The challenge of managing the macro-economic fundamentals and of restarting economic activity was conducted in the midst of severe geopolitical stresses. The international system as we understand it today with its complex network of national and transnational systems has struggled to cope with the disruptions generated by the pandemic.
12. This brings us to the question of the post Covid world order and what it holds for India.
13. The pandemic and the lockdowns that it produced have made us take a closer look at some of the fundamental drivers of globalization. We have also been forced to think about other impulses that have shaped or underlie the current global political and economic order.
14. How we approach this question, particularly in the context of the current crisis, was articulated by Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi in several interventions in the UN General Assembly, in NAM and G-20 summits, in a SAARC leaders conference and in several other platforms. The Prime Minister has stressed that the pandemic has shown us the limitations of the existing international system. A purely economic agenda has defined globalization so far, and we have cooperated more to balance competing individual interests, rather than advance the collective interests of all human kind. The limitations of this approach are evident. We need a new template of globalization, based on fairness, equality and humanity in the post-COVID world.
15. We have long been a constructive actor in the shaping of such a human welfare-centric international system: by sharing our developmental experience with partner countries in the Global South; undertaking humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations over a geographical area centred on the Indian Ocean but spanning from the Pacific to the Atlantic; assisting a number of our friends and partners during the current pandemic; and through initiatives such as the International Solar Alliance and the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure.
16. The concept of Vasudaiva Kutumbakam is central to our civilisational ethos. We believe that the universe is one. This places upon us the responsibility of being responsible global citizens.
17. We put this teaching into practice during the pandemic. Vaccine Maitri, the global health diplomacy operation in which we have supplied vaccines – made in India – to nations across the world is a practical demonstration of our belief and our approach.
18. India is the largest producer of vaccines in the world with about 60% of the global share. We have used these strengths not just to launch the world’s largest vaccination drive in our country. We have delivered on Prime Minister’s promise at the UN General Assembly to make Indian manufactured vaccines affordable and accessible to all of humanity. We have so far supplied about 230 lakh doses of vaccines to friends and partners across the world. Indian vaccine capacities will generate another 1.1 billion doses for the WHO-led COVAX scheme that distributes them to developing countries across the world.
19. Vaccine Maitri is not an isolated undertaking. It takes place in the aftermath of another large operation to provide essential medicines and medical supplies to over 150 countries during the pandemic. India has established its credentials as the pharmacy to the world during the crisis. Medications such as Hydroxychloroquine and Paracetmol made in India were shipped to destinations across the world in daunting logistical circumstances imposed by lockdowns. Indian rapid response teams were deployed in 8 countries. Indian naval vessels and air force airplanes delivered supplies along a wide arc to friends and partners.
20. We are a country with global interests. Our economy, and therefore our material well being, is plugged on to global supply chains. We are a powerhouse in the services sectors. We look at the world as a borderless economy with an interlinked marketplace. We have one of the largest and most able Diasporas.
21. We have to make every effort to keep the wheels of globalisation moving safely. That is why we launched the Vande Bharat Mission. It is the largest evacuation and air movement exercise in history and has transported more than 4 million Indian nationals in nine phases back and forth from multiple points across the world to India. Its current form that involves air bubbles with 24 countries and continuing evacuation flights is built upon earlier phases that involved movements of millions of people by air, sea and land.
22. We live in a world where much is possible. We also live in a very uncertain world. The pandemic, and its consequences, immediate and future, are an illustration of the level of uncertainty that we must live with. We are faced with new and uncertain challenges even as we struggle with existing threats to international peace and security.
23. This is also a time of opportunity. Empirically speaking, all crises are succeeded by periods of growth. The Great Depression and the second World War were followed by one of the greatest sustained spurts of economic growth. A similar trend was observed after all the four major recessions in the post-World War II era. Major health crises have led to investments in medical science and public health that have transformed our lives.
24. We expect that this will also happen after the present crisis expends itself.
25. A number of sectors of the economy have demonstrated a remarkable resilience and adaptability. India’s pharmaceutical and health industry is first and foremost amongst them. We obviously have world class capacities. We have also established that we are reliable and responsible stakeholders in global healthcare supply chains.
26. India’s e-commerce, IT and IT-enabled services industries have emerged as powerful global players. There have been significant investments by global technology majors – US$ 10 billion by Google and US $5 billion by Facebook – in India. The JAM trinity – Jan Dhan Aadhaar and Mobile – pioneered by this government has set the stage for a fintech revolution. Prime Minister had earlier launched a global digital platform, APIX, to connect Fintech companies and financial institutions. We are also working with several countries on making our digital payment systems interoperable. India’s major internet start-ups range food delivery services, ride-sharing apps, e-commerce platforms, to online insurance now set global standards.
27. All of these are contributing to the Prime Minister’s vision of an Atmanirbhar Bharat. It needs to be reiterated that an Atmanirbhar Bharat is not an India that is isolated from the world. It is, on the contrary, a globalised India that is focussed on taking what is local to the global marketplace. It is an India that is focussed on becoming a nerve center of global supply chains and a manufacturing hub.
28. This is also an opportunity to facilitate the process of energy transition. India, already a major energy consumer, needs access to traditional and non-traditional sources of energy to fuel its economic growth. The energy preferences of our country are forward looking and we have made major strides in improving access to clean energy for our citizens.
29. India is also a country that is more than cognizant of the threat posed by climate change. Five years after the Paris Agreement, India is amongst the few developing countries, that are not only meeting their “green” targets but are aspiring to more ambitious climate goals. At the recent Climate Ambition Summit Prime Minister Modi clearly articulated the Indian approach. He said that we must set our sights “even higher” even as we do not lose sight of the past. He further said that India would not only achieve its Paris Agreement targets, but would exceed them beyond expectations.
30. India intends to be a responsible global citizen in the climate space. We are not only going beyond our Paris Agreement commitments. We are adopting innovative instruments to further international cooperation in climate action. As I mentioned earlier, we have created international organisations like the International Solar Alliance and the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI) that are working on creating global low carbon pathways. More than 80 countries have joined the International Solar Alliance making it one of the fastest growing international bodies. More and more countries are also joining the CDRI that is working on promoting climate-resilient infrastructure across the world.
31. Energy is at the center of all climate strategies. India has become a clean energy powerhouse and is a leader in energy transition from CO2 producing sources to renewables and non-fossil fuel sources.
32. Insecurity anywhere makes us all less secure. Security is not a zero-sum game. India has always seen itself as a net security provider. Our definition of security is a holistic one. Security is not just the possession of armed capabilities. It is the absence of fear. It is about addressing the problems that generate insecurity and vulnerability.
33. India is one of the leading maritime security providers in its oceanic neighbourhood. We are active in anti-piracy operations. We also work with several friends and partners in enhancing our maritime domain awareness and maritime information systems capacities. India has maritime dialogues with an increasing number of countries and is actively cooperating on sharing information and perceptions on regional maritime perspectives. India has agreements with Myanmar, Thailand and Indonesia on coordinated maritime patrolling.
34. India is active in combating maritime pollution and sent a team to combat an oil spill in Mauritius recently. We have participated and continue to participate in maritime search and rescue operations and promote SOPs and interoperability in that area.
35. The fundamental spatial orientation of our policy remains Neighbourhood First. We have demonstrated our commitment at the highest levels to working in South Asia and in the sub-regional BIMSTEC frameworks. Within South Asia, we have strengthened BBIN initiatives. It may be noted that my first visit after the pandemic was to one of our neighbours and closest friends, Bangladesh. I have since visited Myanmar, Nepal and Maldives.
36. Initiatives such as BIMSTEC link Neighbourhood First to another fundamental pillar of our policies, viz., Act East. We have a growing dialogue with ASEAN through multiple channels.
37. In the last five years, Think West – our outreach to the Gulf and West Asian countries – has become an increasingly important pillar of our foreign policy. Our engagement with Africa, both in political and economic terms, has also intensified as never before. There have beenoutgoing visits to African countries at the level of the President, the Vice President and the Prime Minister. Over two-thirds of India’s Lines of Credit in the past decade have been offered to African countries.
38. India believes in the vision of an open, free, rules-based Indo-Pacific region supported by inclusive global and regional institutions that promote prosperous, stable and sovereign states on the basis of shared interests.
39. We continue to build on our relationship with the United States. We continue to have a special strategic partnership with Russia. We have a rapidly growing and changing relationship with the European Union and with with European countries such as the United Kingdom, France and Germany. We recently entered into our first Green Strategic Partnership with Denmark. Japan is another vital partner with whom we have a mutli-dimensional relationship.
40. We are committed multilateralists. We are committed to a rules based international order. India is currently in the UN Security Council for a non-permanent tenure. We are also the BRICS chair. We have been invited to the forthcoming G7 summit in England later this year. We will also chair the G20 in 2023. We remain active in other multilateral and plurilateral formats such as SCO and RIC.
41. Our Development Partnership Administration has a global presence deploying around US$ 31 billion in lines of credit and US$ 8 billion in grants. More than 80,000 foreigners have been trained by the Government of India in Indian institutions.
42. Finally, I would like to refer to the public service delivery mechanisms of our Ministry. We have a global network of 192 plus Missions and posts. We also have a nationwide presence through our passport offices and passport seva kendras.
43. We work closely with state authorities in delivery of public and consular services and we may have had interacted with some of you during this process.
44. I would like to end to once again by thanking the Institute for inviting me and for its focus on diplomacy and global engagement of states. Globalization means that the global content of your work will grow and we will, I am certain, work together much more in the future.
45. The Ministry of External Affairs is keen to work with Haryana and other states in promoting international cooperation. Our growing network of Embassies, High Commissions and Consulates in all continents are also keen to partner with you in furthering your initiatives.