Neighbours still India’s ‘priority’ despite Covid impact on world politics

The coronavirus pandemic has come as a “major geopolitical shock, and will have a long term impact on world politics”, but New Delhi’s ‘neighbourhood first’ policy will not change, Indian foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said.

“This was also evident during the current crisis when Prime Minister’s first regional/global engagement on COVID-19 was with the leaders of South Asia. I may point out that my first visit after the pandemic was to our neighbour and close friend Bangladesh,” he said.

Shringla was speaking at the Indian Council of World Affairs’ (ICWA) organised event on the ‘Broad Canvas of Indian Diplomacy during the Pandemic’.

“We are likely to see changes in hard and soft power balances; emergence of new multilateral conversations and changes in relative strength of stakeholders in these conversations; and greater dispersal of power, resources and capacity across the world,” he said.

“Some things, however, will not change. The fundamental orientation of our policy remains ‘Neighbourhood First’. We have demonstrated the priority accorded to our neighbors in South Asia at the highest levels,” he said while speaking on the pandemic crisis and the global politics in the current context.

He visited Bangladesh recently and assured that the ‘blood ties’ between the countries would be strengthened further in the days to come with the engagements in newer sectors.

“We see a lot of opportunities in our immediate neighbourhood. There are also challenges. We will work appropriately to resolve these. It must be noted, however, that our capacities and resources are growing and we will always be prepared to adopt the necessary strategies and tactics as required,” he said in his speech.

He also quoted Prime Minister Narendra Modi who at the high level segment of UN ECOSOC recently said: “India firmly believes that the path to achieve sustainable peace and prosperity is through multilateralism.”

“However, multilateralism needs to represent the reality of the contemporary world. Only reformed multilateralism, with a reformed United Nations at its centre, can meet the aspirations of humanity.”

The foreign secretary also raised the recent developments in the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China and said “this is one of the most serious challenges facing us in recent years with causalities on this border after over 40 years.”

“We are engaged with China both through the military and diplomatic channels on this, and remain firmly committed to resolving all outstanding issues through dialogue. We can come back to this during the interaction.”

He said the pandemic and the lock-downs 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. It has focused our thoughts.”

“India’s counsel, its experience and perspectives, and the Prime Minister’s personal statesmanship have found appreciation and resonance in bilateral, plurilateral and multilateral platforms.

“The External Affairs Minister has, during the pandemic, spoken with around 80 of his counterparts. He has digitally attended BRICS, SCO and RIC Ministerial and a joint meeting with his counterparts from the US, Australia, Japan, Brazil and South Korea.

“I have spoken and consulted regularly with my colleagues and counterparts in other Foreign Offices and continue to do so,” Shringla said, adding that, “It would therefore be fair to say that we have been at the forefront of digital diplomacy.”

“We have been agile and versatile in our efforts to generate and maintain diplomatic momentum.”

“India is a country with global interests. Our economy, and therefore our material well-being, is plugged into global supply chains. We view the world as a borderless economy with an interlinked marketplace,” he said.

“India has always believed that it is a part of a larger community of nations. We realize, in the spirit of “vasudaiva kutumbakam”, that our well-being is intrinsically linked to the collective well-being. We also believe in the principle of ”nishkama karma”, that good needs to be done for its own sake.”

He said India went out of its way to “positively contribute” to global health security in the midst of the pandemic.

“We took a far-sighted view to be a responsible actor on the global stage in these very difficult circumstances. This has elevated India’s international standing and will continue to stand us in good stead in the post-pandemic world.”

“We deploy large amounts of resources through development partnerships with our friends. This is a practical demonstration of our goodwill and our capacities and of our belief in the principle of ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’.

“Development partnership is a work in progress and we are taking a close look at how we can calibrate partnerships and meet the needs of our friends as per their priorities and preferred roadmaps. Our focus will continue to be on executing viable projects and on strengthening capacities in local communities,” the Indian foreign secretary said.

He, however, said terrorism remains “a growing and resistant threat with radical ideologies continuing to generate violence and insecurity”.