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Quad, Chinese debt trap, diplomacy and relations with the West: 5 key takeaways from S Jaishankar’s remarks at Munich Security Conference

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar spoke on an array of issues pertaining to India's strategic policies and diplomatic stances during a panel discussion at the Munich Security Conference

On Saturday (February 19), External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar spoke on an array of issues pertaining to India’s strategic policies and diplomatic stances during a panel discussion at the Munich Security Conference (MSC) 2022. He shared the stage with the Foreign Ministers of Australia, Japan and France.

The panel moderator, Dr Lynn Kuok, had quizzed the Indian External Affairs Minister about India’s active participation in the Quad. “We have seen India step up in the Quad…So I think we have seen in fact a strengthening of India’s relations perhaps with some countries in the Quad at the very least, even if it might not mean an enduring strengthening of ties with the West,” she asked.

S Jaishankar responded “This incarnation of the Quad started in 2017. I participated in the first meeting when I was foreign secretary, like the permanent undersecretary, so it’s not a post-2020 development. Our relations with the Quad partners – US, Japan, Australia – have steadily improved in the last 20 years. Again as I said, you are making it seem like cause-and-effect. I would challenge that.”

He further added that the Quad holds a value in itself. “It’s four countries who recognize today that the world would be a better place if they cooperated, and that’s essentially what’s happening,” the External Affairs Minister added.

Deteriorating relations with China

During the Munich Security Conference (MSC) 2022, S Jaishankar was also asked about the ‘sharp downturn’ in India’s relationship with China due to the Ladakh crisis, which started in June 2020. Dr Lynn Kuok questioned, “What has the crisis meant for India’s China strategy and has it meant a decisive and enduring shift towards the West?”

The Indian External Affairs Minister clarified that the situation at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) will determine the diplomatic relations with the Communist country. “It’s a problem we are having with China. And the problem is this – that for 45 years, there was peace, there was stable border management. There were no military casualties on the border from 1975. That changed,” he remarked.

“Because we had agreements with China not to bring military forces to the Line of Actual Control – and the Chinese violated those agreements. The state of border will determine the state of the relationship. That’s natural. So, obviously, relations with China right now are going through a very difficult phase.,” he emphasised. S Jaishankar raised objections for linking India’s growing ties with the West to deteriorating relations with China.

India’s principles and decision to abstain from voting on Ukraine

Dr Lynn Kuok tried to insinuate that India exhibited double standards when it came to voting on Ukraine at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).

She asked, “How is India contributing to European security? India has spoken out vociferously against China for its actions on the disputed border between India and China, but India however has abstained from voting on Ukraine in the UN Security Council. Could you please help me understand if India’s position is that different principles should apply in different parts of the world?”

The Indian External Affairs Minister clarified, “I don’t think these situations in the Indo-Pacific and the Transatlantic are really analogous and certainly the assumption in your question that somehow there’s a trade off and one country does this in the pacific so in return you do something else – I don’t think that’s how international relations work. We have, I think, are quite distinct challenges -what’s happening here, what’s happening in the Indo Pacific.”

He pointed out, “In fact, if there was a connection, by that logic, you would’ve had a lot of European powers very early taking very sharp positions in the Indo-Pacific and we didn’t seen that. We haven’t seen that since 2009. So now, yes, there is now an EU strategy – what you spoke about in your remarks -France, Germany, Netherlands – these are all very recent developments. And the problem in the Indo-Pacific is not recent, so I would say you really need to look at that question again.”

On the question of principles and its application to the world order uniformly, S Jaishankar stated, “No, I would say principles and interests are balanced and if people were so principled in this part of the world, they would have been practising them in Asia, or Afghanistan before we have actually seen them do.”

S Jaishankar on Act East Policy

The panel moderator, Dr Lynn Kuok, had quizzed the Indian External Affairs Minister on the ‘Act East Policy’ of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. She cited a recent poll, claiming that the trust of South East Asian countries in India had diminished. “What do you think India can do better to leverage its great soft power in the region?” she inquired.

S Jaishankar dismissed the aspersion cast by the poll and emphasised that he did not believe in polls on foreign policies. “But I’d say that our relations with the ASEAN are actually growing well. If I were to look at the evolution, the two big changes that are taking places: we have much stronger security cooperation with ASEAN,” he emphasised.

The Minister informed the panel moderator about his recent trip to the Philippines during which agreements were signed for supplying military supplies to the country. He concluded, “We have strong bilateral relations with Singapore, Indonesia and Vietnam, amongst others. And the other is physical connectivity. So I hate to challenge you for the 4th time but I don’t think that poll is very good.”

EAM on Chinese Debt trap

During the Q & A session, following the panel discussion, the Foreign Minister of Bangladesh Dr Abdul K Momen thanked India and Japan for support but pointed out the Chinese strategy of debt trap. “China comes forward with a basket of money, aggressive proposal and affordable proposal. And then we have a problem. What to do?”

“International relations is competitive but we have seen countries saddled with debt..people will be justified in asking what am I getting into. Unsustainable projects don’t end..thr are real concerns,” S Jaishankar responded.

The Communist regime in China has been infamous for pushing developing nations into its vicious debt trap by lending out money for investment projects and later using it to ensnare the sovereignty and strategic assets of the nation. It has lent out $1.5 trillion to 150 countries, far more than that of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF). However, China is now witnessing a slump in its lending spree, as per a report by the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA).

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