Mumbai Local

The business of Indian diplomacy is business

(From left) Deputy Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka Harsha de Silva, Union Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar, and Chairman of Godrej Group Adi Godrej in Mumbai on Monday.—Photo: Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury  

Are we now moving toward a world where business is the primary driver of foreign strategy? On Monday, at a conference organised by Gateway House, a city-based think tank, and the Ministry of External Affairs, business leaders and foreign policy experts came together for a to discuss how the intersection of geopolitics and business affect the current paradigm.

India’s foreign secretary S. Jaishankar, in his keynote address, acknowledged that there was probably no better place than Mumbai to carry forward such a discussion.

“There is a sharper realisation that the real strengths of any nation are primarily economic,” Mr. Jaishankar said, “That, in turn, has led to a growing recognition that business provides the ballast for many of our important international relationships; ASEAN, the Gulf, the US and China are examples.”

In areas where strategic imperatives are less pronounced, as in Europe, Latin America and parts of Africa, he said, business is actually our main connect.

Mr. Jaishankar noted that India’s foreign policy is increasingly dominated by the search for resources, technology, capability and best practice, and that considerable efforts are now invested to encourage the involvement of external partners in development programmes like Digital India, Skill India, and Smart Cities.

It heralds a new era, he said, where making it easier to do business is a key element of the country’s foreign strategy.

“There is a Division in the Foreign Ministry tasked to hand-hold foreign investors,” Mr. Jaishankar said, “Creating a better enabling environment for business is our daily mantra. And addressing the political and regulatory impediments is very much at the heart of our diplomatic agenda. This is a very different Foreign Service from the one I joined four decades ago.”

The global strategic landscape, Mr. Jaishankar said, looks increasingly like a business environment and it is against this background that one should evaluate how India’s capabilities and requirements tie in with its global strategy.

India needs to focus on reaping the demographic dividend, he said, through the expansion of manufacturing, the success of skilling initiatives, and the spread of education and literacy. “As prospects improve, we must assess the importance of the availability and accessibility of human resources to an ageing world.”

Touching on resource dependence, he said that the area most worthy of strategising for is that relating to energy, which has also seen the greatest activism in India’s recent diplomatic interactions. He reiterated that nuclear energy would form the core of India’s commitment to clean energy and that the path is once again open to an increase in domestically created nuclear power plants. “These large anticipated investments in the nuclear energy sector can, however, only happen in a climate of predictability. In particular, it would require greater certainty of trading rules and technology access. It is our expectation that membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group can effectively address that concern.”

Referring again to the interplay between foreign strategy and business, Mr. Jaishankar said that a related issue is strengthening the ability of Indian businesses to effectively compete abroad. “We cannot be impervious to the global trend of batting for your business. Whether it is facilitating credit or access, undertaking networking or advocacy, this is increasingly a legitimate expectation that business has of the Government.”

He pointed to many factors that illustrated the central role that economic and developmental issues play in external engagements, from ensuring market access to the advancement of flagship programmes and enhancing national branding.

“A new normal is in the making,” Mr. Jaishankar concluded, “One where the business of Indian diplomacy is increasingly business.”

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Printable version | Dec 1, 2021 1:44:12 AM |

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