For the first time in centuries, Asia is beginning to drive the Global Economy – Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla

Addressing the Public Affairs Forum of India (PAFI) Dialogue on the topic “India’s Foreign Policy in the Post-Covid World: New Vulnerabilities, New Opportunities”, Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla said that the pandemic period has been one of extraordinary stresses and shocks as we have had to deal with the disruption caused by the pandemic in different sectors. But as PM Modi said earlier this week, “disruption does not have to mean despair. Instead, we must keep the focus on the twin foundations of repair and prepare”, he said.

He said that confidence in globalization has taken a hit and the “global system” is seen as inadequate to the challenges posed by the pandemic. In fact, to some, globalization has become a part of the problem and is now seen as a vulnerability. “One particular element of the globalized world, global value chains and supply chains, has acquired prominence not just in business circles but also at the political level. There is a general belief that these chains may have caused dependencies”, he said buttressing the earlier point.

These new vulnerabilities and challenges have altered the diplomatic environment. It is also a system that is in rapid transition, he said. The digital revolution and new technologies have added a new axis of geotechnology to the intersection of geopolitics and geoeconomics. National power today is more about technology and about systems and processes rather than territory.

On the emergence of Asia, he said that we inhabit a world in which centers of diplomatic gravity are in very rapid transition and for the first time in centuries, Asia is beginning to drive the global economy.  Politically, the bipolar order that prevailed during the Cold War gave way to a unipolar system following the collapse of the USSR. A further transition is underway as this unipolar world order moves to a multipolar system, he said.

On the rise of China he said it has placed India in a central role at the geopolitical stage. It is India’s largest neighbor and one with which we share more than just a border and proximity. We have also had to confront a specific strategic challenge posed by China and its tactics on our shared border.

Speaking on new challenges, he said completely new threats and security challenges such as terrorism, climate change and biological and other non-traditional threats have emerged and continue to emerge. New technologies have created both new industries and new political currents. Non-traditional threats and new technologies have combined to form a whole new spectrum of sub-conventional security challenges.

On the Covid challenge, he said the Ministry of External Affairs, like the entire Government of India, adapted to respond to the new realities of the pandemic. Our Ministry created a de novo vertical, the COVID Cell that worked 24*7 to coordinate our COVID related operations. This was resourced appropriately with some of our best officers and was able to scale up rapidly on demand. Our network of diplomatic Missions played a key role in organizing the Vande Bharat Mission, the largest logistical mission of its type ever undertaken. This has facilitated the movement of more than 7 million people through lockdown and post-lockdown periods.

Speaking on the way MEA rose to the occasion in mitigating the situation, he said a global sourcing operation was launched to procure ventilators, PPE kits, N95 masks, 3-ply surgical masks and testing kits. These helped us to tide over the situation till domestic manufacturing scaled up to meet demand. “We also intervened to source medical products, machinery, and components that were vital for enhancing our domestic manufacturing capabilities. MEA facilitated the import of components for ventilators, testing inputs such as RNA Extraction Kits, Roche Cobas testing machines and testing kits from the US, Germany, China, Switzerland and Singapore”, he said.

He also spoke about Vaccine Maitri which then led to aid from countries across the world during India’s second wave of the COVID pandemic. “India received extensive support and assistance from its partner countries around the world during the second wave. This reflected the goodwill earned by India for the assistance extended by it to other countries when they needed it”, he said.

Speaking on the adaptability of Indian Diplomacy, the Foreign Secretary said India has adapted rapidly to virtual diplomacy. Its high level engagements at the bilateral, plurilateral and multilateral levels have continued in the virtual mode. ” Indian diplomacy as you can see is adjusting to this complex and uncertain environment. It is doing so with agility and flexibility. We have to think and act innovatively and to adapt at the conceptual and operational levels”, he said.

“We must focus on acquiring a leadership role that allows us to both participate in and contribute to the emerging world order. We must deepen cooperation with old partners and allies. We must at the same time forge new partnerships with rising powers”, he said.

He then spoke on the opportunities created by the pandemic period. The first is the opportunity created by the ongoing transition to a knowledge economy. Output in such an economy will be driven as much by new technologies and digital processes as it is driven by agriculture and goods and services. A country like India with its emphasis on education and innovation is well placed to take advantage of this transformation.

The second opportunity will arise due to the requirement of de-risking and diversifying supply chains. Businesses are trying to create secure and stable supply chains that will be able to deal with pandemic level shocks. A number of conversations, such as the joint India-Australia-Japan Supply Chain Resilience Initiative, are taking place. The first Quad Leaders Virtual Summit in March discussed supply chain resilience, he said.

A third area of opportunity is in Climate, he said. Climate change is one of the defining challenges of our time. India is amongst the front rank of nations with climate ambition. Despite our development challenges, we have taken major initiatives in the areas of clean energy, energy efficiency, afforestation and biodiversity.

Looking ahead, the Foreign Secretary said that in a post-pandemic world order India has called for a reformed multilateralism and human-centric globalization. It must be globalization based on fairness, equality and humanity, one that prioritizes our people and our planet, and our collective and sustainable prosperity.

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