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India focuses on BIMSTEC rather than SAARC: Jaishankar

Last updated on: June 06, 2019 16:25 IST

IMAGE: External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar addresses The Growth Net Summit 7.0, in New Delhi, on Thursday. Photograph: PTI Photo

Most Indians recognise that India's global stature has risen in the last five years and this played a role in the National Democratic Alliance government retaining power for a second consecutive term, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said on Thursday.

A 'global rebalancing' is taking place and its 'sharpest manifestation' is the rise of China and, to an extent, the rise of India as well, Jaishankar said during an interaction at a seminar.

"A large majority of people in India recognised that India's stature in the world has risen in the last five years," the minister said, adding that the government has kept alive and perhaps even strengthened expectations of change in India.

 

The government looks different from outside than from inside, Jaishankar, who served as foreign secretary from 2015-18, said without elaborating.

In his first public event after becoming the external affairs minister, he also said the elections were a vote of confidence in the management of national security and foreign policy was integrated with it.

"Look at the election results in India, people have analysed it. It's very clear that a lot of programmes and efforts have brought change and gave hope to the people at the lowest income level of the society, with a very profound impact.

"And at the same time if you look at the younger demographics and more aspirational expectations, those have also been met," he said while addressing an event in New Delhi.

The Union minister added that the National Democratic Alliance dispensation in its previous term successfully met with expectations of the youth.

He underlined that Lok Sabha election results in India show that the Modi government kept alive and strengthened the 'expectation of change' in the country.

"My big take in elections is that the five years of the government has actually created, kept alive and perhaps even strengthened the expectation of change in the country," said S Jaishankar.

In addition to this, a large part of India's economy has been externalised and there is need for India's foreign policy to help Indian companies gain better access to overseas markets.

Jaishankar was addressing The Growth Net Summit 7.0, being organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and Ananta Centre.

The minister said he will continue with his predecessor Sushma Swaraj's social media outreach to help Indians abroad.

He said 'enormous emphasis' will be given to Indians in distress and they now expect the government to reach out to them.

This has changed the image of the foreign ministry, he added.

The external affairs minister also called for greater integration between government departments to create a stronger focus on the economic issues being faced by Indian companies, especially in overseas markets.

While highlighting India's relationship with its immediate neighbourhood, Jaishankar said the priority has been to focus on the regional grouping BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) rather than SAARC (South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation).

BIMSTEC, he said, is witnessing a great deal of positive energy. It was decided to leverage that and invite the leaders of BIMSTEC nations to the swearing-in ceremony of Prime Minister Modi last month, he added.

According to the minister, changes the world is witnessing are very sharp and globalisation is under stress, especially in terms of market access and mobility of labour.

Second is the growth of nationalism, which he said is being validated electorally across the globe, and the third is the global rebalancing taking place, especially with the rise of China.

He said some of the changes are contradictory in nature. For example, some nations are increasing tariffs while others are focused on improving connectivity.

In addition, there has been a rise in bilateral FTAs (free trade agreements) in light of the fact that the World Trade Organization (WTO) system is not working.

He was of the view that India needed to find ways to fix architecture such as the WTO and make it more effective.

"We can build a closer region through regional connectivity projects," Jaishankar added.

"If we want to propel economic growth, then there is greater responsibility for Indian foreign policy to focus on external aspect of it," the minister said.

There is big responsibility on the External Affairs Ministry to focus on project execution which has strategic significance, he added.

He said Indian has the responsibility to play a more proactive role and incentivise cooperation in the neighbourhood.

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Jaishankar to embark on two-day visit to Bhutan: MEA

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar will embark on a two-day visit to Bhutan from Friday, his first overseas trip after assuming charge of the ministry.

MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said during the visit, Jaishankar would call on Bhutanese Prime Minister Lotay Tshering and meet his counterpart Tandi Dorji.

"His visit is in keeping with the tradition that India attaches with bilateral relationship with Bhutan, a close friend and a neighbour," Kumar said.

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