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The G20 has been India's coming out party as a rising power.

The consensus document agreed upon at the G20 Summit, under India’s Presidency, is a major breakthrough for international cooperation. What does this development mean for India’s position in international geopolitics and what can India do more to keep the momentum going? Former Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal speaks to Hindol Sengupta.


India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing the G20 Summit


Hindol Sengupta (HS): This is Global Order. I'm Hindol Sengupta. I'm delighted that former Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal is joining me from London today to discuss what has been a really eventful day in Indian geopolitics. The G20 summit is happening in Delhi and the Prime Minister of India has just announced that a consensus document, which many said would not happen, actually has come to fruition. That's why I'm delighted that Kanwal Sibbal has joined me and I want to discuss what the G20 means, G20 summit mean to India and the rest of the world. And of course, beginning with this consensus document. Convalescent Bill, thanks very much for joining me.


Kanwal Sibal (KS): My pleasure.


HS: I want to begin by talking a little bit about the consensus document and its references to Ukraine. If you look at the document and its references to Ukraine, including the question of transport of food grains from Russia and Ukraine and other such points, underlining, of course, Prime Minister Modi's old point about today not being an end era of war. What do you read into it?


KS: Well, firstly, I am a bit surprised but happily surprised that a consensus document has been agreed to and has been issued. I was a bit skeptical because the differences over Ukraine were so sharp. The West had made it very clear that under no circumstances would they allow any joint declaration which did not condemn Russia or which did not actually align itself with the position of the West, largely speaking. The Bali consensus was no longer acceptable to Russia as well as China. So there was a clear confrontation between the West and Russia and China on this issue, which therefore meant that if the West insisted on its position and the Russians supported by the Chinese were unwilling to accept any language that would be condemnatory of Russia, then we have an impasse. Now I must say and I say this very genuinely with a sense of pride that Indian diplomacy has really worked very well. I've seen the paragraphs on Ukraine. It is clearly a huge effort that has been put in by the Indian presidency to find a common language. I must also, to be fair, acknowledge that the West has been constructive. Contrary to my expectations and the expectations of many which are based on their own positions which they had articulated repeatedly that they are not going to let Russia go scot-free but they have been constructive and they have agreed to a language which nowhere condemns Russia. Indirectly, there are references to the UN Charter, principles of the UN Charter, not acquisition of territories by force and things like that but these are general principles and these general principles do not necessarily apply to the Ukraine conflict alone. They can apply to conflicts in the past and they can apply to potential conflicts in the future. After all, China wants to take over Taiwan by force, doesn't it? So the West has been constructive in its approach and I think the reason is that if the G20 had failed to issue a joint declaration, it would have been the beginning of the end of the G20, frankly because if the leaders cannot come together and address in a constructive manner, all the challenges that are being faced by the international community and those have been listed in the long joint statement that has been issued and make everything contingent upon the condemnation of Russia, then it is quite clear that the future of G20 would have been in peril because the Ukraine situation is not going to be resolved tomorrow or day after. It is going to linger on for some time and certainly, into the next presidency, I think. So, I think everybody realized that to keep the G20 functioning and alive and meaningful, it was necessary to prevent its potential demise and therefore a joint statement has been agreed to. I think on balance, Russia has won a considerable diplomatic victory because it was absolutely opposed to the idea or to any effort to condemn it for its actions in Ukraine and that position has been upheld in the joint statement. The other thing I think which must have weighed heavily with the West, the G7 and the EU, is that now there is a very powerful move by Russia and China combined, to expand the BRICS and already six new countries have been added. It has become G11, and next year, when the summit takes place, BRICS summit takes place in Russia, in Kazan, there is a likelihood of further expansion and this is an organization, a platform that has been set up as a counter to the G7, and I would even say the G20, because there is no western member of the BRICS. It's all the so-called ‘global south’ or what have you and if that begins to keep expanding, then the G20 will become more and more sidelined. So I think the Western countries realize that in order to prevent that from happening, it was necessary to keep the G20 platform alive in which the G7 and the EU and Australia are represented, as well as major developing countries of the global south. So that is another reason why I think the Western approach has been constructive. Finally, I would say that it is a personal victory for Prime Minister Modi, frankly, because India was cheering. The Modi government put in tremendous effort both in terms of organizational aspects of the G20, 200 plus meetings in 60 different locations. Plus, you know, introducing onto the G20 agenda the concerns of the global south. As you know that before the G20 Foreign Minister's meeting, we took the initiative to convene a meeting of global south leaders, 125 leaders attended that. Their concerns and expectations and priorities were noted and these were put on the G20 agenda. Plus India itself puts many things of its own on the agenda and the Prime Minister has been outlining what these are, whether it is the transformation of the digital economies or innovation or global health in view of the experience of the pandemic or inclusive growth or women's development or how to progress the achievement of the SDGs or renewable energy, this global hydrogen initiative and all that. So we have also put a mark of our own on the G20 agenda. Now, if the G20 had failed to issue a joint statement, already there were voices in the West in particular and some opposition in our own country, that it will be a failure of Indian diplomacy, that India's prestige would be lowered because India wants to be a leader of the global south and puts in so much effort into the G20 and at the end of it, if unlike at Bali, no joint statement was issued, it was actually a setback for Indian diplomacy and for India's arising power. So I think in that sense, the US and West have been helpful in not allowing that narrative to take hold internationally and have in that sense given Modi political and diplomatic support so that India is no longer embarrassed and can now say with confidence that it has succeeded diplomatically and this is a feather in its cap. The other point to note in this regard is that both President Putin and President Xi Jinping decided not to attend. I think in the case of President Putin, there may have been good reason not to attend because he may have feared that if he came, it will make the task of India very, very difficult. There'll be a confrontation between the West and Putin because Putin has been demonized. The fact that he was absent may have actually helped in forging this joint statement and that if he spoke in the plenary session, the other leaders may have walked out. So there would have been no possibility of any constructive engagement between him and the principal players. Though, of course, it would have been a good gesture to India. But the absence of Xi Jinping, the reasons for that are more complex and I think in this case, the Chinese have shown no inclination in recent months to do anything which would, in a sense, create the right atmosphere for Xi Jinping to come to Delhi. Now coming to Delhi after whatever they spoke about in the BRICS Summit, which obviously was not productive enough and subsequent to that, publishing this map, which again shows all of Arunachal Pradesh and parts of Ladakh in Chinese territory in between issuing stapled visas and then repeating their position, which actually makes it quite clear that they don't want to defuse the situation on the border. They want the relationship to be normalized otherwise without making China make any concessions. Plus, I think Xi Jinping does not seem to be ready as yet to have a summit meeting with President Biden. Now, if he had come here and President Biden was here, it was inevitable that the two would meet. And maybe the Chinese felt it was premature for Xi Jinping to meet Biden because the state is being set up for him to visit the United States for the APEC summit and then engage in some kind of summit meeting with Biden, preceding which the United States has been sending a lot of cabinet ministers, U.S. cabinet ministers to China to create the basis of some positive discussions. He may not have also wanted to give India a little feather in the cap that it was on Indian soil that Biden and Xi Jinping spoke and then some kind of forward movement in the relations took place. Then of course, he would have felt concerned that he may not get the kind of welcome that he thinks China and his personal stature entitle him to. Modi may not have actually sought a separate meeting with him and if a separate meeting did take place and nothing emerged. It was a setback both to his diplomacy and our diplomacy. So I think for all these reasons, he decided to stay away but their absence, the absence of the two leaders, has in a sense also helped in forging this consensus document.


HS: We will come to the consensus document and the G20 itself in just a moment. Let's stick with China for a second. Some people also believe that one of the reasons Xi Jinping never came to the G20 summit in New Delhi is because the situation in China economically and otherwise is steadily worsening. You know, and of course, most recently with the floods in Hong Kong, there's been a lot of bitter criticism of how the Hong Kong administration is being run by the Chinese Communist Party. So the overall atmosphere is quite, you know, in a sense volatile, which is the other reason why he didn't come. Would you agree with that?


KS: Frankly, no, because I don't think these are important enough developments for Xi to feel insecure about coming to a G20 summit. In fact, he sacrificed a lot because the G20 summit has obviously been dominated by the US president and other leaders and China is no way there, even in the coverage of the G20 event, China is being ignored. So in that sense, unnecessarily Xi Jinping has isolated himself.


HS: Do you think it was a mistake?


KS: Well from the Chinese point of view, it may not have been a mistake but from the international point of view, it certainly is a mistake because China wants to be now a peacemaker. It's on a peace offensive. It talks about all that it has done in bringing Saudi Arabia and Iran together. It actually even took the step, which was a bit surprising, of trying to be some kind of a mediator between Russia and Ukraine by sending a special envoy for Ukraine to both these countries and nothing came out of it. Now rather than trying to make peace far away in areas in which it is not directly involved, only indirectly involved, it is incapable of taking a peace initiative in an area in which it is directly involved, India. So let him first say or create more credibility for himself by making some gestures towards India to defuse the situation and then give credibility to his international peace offensive as a country that looks to resolve differences and bring opposite parties together, opposing parties together. Why can't he do it between India and China, which is an immediate issue? So his absence, therefore reduces his credibility that he is not ready to make peace or take any steps towards defusing the situation with India that would have made it possible for him to attend and get the right kind of welcome in India. So I don't think that it helps Chinese diplomacy. So those who say it was a snub to India I think the Chinese have succeeded in snubbing themselves.


HS: You must have heard the comments made by the Chinese ambassador in Nepal recently you know, comments which seemed particularly acerbic about India and India's situation, its position and so on and so forth. Some people have read those comments and you know, the openness with which those comments were shared as a marker to what you were just talking about, that China does not in fact want to make any effort to build any kind of consensus or bridge with India at this point in time. If that would be true, why do you think it's true?


KS: First of all, I don't know what he said, but can you tell me what precisely he said?


HS: So essentially, he said that India is still so poverty-stricken and they came out of this COVID pandemic and their recovery was so poor and what can India really offer Nepal? It can't offer Nepal anything compared to what China can give Nepal.


KS: Complete nonsense. Complete nonsense. Of course, he was trying to stir up those political circles in Nepal, which are traditionally anti-Indian. I have served there and I know how difficult it is to handle Nepal politically because they play on both wickets. They have done it for decades, and they have done it successfully and India is in a difficult position, because if it presses Nepal, then we push them more into the arms of China and if we don't do anything, if we are soft and if we are accommodating then they think there's no price to pay and nevertheless, they go and then embrace China, which they are doing. I would read the Chinese ambassador’s comments as something that is worrying them, something that is unsettling them, which is Prime Minister Modi's overtures to Nepal. The fact that the Prime Minister of Nepal came here and had a very successful visit. Even as an ex-Communist leader, he visited temples in Ujjain and everything else and a lot of projects that have been put on the Anvil, the connectivity projects in order to draw Nepal southwards towards India rather than leave the field open to China to develop connectivity towards the north. But leave that aside, even if they connect Tibet with Nepal, what has Tibet got to offer? I mean Tibet produces nothing. Does China want to trade with Nepal to Tibet? Look at the cost involved and Nepal is a very small market. So it is just that they are now feeling a bit insecure that India is going back to its position in Nepal after the differences that occurred some time ago over the ‘border closure’ and the map that the Nepalese issued. That is the reason why there is this kind of a flustered ambassador of China in Nepal who is making these idiotic statements. Nepal cannot survive without India and Nepal’s survival is not dependent on China. China cannot support Nepal. China can play certainly a negative role for us in Nepal, no doubt, which it has been playing. It can undermine, and it has done so already, Nepal as a buffer state between India and Tibet. And of course, China has its own concerns with regard to Tibetans who are coming into Nepal, who have come into Nepal and want to keep tight control over these elements and also be in a position to monitor and prevent any refugee flows of Tibetans into Nepal, et cetera, et cetera. Otherwise, I don't think beyond creating problems for us in Nepal, China has any great geopolitical ambition there, unconnected with its issues with India.


HS: We’ll then come to the G20 question, Mr. Sibal, and I want to ask you, how do you look at India's G20 efforts? We just spoke about the fact that there were 200 engagements across 60 locations. India really went all out to make this G20 event a big deal. In a sense, is this India's ‘coming out party’ as a rising power?


KS: In a sense, yes, I think like the Chinese used the 2008 Olympics as a ‘coming out party’ as you said. For us Prime Minister Modi right from the start decided that this will be the coming out party for India. Just as China in 2008 had already acquired the economic muscle and its economic capacities by then sufficiently and its manufacturing capabilities, it was the right time for it to put its mark on the international stage more visibly. Similarly, for India, because it is economically now already the fifth largest country slated to be the third largest by 2027. It is the fastest-growing large economy. Its relationship with United States is expanding very rapidly into very critical areas, technology areas. India has now established very close ties with the conservative regimes in the Gulf. In fact, the Saudi conference will have a state visit just after the G20 meeting is over. Plus,we are very active in ASEAN, and we're part of the I2U2. We are part of a new QUAD in the West, which is Saudi Arabia, UAE, India, and Israel, I think, generally speaking, India, because of the manner in which we have tried to put our mark on the international scene by wooing the Pacific Island states, by wooing the Caribbean states, now taking the lead in making the African Union, proposing a permanent membership of the African Union in the G20. All these things have given India an opportunity to put its mark on the international scene. Plus, of course, one should mention in terms of the digital transformation of the economy, I think what India has done is remarkable. This is being accepted by the World Bank, IMF, and other countries, and how this can be a productive model for developing countries in general. So in that sense, yes, the circumstances were very favorable for India at this point in time to make the most of the G20 event which we have done.


HS: People say that the question to ask is, where does India go from here? It's had a very successful G20 summit. It's managed to even drive a consensus where many people thought a consensus would not emerge. Where does it go from here? You mentioned, of course, that there would be a Saudi state visit. There is talk and we noticed that it was the Indian railway minister who went to the airport to receive the Saudi Prince. There's talk of a major infrastructure move involving many countries connecting the Middle East and India to a railway line. Some people see this as one of the countries that India and others are building China's BRI projects. Where does India go from here?


KS: Well, I think India will continue to pursue the policies it is pursuing, which is to forge closer ties with the United States, with Europe, with the Gulf monarchies, do these connectivity projects which you have just mentioned, which have huge potential. At the same time, maintain its very close ties with Russia, put its focus also on the international North-South corridor, which the Russians now are pushing much more and Iran is cooperating with it because of the sanctions on Russia and the need for them to find alternative channels for their exports and economic ties, et cetera. We will do that. Similarly, the Prime Minister made this special effort, even though he was going to chair the G20 meeting to rush to Indonesia for the East Asian Security Summit and the India-ASEAN dialogue, which also indicates that part of our Look Eas-t Act East policy is being taken very seriously. With Africa, as you can see, we have stepped up our engagement. Mind you, in Africa, America now is trying to recover a lot of ground to face the Chinese challenge. The Europeans are the French in particular and China, in any case, as we know, has made deep inroads and now Russia is trying to recover the position the Soviet Union had in Africa. They had this St. Petersburg meeting where lots of African leaders were present in order to show that Russia is not isolated. So everybody is focusing on Africa. And we are there too. Plus in the digital domain, making the rupee more and more a medium of exchange, trade exchanges with other countries. We began with UAE, with Singapore, and in a very, very, very small tentative way with France. With France, as you know, the state visit was very successful and with France, we've always had a very wide-ranging relationship and France is becoming even more critical for us in Europe because Germany has lost ground tremendously. Germany, frankly, first of all, their economy is not in good shape and their outlook is not very good. Plus, whatever little independence they showed in foreign policy at the time of the Iraq conflict in the past, that has collapsed. Now they're taking the dictates from Washington. So in geopolitical terms, Germany cannot be the main partner or a significant partner for India in Europe and with its economy in trouble, even the outlook on that front may not be as fertile as we might think. So with France, although the French economy is also not doing too well, but with France, we have a wide-ranging strategic relationship and France therefore will be a critical partner for us in Europe. And hopefully, this FTA with Europe will progress well. So in terms of what India will do going forward, frankly, to sum it up, is to maintain friendly ties with all countries. Keep the dialogue open with China also, because that helps us to preserve what we want to preserve, which is our strategic autonomy. We are also in favor of multipolarity. We may want to be very close to the United States and we are becoming close. But that does not mean that we don't want a more democratic and more equitable world order.

Which therefore means that while we become close to the West, we will continue to function constructively within the SCO, within BRICS, so that the larger objective of a cooperative multipolarity and a distribution of power within the global system, moving from the West to the East, and a more balanced international relationship, a more balanced international order, that will be our goal.


HS: I want to ask you, I want to return to the infrastructure question in just a moment, but I want to ask you, some commentators have recently pointed out that perhaps the BRICS gathering, so to speak, will not give India what it wants in the future. As the BRICS expands, there will be many countries who have extremely diverse sets of priorities, many countries that are authoritarian and what India would get out of that gathering would not be clear and its tangible benefits would not be clear. Do you buy that logic?


KS: Not at all. When it comes to authoritarianism, there are two kinds of authoritarianism. One is authoritarianism within countries. One is authoritarianism on the international stage. So what authoritarian are we talking about? I think we have to combat authoritarianism on the international stage. And that's where BRICS and everything becomes important. Number two, after all, BRICS has survived for good or for bad despite fundamental differences between two of its key founders, China and India. If despite that, BRICS has been able to function and have some credibility, I think with the inclusion of additional partners, even if they have differences amongst them and have different priorities, BRICS will be able to function. Now look at, for example, G7. It's not as if the G7 are agreed within this group on everything. On the contrary, Europe is feeling there's a lot of anti-American sentiment developing in Europe, in many circles, and they've had differences in the past and will continue to have differences on economic issues, even on security issues. Look at what President Macron is saying, that we don't want to be camp followers. They're not at all happy with the way the USA dealing with China on the Taiwan issue. They don't want to be pushed into a conflict with China because the United States has a certain view and a certain policy towards China. So there are serious differences there. So why is it that difference is there? Now, for example, even during Trump's presidency, the manner in which Japan was so worried about Trump's overtures to North Korea. They were extremely nervous. Abe kept running to the United States to be reassured that nothing would happen that would imperil the security of Japan. So it's not as if, and therefore if there are going to be differences between countries in an expanded BRICS group. It is a fact of international life but nevertheless, beyond that there is a global international agenda on which countries can agree. Look at G20 itself. There are serious differences in the G20 with north south east west, yet you look at this 37-page joint statement that has been issued which covers the entire gamut of all the concerns of the international community and they've been able to agree on this. Similarly in BRICS, despite all these differences, they'll be able to forge a consensus, a broad consensus on issues on which there are shared interests. Now, there will be one or two difficult issues in the case of Iran, for example, its relationship with the United States, the sanctions policy and everything else. They have a particular position on Palestine. They're very aggressive. Even the Gulf monarchies are not. They might want to push a little bit in that direction but that doesn't mean that if a country has a particular viewpoint on a certain issue, which is not shared by others, it can have its way. No. Some kind of common language can always be found which reflects the basic concerns of these countries which basically boils down to very simply multipolarity which actually should not from the Indian point of view mean being anti-west it should just mean that there should be a more democratic and equitable International order which is not the case today, which is not the case today and the manner in which the West had handled the Ukraine crisis which from the West's point of view may have been logical given their concerns about the European security architecture and everything else but for the rest of the world, what the United States has done in weaponizing finance, unilateral sanctions, confiscating of foreign exchange reserves, gold reserves of countries, confiscating the property of individuals without the sanction of law, all these things down the line will create concerns in other countries that we should have a system where this kind of arbitrary action is not possible, but let's see.


HS: I want to therefore come to the other argument that has been placed this week that, well, even if India has a successful G20 outing, what can India really do in proving that it can be a leader of the global south? The crux of that argument is, materially speaking, it doesn't have enough to offer to the global south as China does in terms of money, in terms of infrastructure, and other assistance. Do you buy that argument?


KS: Well, first of all, we are not in competition with China, nor should we be in competition with China. We have our own strengths and we should work on those strengths with the global south countries. We are not in this infrastructure business. Though in the neighborhood we are doing that but we don't have the capacity to do it elsewhere on the same scale as in China. Number two, why China has done all these infrastructure products, but there's a lot of resistance going. I mean, we were the first to oppose the BRI and the language that we use on the BRI has now become the language of the international community. In fact, in all the joint statements that are issued here and there, when it comes to connectivity issues and this and that, the language is taken up about the deficiencies of the BRI structure, the debt entrapment and financial norms are not followed, the decision making is opaque. Actually, all the decisions are taken by China and it's not as if there's consultation with the countries about what the projects they need. It is what the Chinese companies require in terms of greater market access and using the capacity which then decides primarily what the projects China will finance and then the Chinese projects have very little grant element. First of all, one doesn't know what the interest rates are. You know, Pakistan had that problem. IMF wanted to know what the interest rates were, but the Pakistani refused to divulge that because they're higher than whatever international rates are. So things like that. So there's resistance in some countries to BRI keeping what happened in Sri Lanka and Hambantota.


HS: The loans are going bad. I mean, the rhodium group in the US has calculated that exponentially large numbers of these loans under BRI are becoming bad loans.


KS: Exactly. So, therefore, the BRI is not really a model which can be projected as the best form of assistance to the global south. India in terms of capacity building, education, health, the digital area and things like that. We are doing that fairly successfully and there is there is no backlash That is one, the other is that now we are joining hands although it has not proved very successful so far. America and India joining hands, France and India joining hands, and Japan and India joining hands to see what they can do in terms of connectivity projects in the global south as such. This is not going to be easy because, you know, to marry the interests of companies of diverse countries in an effective manner doesn't work out as well as you might imagine but in terms of the leadership of the global south, I think we have to be a little careful. about talking too much about the leadership of the global south. The global south resents any country that wants to take leadership. That leadership should come without it being noticed, and the countries should look out to India for what India can give them without feeling that India is patronizing and wants to be a leader. Now Africa has the African Union. The African Union has become a permanent member of the G20. It's 55 countries, I think, in the African Union. So who will take the leadership of these African countries? The African Union or India? So countries like South Africa, in fact, are being pretty active. The South African president took a delegation of African leaders to Moscow to represent the concerns of the African countries about the consequences of the Ukraine War. They did it independently of India. Similarly, in the United Nations, the African Union decides on candidatures and etc etc etc. So there again that kind of leadership within the United Nations General Assembly is left to the African countries, the Latin American countries, Brazil being a very powerful country and a leader there, now Argentina has joined BRICS and everything else, they have their own role in terms of promoting their interest. ASEAN, as you can see, has a very well-defined personality and very well-defined ideas. They want to be the hub of any future Asian security architecture. They are very careful in not wanting to fall in between stools when it comes to China and the United States. What leadership can India give them in this regard? They're going to decide as ASEAN. So I think we have to be very careful when you talk about leadership of the global south. Now, if you say the leadership of the global south in a very restrictive sense that India got the opportunity to chair the G20 and since it was chairing the G20, it wanted the concerns of the global south to be put on the G20 agenda, that the G20 agenda should not be entirely dictated by the policy and preferences of the G7 plus the EU and therefore consulted leaders of the global south to see what their expectations and concerns are. So in that sense, leadership in terms of the G20 deliberation is fine but for the rest, I think we should continue our long-standing policy of reaching out to the developing countries, to the global south, forge economic ties with them, build political support from these countries for our aspirations in the United Nations and elsewhere, when it comes to elections in the UN, these countries are very important and our future is certainly linked to a power shift from the north to the south. So in that sense, whatever role we can play, not as the leader of the global south, but as a major country of the global south, as a preeminent country in many ways in the global south, we should play a role. China is actually not a member of the global south. It has never been. Even when it comes to G77, it is G77 plus China. China has never considered itself as part of the global south. They are very hierarchical. We think they want to be at the top of the heap. They want to have a G2. They are not interested in this global south business except to leverage their financial and economic power to bring the global south countries into their fold in order to be able to challenge the United States of America. That is not our ambition.


HS: I want to talk about two things. First, the entire bit about Africa, which you just mentioned. You know, the African Union joining the G20 in this G20 Summit, chaired by India taken as a certain moment, so to speak, where the influence and the importance of Africa, is being brought on the table in many ways, not just for today but actually also as a block of the future, where future global growth will come from. India's ties with Africa seem to be growing too. How do you see that?


KS: Well, India, as you know, took the initiative to make the African Union a permanent member of the G20 and the Prime Minister said that in his speech, in his remarks to the G20 meeting. So to that extent, India has stemmed to these credentials as a supporter of the global south. That is one. Number two, in terms of the leadership of the global south, when it comes to G20 discussions, the African Union will speak for itself and they are a major part of the global south. Therefore we shouldn't have that feeling that we want to be a leader and it is through us that the concerns of the global south should be reflected on the global stage. Number three, the African Union is there like the European Union. European Union has a lot of internal issues. In fact, many now wonder where the European Union is headed and this is despite the fact that they have a great history of working together and civilizationally and culturally, they have a lot of commonalities. It’'s a small continent and they want to build they have built Europe based on their values and the end and, of course, they want a peaceful Europe given the background which they walked but Africa is extremely diverse. I mean, there is Africa north of the Sahara then you have the Africa south of the Sahara. Then you have West Africa, you've got East Africa. You've got Central Africa. You got this Southern Africa. Parts of it were colonized by the French, parts were colonized by the British in the past, some were colonized by Germans, et cetera, et cetera. Then of course they have these various economic organizations within Africa. They are trying to work together as much as possible but it's not easy. I mean, look at look at our own South Asia. It's just a handful of countries and look how it's difficult for us to work together. So to expect that the African Union simply because it is ‘African Union’ actually means they're united, I think, is not realistic.


KS: Do you think growing ties, as we're seeing, say between Egypt and India for instance you know suggest a new move? And we know that the Chinese have been very active in Africa for a long time. Do you see, in a sense, India countering that at the moment?


HS: I don't think that we should base our policy on countering China. I mean, our interests in Africa are not determined or linked either in the past or today to China. We have independent interests in Africa. We have had long ties with Africa. We've had many people of Indian origin who have lived in parts of Africa. We now are growing trade relationships with the parts of Africa. Some of our companies are very active there. So we should pursue that trajectory and if pursuing that trajectory helps us to balance China, so be it, but China will do what it can. It has the resources. It has ambitions. I would say that the manner in which China operates in Africa. I don't think that they made too many friends because they bring Chinese laborers to work on projects there. They're isolated culturally. They are very different from these countries and they keep their cultural exclusiveness. Culturally, I don't think they are able to relate as easily to the Africans as perhaps the Indians can but anyway, I don't think for us, we should sum it up. We are obsessed with China's policies in Africa and its penetration of Africa and that it should be the motivation for us to expand our ties with Africa. The motivation for us should be independent of China and some countries in Africa are going very rapidly. We understand the importance of Africa. The Prime Minister visited a few countries. He went to Uganda. He went to Kenya. He went to Rwanda on one of his visits. We have traditional ties with South Africa. I think we should continue to build on that.


HS: Let's talk about the Middle East. We began this conversation by referring to the Middle East


KS: Yes. You talked about Egypt. Now Egypt's issues basically are in what we call the Middle East or West Asia. In the sense, traditionally, the whole Israel-Palestine issue. Now, of course, Libya is a big issue since Libya is next door and Egypt has a lot of interest in Libya. Then, of course, Ethiopia because the River Nile flows through Ethiopia into Egypt and Ethiopia is building this huge hydroelectric project there, which is a cause of deep concern to Egypt. It's always been from the time that I was ambassador there, I have some feelings about that but further afield, Egypt doesn't have much of a role in Africa south of the Sahara. In the Arab-speaking part of North Africa, including Sudan, yes, Egypt has a role to play. So our relationship with Egypt is based on a few things. One, of course, is the old ties that we had with Egypt. Number two, Egypt remains the strongest Arab power, militarily and culturally. There are a lot of economic prospects today. We are making huge investments in green hydrogen in Egypt, there's interest in the defense sector. Both sides want to build a stronger relationship, but that dynamism is essentially bilateral and not so much, to my mind, inserted into West Asian politics because there, the players really are the Gulf monarchies, Iran, Syria and Iraq.


HS: That's exactly the region I wanted to come to, the Middle East. We began this conversation by talking about this railway line that is envisaged from the Middle East to India. A lot of activity happening across the board, UAE, Saudi Arabia, and India- Saudi ties seem to have gone into an overdrive also. Talk to us a little bit about what you see happening there.


KS: I think it's a visionary project. It can be a very successful one because these countries, first of all, the trade route to this region connecting us to Europe would be potentially of great interest. That is one, but other than that, in the perspective of the FTA with the UAE and the growth of our economic ties and then the plans that these countries have, if you look at their 2030 Vision of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the massive, massive projects that they have in view, massive investments and development prospects. India wants a share of that. Now, once you create this kind of connectivity, you can better access these markets and increase your presence in these areas. The other thing is food security. These countries import food. India can be a big source of supply of food to these countries. And this connectivity will also help in that direction. So I think it's a very good project but we are at the very initial stages, at the conceptual stage, and let's see how it goes forward.


HS: We come to the end of this conversation, Ambassador, I want to talk to you, bring this conversation back to the G20. We began by saying that India hosting the G20, in a sense was a ‘coming out party’ for India, like it was for China in 2008. There's a big election coming up in India next year and surely such events speak equally to domestic audiences as they do to international ones. There seems to be consensus building in India. It seemed to be absent for a long time, the recognition that India has a destiny as a global power, it is a rising power. And there are certain things that rising powers need to do. Tell us a little bit about where India goes next in terms of defining its route to rise, so to speak. You know, what are the next steps? One, of course, is economic. You know, getting to that 5 trillion, 6 trillion would be critical by 2030. What are the other challenges and solutions that you see? You know, you mentioned a number of times in this conversation, digital public infrastructure, and that, of course, is one big thing that India is not only doing for itself, but also offering to the world. You just mentioned food. What other aspects of India's rise do you see now that have to be underlined both internationally and domestically so that there is greater consensus in going forward on its path to rising?


HS: Well, one is the shifting of supply chains. There are now concerns about China more and more and they want to shift supply chains away and have the China plus one strategy, we have not been able to benefit from that to the extent that we should have been able to. But then with all this Gati Shakti and all the infrastructure projects that we are having, we are creating the basis for the supply chains to shift to India because some of the deficiencies in our infrastructure, in the way we handle certain issues whether it's land acquisition, this and that. So all these things, if we can address, we will inevitably see more and more companies installing themselves here. Number two, in the emerging and critical technologies, India has acquired credibility, frankly and in some subtle ways which are not directly connected. Well, let me put it differently in subtle ways, which may not be material, but which affects psychologically, which is that the heads of most of the important IT companies, and technology companies are people of Indian origin. So that actually strengthens the belief that India has very capable human potential. Now, with the rest of the world's advanced economies are growing, aging and needing trained manpower. I'm currently in Europe. I was in France earlier. The kind of manpower they need, trained manpower, the new skilled manpower they need because they can't they can't support their lifestyles, their economies unless they have enough manpower and that's if we can have skilled manpower to offer to these countries. We will be doing ourselves and to these countries a great deal of good. Coming back to the whole area of advanced and critical technologies, this is the area of the future. This is where China has gained an advantage in some areas, even over the West and we need to catch up. We need to catch up in the semiconductor area and electronics in general, for which we can make domestic efforts, but we need foreign assistance, investment and everything else. So that is one area on which we have to move forward in a very determined and well-thought-out manner which I think we're trying to do. The other thing, of course, is the stability of the government in India, in the sense that the kind of polarization that we see in the United States, we see to some extent, some extent, in India. It's a bit disappointing how even the opposition is trying to diminish India's success in the handling of G20, sniping away at it but we need a strong, stable government, not a coalition government, not a hotspot government, preferably a single majority government which can then push the reforms that our system needs. Therefore, the 2024 elections become important in this regard. Now, whether, and there can be more than one view, whether in terms of social harmony, this and that, what is happening in India is not desirable or it should be handled differently. You can always have different views on it. But my own view would be that this is an inevitable part of the growth of India as a self-confident country, which wants to have an identity of its own. It has had a kind of mixed identity so far. Now the effort is that as we rise, as we become stronger, we should have a specific identity of our own. This doesn't mean that we don't relate to the rest of the world on the contrary. On the contrary, we remain open to the world, but open to the world as, as Bharat, if you like, in some ways, in some ways. So that is another challenge that the government, that country, and the society have to face. I can't think of anything else.


HS: Let me ask you, because that was going to be my last question, and you preempted it, so that's wonderful. One of the things that was noticed today, of course, was not only that the, you know, which had been commented on earlier, that the invitation said, you know, President of Bharat and Prime Minister of Bharat, even today, in front of the Prime Minister, the sort of, you know, the tag said Bharat, Prime Minister of Bharat. Tell us finally. What is your opinion on the nomenclature? The constitution allows both nomenclatures, Bharat and India, that's very clear. Either can be used. But Bharat as a nomenclature takes precedence. What is your opinion about that?


KS: You know, all of us right from the time of independence have been used to describing ourselves as India and as Indians. The English language population of our country has always spoken of India and Indians. That has been the preferred nomenclature or description. Now the shift from that to Bharat is a huge psychological change for the educated English-speaking part of our polity and our society. Technically, the constitution itself says India, that is Bharat and there was discussion at the time of the constituent assembly why India should only be Bharat or Bharat, that is India, the reverse, that kind of thing. Tthere would be people in India, especially parts of the opposition, the southern part of the country, which may not support this change in nomenclature, because they'll associate it with the assertion of the Hindutva or the Hindu identity of India, et cetera, et cetera. There can always be a question of whether the timing was right or the timing is not right, whether this sort of a change should have been made post-2024, or whether it is better to do it prior to 2024. In a democratic society, there can be different views and people can express them. If you ask me personally, I think that's a very good question. Frankly, how can a country have an identity of its own when its name has an origin outside the country? India, goes back to Greek times or whatever. I mean, do we describe ourselves in the way in which others want to describe us or should we describe ourselves in a way that comes from our indigenous roots? So from that point of view, leaving aside the complexity of the matter and everything else, I think emotionally, I think if you identify yourself by the origins of this country. I think that is more desirable. More desirable.


HS: Ambassador, thanks very much for your time. I really appreciate you spending time and talking us through India's G20 efforts, what is coming after G20, its various endeavors around the world, and of course, concluding with the nomenclature of the rising power that is India. Thanks very much, Ambassador Sibal, for joining me from London. Thanks for your time.


KS: My pleasure. Thank you very much.



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