At an e-Adda held this week, days before he left for Moscow for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meet, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar spoke on the complex relationship between India and China, engaging with the US, and his new book The India Way: Strategies for an Uncertain World

"The state of the border cannot be delinked from the state of the relationship."

On Capturing A Changing World In His book

The Ramnath Goenka Memorial Lecture (2019), in a more expanded form, is one of the chapters of the book. And I call it ‘The Dogmas of Delhi’, since I used that term in the lecture. But what is the book about? I think the starting point would be that it’s a very different world. Because all of us, myself included, we are all creatures of habits, we are creatures of assumptions. So we tend to fall back on that’s how it was before or the last time I did it. So why I emphasise that it’s a changing world and a different world is because if you look at the players, you look at the weight of the players, you look at the relationship of the players, you look at the idea that what is even a relationship, what is influence, what is power, all of this has changed. So the sense I had was that this was not the world I knew. And if someone like me was sort of grappling to deal with this world then imagine how much more complicated it would be for others. So, I had this sense, that let me try and apply my experience and my insights to these changes, try to explain it in a way in which people will understand.

On Alluding To Mahabharata

I grew up in a household where politics and history were regular topics of discussion. And very early on we read the Mahabharata. The more I reflected on it, two aspects of it struck me. Here I am grappling with decisions and yet I have an account, it’s that knowledge, that sense is there within me, so why am I searching for answers when many of the answers are there. So in a sense, this is my Aatma Nirbhar Bharat moment. The other bit of it was competitive. I’ve lived large periods of my life abroad, looked at other cultures, listened to their narratives and wondered to myself, why is it that I know their stories, but they don’t know mine. It was also, for me, a part of what I would call cultural rebalancing.

Analysts say the Chinese military response is a clear message to the U.S. to stop what it is doing, since the Chinese side took similar actions when the U.S. health secretary visited in August. (Representative image)China flies 18 warplanes near Taiwan during US envoy's visit

On Mastering Mind Games With China And The US

When I wrote the book, and even otherwise, I meant this more as a general, broad mindset. I obviously use it in world politics but to me, it’s a natural part of the competition. So how do you build your competitive skills? Because when any country rises, the country will be tested, it will be challenged. The world will not let any country, any society rise — you can call it kind of Newton’s third law of politics. For every rise, there will be a pushback. So you have to manage that pushback. When you’re tested, you have to stand your ground.

On Whether India Misread The Strategic Intentions of China

I don’t think we misread. But the fact that there are elements of competition between India and China, and that we have a difficult recent history is not a secret to anybody. So when you say, how did we misread China, I would actually ask you to reflect on it. What are the conversations we’ve been having about China? We’ve been having conversations today about their position on issues of deep interest to us. It could be sovereignty issues, security issues, connectivity issues, economic issues. So the fact that we actually have been having active conversations on issues where our interests have not converged, don’t suggest any complacency.

Now, if you actually look at the last two-three years, in 2017, because there were so many issues of active conversation, the feeling was that the leaders of the country needed to engage each other directly. This was agreed to in June of 2017 in Astana. A few days after that we had the Doklam problem. So the meeting took place a year later in China, in Wuhan. And then last year, it happened in Chennai. These were conversations about, we are rising, you are rising, we are going to be among the major powers of the world. We are both civilisation States, we are the only two billion-plus, we are the only two old civilisations which will make it into the fourth industrial revolution. There is both a past we need to take into account and a future that we need to cater for. And we happen to be neighbours, and we also happen to be rising approximately in the sort of same parallel timeframe.

On The Border Standoff

If peace and tranquillity on the border are not a given, then it cannot be the rest of the relationship continues on the same basis. The state of the border cannot be delinked from the state of the relationship. And I wrote this before that unfortunate incident happened in Galwan. Now the issue also brings into focus the fact that we have a number of understandings with China on the border management, which go back to 1993. Now, those understandings, for example, fairly clearly stipulate that both countries will keep forces at a minimum level at the border. Now, if these are not observed, then it raises very important questions.

On India-China Future

India and China must try to find mutual accommodation because their ability to do that will determine the Asian century or not. As I said, two billion-plus societies, two civilizational societies, two neighbouring societies. This is very unusual because it’s not often in history that you have proximate neighbours rising parallelly. So, the point is that today, I regard this as a very, very complex relationship but it is my responsibility to steer it in the right direction. And that is what, to my mind, Indian diplomacy should focus on.

On The Special Interest With The US

To some degree, part of the answer is in history. If you looked at the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, even part of the ’80s, the United States behaved in a way in which we could reasonably conclude that it was not comfortable with our development and rise, so people often would attribute it to the conflicts, you know, where were they in Kashmir on ’48? How did they behave in the ’65 conflict with Pakistan, ’71 Bangladesh. Then the fact that they were particularly close at that time with China and Pakistan. Now, the irony is during the same period, actually, the United States also did a lot of things in our support. You might say the traumatic moments were a stronger memory, but there’s also an elite attitude problem. So, a lot of this suspicion of America is very much a Lutyens Delhi problem. The Indian street actually realised the value of the American relationship much earlier than Lutyens’ Delhi did. Part of it is, you know, people here make it out as though it’s very nationalistic. Frankly, they had a kind of what I would say is a London School of Economics outlook to the world.

On Reorientation of The Economy

If you look back at the last 20 to 30 years, nobody can deny that our manufacturing has been significantly severely impacted by cheap imports. We had taken globalisation as saying we will become more competitive. Now, fast forward 20 years, what are you actually seeing? Can you honestly tell me that because of this openness, because of all these FTAs today, India is more innovative, India is more competitive, Indian manufacturing is thriving, Indian exports are booming, and they’re not. I agree that you cannot be a rising power without being a rising economy. To do that, you have to build your domestic capacities. Look, we are one of the few countries where today we have to give our own industry a level-playing field at home. So, my point is that today we must be sensitive, we must be caring of building capabilities at home and I think that Aatma Nirbhar Bharat is a motivational effort, it is a policy effort as well.

On Zero Diplomacy With Neighbours As The New Diplomatic Tool

This is not a question of zero diplomacy and you know, I have a core interest and I have a problem and therefore I’m not engaging. It is an issue of who is setting the terms of engagement, what are the terms of the engagement, what is the framework of the engagement? What is the kind of conversation, who will determine it, who’s making the move to shape the direction, and pace, shape the agenda, determine the agenda in a way. For a country, any country and that too a country like India, to forgo that option, to say, okay, I’d love to have good relations with everybody and by the way you set the agenda and I will come, I don’t think that’s the foreign policy we should have.