Bratislava/New Delhi: External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Friday rejected suggestions that India was seeking a transactional approach with the West regarding its “difficult relationship with China” vis-à-vis the Ukraine conflict, saying New Delhi is “perfectly capable of managing” its ties with Beijing.
He also rebuffed suggestions that India was ignoring the Ukraine conflict, saying PM Modi had personally spoken with the leaders of both Russia and Ukraine on ending the fighting.
Asked at the GLOBESEC session titled ‘Taking Friendship to the Next Level: Allies in the Indo-Pacific’, what axis India would choose to align with, the one led by the West, a US-led one, or the one led by China, the EAM rejected the notion, saying India is “entitled to have my own side, weigh my own interests, make my own choices.”
He rejected a question on whether India was acting as a “transshipment” medium for the export of Russian oil.
Exclaiming, the EAM asked whether the questioner knew what the word meant. “Transshipment is when you get oil and you sell it to somebody else. I’ve not even heard of anybody in India thinking along those lines,” he said, and added that the report by the Wall Street Journal was inaccurate.
“Please understand the oil markets. There’s an enormous shortage of oil. There’s a physical shortage of oil. Getting access to oil is difficult. Would a country like India be crazy to get oil from somebody and sell it to somebody else? I mean, this is nonsense!,” he added.
Asked whether the Indian government was not ignoring the “war crimes in Ukraine by not condemning Russia and not slapping sanctions”, and how New Delhi could be “trusted by others after that” and why would anyone help Delhi with China after it didn’t help others on Ukraine, the EAM slammed the West, especially Europe, for having ignored Asia in the past and for seeing the world through a Europe centric vision.
“It’s an interesting question which people might want to ask…. Because if I were to take Europe collectively, which has been singularly silent on many things which were happening, for example, in Asia, you could ask why would anybody in Asia trust Europe on anything at all?“, he retorted.
“I think you’re mischaracterizing our position,” he said, and added that India has condemned the Bucha killings in Ukraine and asked for an investigation.
“In terms of what is happening with the Ukraine conflict, our position is clearly that we favour an immediate cessation of hostilities. It’s not that we’ve ignored it, unless you call phone calls to Putin and Zelenskyy as ignoring something. First I would urge you to get the factual position correctly.”
He rejected the connection being made between the Ukraine conflict and the India-China tensions.
“Secondly, in terms of the connection you’re making…, We have a difficult relationship with China, and we are perfectly capable of managing it. If I get global understanding and support, obviously it’s of help to me. But this idea that I do a transaction, that I come in in conflict one, because it will help me in conflict two, this is not how the world works.
“A lot of our problems with China have nothing to do with Russia nothing to do with Ukraine. They are predated. And if you’re getting into who is silent at what point of time I would point to a whole lot of issues when Europe has sort of held its peace,” he said, in thinly veiled sarcasm.
“…Europe has to grow out of the mindset that Europe’s problems are the world’s problems, but the world’s problems are not Europe’s problems. That, if it is you it’s yours, if it is me it’s ours,” he said, slamming the West.
“And I see reflections of that again in terms of there is a linkage being made today between China and India and what’s happening in Ukraine. Come on guys! China and India happened way before what is happening in Ukraine!”, he said.
“The Chinese don’t need a precedent somewhere else in the world on how to engage us or not engage us, or be difficult with us or not be difficult with us. I see this as frankly as a not very clever argument, a very self-serving one,” the EAM said, not mincing his words.
On what axis India would choose, a US-led Western one, or the other one, he said:
“And this idea that, you know, your grand strategy must be about how you will choose. I will do as all of us do, I will weigh the situation. How do countries eventually make decisions? “
When the questioner persisted, and said “there will always be two axis, with the US-led West, and China as a potential axis. Where do you fit into this is exactly?” the EAM rejected the notion strongly.
“This is where I disagree with you; this is the construct that you are trying to impose on me, and I don’t accept it.
“I don’t think it’s necessary for me to join this axis or not, and if I’m not joining this axis I must be with the other one, I don’t accept it…
“I think I am one fifth of the world’s population, I am today the fifth or sixth largest economy in the world; forget the history, civilisation bit, everyone knows that. I think I am entitled to have my own side, I think I’m entitled to weigh my own interests, make my own choices.”
“And my choices will not be cynical or transactional, but they will be a balance of my values and my interests, there is no country in the world that disregards its interests,” he emphasised.
“I don’t think we’re sitting on the fence just because I don’t agree with you. That doesn’t make me sitting on the fence; It means I am sitting on my ground. And my ground is actually what are the big challenges of the world,” he said, and added climate change, terrorism, sustainable development goals, and the emergence of a new world order as the new challenges of the world where India could play a key role.
He said that in the case of a lot of humanitarian crises and natural disasters countries in the world were looking towards India for help.
“The world is changing, new players are coming up, a new agenda is coming. ..The world cannot be Euro-centric as it used to be in the past,” he added,
Earlier in the question-answer session, the EAM said that India had handled the pandemic very prudently.
He said the Modi government has just completed eight years in office, and enumerated the welfare schemes, including providing food support to 800 million people for two years, “like the population of US and EU put together”; launched a publicly supported house ownership programme, which covers about 115 million beneficiaries, “almost like building houses for Japan”; and a programme to replace firewood with gas, which has impacted 80 million people “like changing Germany’s kitchen”.
“So there’s a lot going on there”, and added that many of the global developments today have the potential of putting these programmes “under stress”.
To a reference on India’s ties with China, he said: “Yes, we are going through a particularly difficult patch in our relationship with China. We’ve had differences in the past but we’ve never had a situation where after 1962 where really agreements on bringing forces to the border have been disregarded; a very large number of forces have been brought to the border and we’ve had a clash and people have died. It happened two years ago. And, so in a sense…it’s a bit of a diversion, but it’s also a useful reminder to Europe that there were other things happening in the rest of the world that Europe sometimes does not pay attention to,” taking a jibe at the West.
“And there’s also Afghanistan. What happened, the circumstances in which the western world, particularly American forces left, and now we have Ukraine.”
He also praised central European countries for helping in the evacuation of Indian students from Ukraine.
On the Ukraine conflict, he said: “But I think it’s also important for people to realize how this is playing out in the rest of the world, it is creating a huge fuel crisis, a food crisis and pushing inflation and it is a situation which can quickly become political in many societies…”
He said the Ukraine conflict has begun impacting daily lives. “It is affecting petrol prices, wheat prices, it will impact farmers, and is impacting business in many ways; so it is disrupting life,” he said, adding that the Covid lockdown in China recently was also having an impact.