India’s foreign policy fine-tuned to new challenges: Sushma

New Delhi, Dec 18 (IANS) India has fine-tuned its foreign policy in the past 18 months to address new geopolitical challenges such as rising fundamentalism to its west and sharper territorial claims in the east, while also focusing on its economic engagement with the world, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said on Friday.

At the same time, alluding to India’s ties with its South Asian neighbours, notably Nepal and Pakistan, Swaraj told a business event here some proactive steps were taken to engage with their leadership to fetch some “commendable” achievements.

“It was apparent that decisive policies were required to address longstanding problems and create a larger zone of cooperation,” Sushma Swaraj told the annual meeting of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci) here.

“To our west, a new spectre of fundamentalist terror aggravated an already unstable region, threatening to spread its tentacles beyond. Given our energy dependence and community presence, its challenge could not be underestimated,” she said.

“To the east, changes in the power balance and sharper territorial claims were impacting the security environment.”

The external affairs minister said that in Asia, India’s ability to influence key debates on connectivity and maritime security was clearly central to the securing of national interests.

“Indians, whose aspirations are as much for the nation as for themselves, looked forward to effective diplomacy that would make credible headway in that regard,” Sushma Swaraj said, giving a review of the NDA government’s foreign policy working over the year.

She also referred to the emphasis given to economy in India’s foreign policy.

“It is apparent that many of the flagship programmes of the government can be significantly strengthened through international collaboration. Consequently, much of our diplomacy focus has shifted to its economic dimensions, especially in facilitating business interactions,” she said.

According to Sushma Swaraj, spreading the message of “easier to do business” has been a major goal and the results are already being seen.

“There has been a marked increase in FDI commitments in the last year, estimated at 40 percent more than the one before,” she said.

She also mentioned the “Make in India”, “Skill India”, and “Digital India” initiatives in this context.

The external affairs minister said that India has immensely boosted its ties with major world powers.

“India’s relations with major powers have seen an upswing across the board since we assumed office,” she said.

“The strengthening of the relationship with the US is evident in President (Barack) Obama’s visit on January 26 (as chief guest for the Republic Day celebrations), the resolution of the nuclear liability problem and our working together on global issues. With key European powers like France, Germany and UK, our security and economic cooperation has expanded visibly.”

Sushma Swaraj said that China “has been engaged with a greater sense of confidence, whether it is on the boundary problem or on exploring economic opportunities”.

“With Russia we have deepened an already robust strategic partnership. As for Japan, all of you would have recognised the significance of the bullet train understanding as much as the conclusion of the civil nuclear cooperation negotiations,” she said.

She also drew attention to greater emphasis being laid on ties with India’s South Asian neighbours, saying “foreign policy begins on our borders”.

“Ties with Pakistan have predictably been the most challenging to take forward. However, the recent NSA (national security advisor)-level dialogue on security and terrorism and the establishment of a comprehensive bilateral dialogue following my visit to Islamabad now offers a pathway,” she said.

“With Nepal, our traditionally close relations were taken to the next level by this government. By calling for an inclusive Nepal and urging a political solution to long pending political problems, we are committed to unity, peace and stability of Nepal which will create a more durable foundation for our bilateral relations to prosper.”

While the longstanding boundary dispute with Bangladesh has been solved, Sushma Swaraj said with a new government in place in Sri Lanka, “we are expanding bilateral cooperation, while addressing the ethnic problem”.

She also said that great trouble has been taken to strengthen India’s relationship with its diaspora.

“This is reflected in better passport services, simplified visa procedures and changes in PIO/OCI cards,” she stated, while referring to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s direct interactions with the diaspora during trips abroad.

Alluding to India’s show of its soft power, she referred to the International Day of Yoga and other activities “ranging from language conferences and performing arts to promotion of ayurveda”.

“The overall image of India that we have managed to project, even in a short while, is of a country that is serious about meeting its commitments and responsibilities,” Sushma Swaraj said.

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