Neighbourhood strong priority for Indian foreign policy: Jaishankar

New Delhi, April 6 (IANS) India’s neighbourhood is a strong priority for New Delhi’s foreign policy initiatives, Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar said on Wednesday.

“In the last many months, you would have all become familiar with our broad approaches to foreign policy,” Jaishankar said while delivering the keynote speech at the launch of Carnegie India, the sixth international centre of the Carnegie Endowment for International Pease.

“Probably, the phrase heard most in that connection is ‘neighbourhood first’,” he said.

New Delhi is the sixth international centre of the Carnegie Endowment after Washington, Moscow, Beijing, Beirut and Brussels.

Jaishankar said that “neighbourhood first” was “meant to convey a strong sense of priority, not suggest a problem-free future”.

He said this was what infused a new energy into the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) after the last summit of the regional bloc in Kathmandu in 2014.

According to the foreign secretary, the “neighbourhood first” policy has already started yielding results.

“With Bangladesh, Bhutan and Sri Lanka, it is hard to dispute that the overall atmosphere of our ties is far more cordial,” he said.

“With Myanmar, we have navigated the transition with delicacy and are well poised to engage the incoming government. Admittedly, in Nepal and Maldives, there have been challenges that arose from their domestic politics.”

Jaishankar said that in Afghanistan, which was going through a difficult period, India’s reputation for reliability has only been strengthened by the broadening ambit of bilateral cooperation.

Stating that Pakistan was a category by itself, he said: “But given the challenges of that relationship, we have fared well in keeping the focus firmly on the central issue of terrorism, in maintaining an engagement that factors in the complexity of that polity, and in enhancing global understanding of our approach. That said, we also look beyond to a more normal relationship featuring economic cooperation and people to people ties.”

According to Jaishankar, India’s neighbourhood policy now extended to the Gulf to the west and the Malacca Straits to the east.

For India to become a leading global power, he said, the key was to expanding the economy.

“As far as India’s prospects are concerned, the quest towards becoming a leading power rests first and foremost on our success in expanding the economy,” Jaishankar said.

“In that pursuit, the role of diplomacy in attracting foreign capital, technology and best practices is significant,” he stated.

In this context, he said hand-holding investors, disseminating best practices and facilitating business partnerships were all today part of the government’s daily activity at home.

Highlighting the thrust that the new government at the Centre was giving to foreign policy, he said there have been ministerial visits from India to around 130 countries.

He said India’s relations with major global powers have also improved during this time.

While cooperation with the US has deepened across the board, with Russia, significant energy and economic initiatives have imparted new momentum to the strategic partnership.

“With the European Union nations, both individually and collectively, changes at home have created fresh opportunities for greater collaboration,” the foreign secretary said.

“With China, the considerable potential of economic cooperation is beginning to get unlocked. Where Japan is concerned, new vistas have opened up that could have a major impact even in the short term.”

Jaishankar also said that longstanding ties with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) have been further consolidated while all the West Asian countries have been productively engaged.

According to Jaishankar, a nation that seeks to stand out must have its distinct branding.

“That is usually built on its culture and traditions,” he said.

“Whether we are conscious of it or not, the world sees us espousing pluralistic values, often as an exemplar,” he added.

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