Ex-Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran In Beijing
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Ex-Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran In Beijing


On July 2-3, 2023, APLN member Shyam Saran participated in two sessions on “Major Power Roles in International Security” and “Resolving the Ukraine War” at the 11th World Peace Forum, Tsinghua University’s annual security conference, in Beijing, China. He said China should look at its bilateral ties with India through the prism of its ‘own merits’. Read the original article here.

This year, the theme of the conference was ‘Stabilizing An Unstable World Through Consensus and Cooperation’, and it was held from July 1-3, 2023.

“We are not in the business of containment and I think the perennial problem with China is that it continues to look at its relations with India not on its own merits but always through the prism of its own relations with the US. The sooner you dispense with that perspective, the better it would be in terms of taking India-China relations forward,” Saran said, addressing a query on India aligning more with the US to contain China.

He said for countries like India, economic and social development of its citizens had always been the primary objective, which is the reason why New Delhi is perceived to be moving closer to Washington, something that Beijing also did while strengthening its economy.

“The partnerships that we are looking at are precisely in order to and mainly in order to support our development. So when you (China) talk about India moving closer to United States or India joining some kind of a coalition against China, I think you neglect to learn from your own experience that you are a beneficiary of a very close relationship with United States and Japan and other developed countries in order to support your own development,” he said.

“Now when India is in that position I don’t think you should look at it from a different point of view,” said Saran, who has served in various capitals around the world including Beijing.

“The main driver of India’s close partnership with the US, of course, we may be having a convergence of values or convergence of outlook with respect to certain issues, but the main driver is actually the development imperative. The US is an indispensable partner for India in terms of achieving its own developmental objectives. That is something that you have to keep in mind,” he stressed.

Saran also highlighted the fact that India, like China, has also been a beneficiary of globalisation.

“For countries like India, whose major preoccupation remains the economic and social development of its people, a polarised international environment is a particularly negative development. India has been the beneficiary, like China, of the process of globalisation – a much more open and liberal trade and investment regime,” he said, adding that the scenario is now changing.

Saran said that the challenge for development for India today has been much “greater” and on the contrary, China had a “very good run, in a sense that for several decades it has had a very benign and open global environment in which it could pursue its development”. “For us, it is more difficult,” he added.

India and China had been engaged in a tough military standoff at the border areas since April-May 2020. China has also criticised India’s joining of the Quad, which has the US, Australia and Japan as its members, often calling it an ‘Asian NATO’.

Internal Politics Having Major Impact In Foreign Policies

According to Saran, who has served as the chairman of National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) in the past, also said the geopolitical environment today has become much more complicated than it was before due to the impact of domestic issues in the foreign policies of major powers.

“Today, what is new is that internal politics in the major power is having a major impact on their foreign policies as well. So there is a certain unpredictability which has come about, because of the unpredictability of political transitions in major powers,” he said.

He also pointed out that soon the US as well as India will be heading for election, and that outcome of the transition it will bring about on the international affairs is “not very clear”. “That is what is also making this much more complicated,” Saran said, adding: “What we find is that major regional powers are today exercising much greater agency.”

In this regard, he highlighted the recent peace deal facilitated by China to bring Saudi Arabia and Iran closer to each other, who were previously staunch adversaries.

“The ability of the world’s most powerful country, the United States, and the second-most powerful country, China, the ability to actually influence decisions by other major powers in different regions of the world is actually becoming more and more limited. I think this reality needs to be understood,” he underlined.

Re-Emergence Of Global South & Multilateral Bodies

Addressing the gathering, which included Chinese officials, academicians and think-tankers, Saran said the world today is more bogged down with the roles being played by the US and China, neglecting the rise of Global South.

“We are always looking at what kind of role can be played by the major powers like the US or China or some of the major regional powers, even like India. But I think what we are also neglecting to perhaps note is what we call the Global South,” he said.

Saran added: “There is a re-emergence in a sense of a new constituency of developing countries, not quite the non-aligned movement of the past, but in fact a constituency which is far more assertive about its own interests and rights than perhaps the non-aligned movement was in the past. It has not quite crystallised, it has not quite come together as a kind of a coherent entity but it is, in fact, it is a trend we should watch out for.”

He said this is the reason why India hosted a conference (in January 2023) of countries that make the Global South. “I think there is a recognition that this particular constituency is going to play a much greater role,” said Saran.

He said: “In terms of challenges, the basic paradox of our times is that precisely at a time when the salience of crosscutting global issues has been rising and which requires, in fact, for us to respond with global collaborative efforts, whether it is the climate change or the global pandemics, international terrorism, proliferation of WMDs, all these are no longer amenable to national solutions or even regional solutions. By their very nature, they require global responses.

However, in this endeavour, the role of multilateral institutions, like the UN, in solving issues have “diminished”, he said.

“Multilateral institutions, like the UN, have become a platform for geopolitical contestation rather than for international collaboration. This is a paradox that we have to recognise and try to resolve because without that it is very difficult that the kind of fragmentation, the kind of divisiveness which we see today it will not allow us to deal with these challenges,” Saran said.


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