External affairs minister S Jaishankar on Thursday said India was not sitting on the fence but was rather entitled to its own opinion when it came to foreign policy. Just because its take on global issues was not agreeable to others, did not mean India was sitting on the fence, the minister said.
“I am not sitting on the fence just because I don’t agree with you. It means I am sitting on my ground,” Jaishankar said at GLOBESEC 2022 Bratislava Forum, where he was talking on the topic, ‘Taking friendship to the next level: Allies in the Indo-Pacific’. He was questioned on India’s position on the world stage, and that non-alignment could not always be a plausible option for a world leader.
The statement came when the foreign minister was asked if sitting on the fence was an option for India as an emerging world leader, especially with respect to the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war. India has still not openly condemned the Russian invasion of its eastern neighbour that completed 100 days since its launch on February 24. Russian President Vladimir Putin has justified the invasion as a “special operation”.
Jaishankar said the world could no longer be “Eurocentric”, and that Europe needed to shun that mindset. “A lot is happening outside Europe. There are so many human and natural disasters in our part of the world, and many countries look to India for help. The world is changing and new players are coming in. The world can’t be Eurocentric anymore,” he added.
Counting climate change, terrorism, security and sustainable goals as modern-day challenges for most countries across the world, Jaishankar said some part of the answers to each of these issues came out of India.
Replying to a question on who India will play with – Europe-US or Russia-China – Jaishankar referred to the Indo-Pacific grouping of Quad countries and said, “They are not exclusionary but we are a democracy, a market economy, a pluralistic society. We have laws and contracts. We have positions on international law. I think that should give you a fair part of the answer," adding, “Don’t use the caricature version of one situation as a yardstick to pass a sweeping judgment. Somewhere, at some point, the conflict will have to end. When the time comes for collective interest to find a resolution, at that point people will need us."
Jaishankar said the country’s foreign policy was not based on accepting a “construct" that it had to side with a power axis, or it belonged to another camp if it did not side with one. “I (India) am one-fifth of the world’s population. I am what, today the 5th or 6th largest economy in the world. Forget the history and civilisation bit; everybody knows that. I feel I am entitled to have my own side. I am entitled to weigh my own interests, and make my own choices. My choices will not be cynical and transactional. They will be a balance of my values and my interests. There is no country in the world which disregards its interests," he added.
Jaishankar is on a two-nation tour to Slovakia and the Czech Republic to strengthen ties with the two central European countries. On the first leg of his visit, he arrived at Bratislava and called on Slovak Prime Minister Eduard Heger. The two discussed with him the expansion of political, economic and defence cooperation and exchanged views on the Ukraine conflict.
During his stay in the Slovakian capital till June 4, Jaishankar will also hold bilateral talks with foreign minister Ivan Korcok. Jaishankar will also interact with a cross-section of the Indian diaspora, including Indian students in Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
(With PTI inputs)