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Devastation caused by Covid reminds us that multilateralism is not working well enough: EAM

September 07, 2021 02:45 PM

New Delhi/Canberra, The devastation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has called into question the model of globalization that was practised till recently and makes a powerful case for a more de-centralized version, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said on Monday and added that “resistance to reforming international organizations compels us to look for more practical and immediate solutions”.

In his address to the Australian National University’s JG Crawford Oration 2021 on the topic ‘Why Quad Matters’, Jaishankar said that “The fact is that the days of unilateralism are over, bilateralism has its own limits, and as the Covid reminded us, multilateralism is simply not working well enough.

“The resistance to reforming international organizations compel us to look for more practical and immediate solutions. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the case for the Quad.”

He said that “even as the tectonic plates of geo-politics have been shifting, the Covid-19 pandemic has compelled a sharper crystallization of our thoughts on the challenges that we face. It has called into question the model of globalization that was practised till recently and makes a powerful case for a more de-centralized version.”

“Many of us accept now that the establishment of more resilient and reliable supply chains are essential to de-risking the world economy….. What it finally comes down to is the need to create greater global capacities so that pandemic-scale challenges are more effectively met… The pandemic experience has also led to greater attention being given to cyber security, supply chains and disinformation. So, it is not just the landscape and the structure of the region that is in flux; it is also, very much, the agenda.”

Jaishankar said the 75-year old world order had run its course and was ripe for change, driven both by the national fortunes of major powers as well as the collective impact of greater rebalancing and multipolarity.

Added to the complexity of a more inter-dependent, tech-centric and borderless world, where the concepts of power and influence have acquired a new meaning, is the once-in-a-century pandemic whose devastation is beyond imagination. “In this situation, the fate of our region cannot be left, certainly not in a democratic era to the decisions of a few. Those of us who have interests, capabilities and confidence must step forward. If the G-7 could become the G-20, then our region too can surely find a broad-based decision-making process. The Indo-Pacific is at the epicentre of the change. What is now critical is to ensure that our future is determined through a collective and participative exercise,” Jaishankar said.

He said that the last two decades have seen a real transformation in India’s relations with its three Quad partners: the United States, Japan and Australia. All the four countries are members of ASEAN-led forums, including the East Asia Summit, the ASEAN Regional Forum and the Defence Ministers Meeting. They also strongly subscribe to the centrality of ASEAN in so far as the Indo-Pacific is concerned. The four are also involved in multiple trilateral combinations with other partners.

Jaishankar said the working of the Quad takes into account the consequences of globalization, requirements of the global commons and the expression of converging interests and cited the Malabar naval exercise as an example.

“But Quad’s expanding agenda affirms a declared intention to promote greater prosperity and ensure stability in the Indo-Pacific-so, it should not be seen narrowly. In the last two years, it has focused on challenges that vary from maritime security, cyber security and disaster response to connectivity and infrastructure, climate action and counter-terrorism. In keeping with the challenges of our times, it has also chosen to get involved with vaccine production, student mobility, resilient supply chains and combating disinformation. This sends a clear message when it comes to the genuine requirements of the international community,” he added.

On India’s involvement with the Pacific Islands, he said India is establishing information technology labs in each of the nations and promoting solar electrification of 2,800 houses.

“Women solar engineers called Solar Mamas have also been trained. Our grant assistance, apart from renewable energy and climate-related projects, address community development, agricultural equipment, computers and LED bulbs for schools, dialysis machines, portable saw mills, construction of sea wall and coral farms. We have been responding to natural calamities whether it is Cyclone Yasa, Gita, Hola or Winston. And despatched vaccines for Covid-19 including to Fiji and Nauru bilaterally, as also to Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands through the Covax initiative.”

On the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI) that Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced at the East Asia Summit in 2019, he said this is envisaged as an open, non-treaty based, inclusive platform for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region. “It is structure-light and cooperation-heavy, intends to work in tandem with the ASEAN, IORA, BIMSTEC and other organisations. Its seven pillars include maritime security, maritime ecology, maritime resources, capacity building and resource sharing, disaster risk reduction and management, as well as science, technology and academic cooperation and trade connectivity and maritime transport."

“So far, Australia has agreed to lead the maritime ecology pillar, Japan the connectivity and transport one and France and Indonesia the marine resources pillar. How the IPOI will develop remains to be seen. But it is certainly an example of fresh thinking on regional partnerships that has the potential to take the Indo-Pacific forward,” he added.

He also said that a significant contribution to the change in landscape has been made by India’s Act East policy and added that “India trades, travels and interacts much more to the East than it has done since its independence.”

Earlier, the EAM said it is an honour to deliver the JG Crawford Oration 2021 at the Australian National University. “As someone who aspired to be its student 45 years ago, I am delighted to be able to connect with it eventually. In ANU’s defence, and I suppose, in my own, they did accept me then and it was my joining the Indian Foreign Service that delayed any association. Sometimes, I have wondered about the road not taken. But I suspect that the choice I did make has enabled me to contribute more to ties between India and Australia.”

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