Singapore: India is not simply an engine for regional economic growth but also a lynchpin for Asia’s security, the Indian foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee said on 20 June.
The regional superpower, with a dominant military and economy, has long been viewed with suspicion by its smaller neighbors as well as giant rival China. But India is committed to ensuring a “peaceful periphery,” External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said in a speech.
“India is not just a motor for regional growth; it can equally be the bulwark of regional security,” Mukherjee, who is on a three-day visit to Singapore, said at the S.Rajaratjam School of International Studies.
But he acknowledged that in charting this “bolder course,” India will face suspicion and skepticism.
“To allay them we will have to be prepared to go the extra mile,” he said, adding that the Indian government has already made the efforts including unilaterally liberalizing tariffs for the least developed countries of the region like Afghanistan, Nepal and Bhutan.
“Whether it is trade or logistics, energy or services, a partnership with India can be of great value to our neighbors,” he said.
Once seen as an ally of the former Soviet Union, India is now considered a close partner of the United States.
The civilian nuclear energy cooperation pact that the two countries are negotiating and a new framework of defense cooperation are “two examples of the transformation under way,” he said.
Replying to questions after his speech, Mukherjee denied that India’s warming ties with the U.S. were aimed at containing China.
“We do not believe in containing any country whether big or small,” he said.
Mukherjee’s prepared speech made no mention of archrival Pakistan, once a common refrain in Indian ministers’ speeches. Relations between the two countries, which have a decades-old dispute over the Himalayan region of Kashmir, have vastly improved with peace moves by both sides.
“Our vision of stronger regional cooperation and harmony has led us to boldly address even difficult historical problems with a view to finding long-term solutions,” Mukherjee said in apparent reference to the problems with Pakistan.
He emphasized that India’s new foreign policy priorities have been driven by the country’s explosive economic growth _ 9% growth in the economy in the last three years, a savings rate of 32% of gross domestic product, and an investment rate of 35%.
But Mukherjee acknowledged that India remains backward in many areas, including primary education, basic health care and infrastructure.