Session Report
Mahek Agarwal

three-day online certificate training course on India’s G20 Presidency and Contours of Indian Foreign Policy was organized by #IMPRI Centre for International Relation and Strategic Studies (CIRSS)IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi from 14th to 16th March 2023. The first session of day 2 of a three-day immersive online certificate course on India’s G20 Presidency and Contours of Indian Foreign Policy was conducted by Ambassador ShashankFormer Foreign Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs, India. The subject for this session was Diplomats Experience. 

The session was opened with introductory and welcoming remarks from Dr Simi Mehta and was further moderated by her.

Ambassador Shashank, former Indian Foreign Services Officer and Foreign Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs discussed India’s role in international relations and its current G20 presidency. He began by reflecting on India’s historical significance as one of the first countries to gain independence from British colonial rule, which attracted the attention of other nations seeking to learn from India’s experiences. He also highlighted the presence of a large number of people of Indian origin in developing and colonized countries, adding complexity to India’s foreign policy.

Drawing from his extensive experience in the diplomatic service since 1966, he reflects on India’s journey as a newly independent nation emerging from British colonial rule. He mentions that India’s independence inspired other countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, which sought to learn from India’s experiences. However, there were also feelings of confusion and suspicion regarding India’s involvement with the British colonial forces in suppressing nationalist movements in other countries.

session report

He emphasized the importance of understanding the perspectives and interests of over 170 countries (now over 200) represented at the United Nations. This exposure enabled him to grasp the diverse opinions and concerns that shape foreign policy decisions on economic, political, and strategic matters.

Moving on to India’s involvement in international groups, Ambassador Shashank noted that while India initially aligned with the non-aligned movement and the Group of 77 (G77) of developing countries, these alliances gradually proved ineffective in achieving substantial progress. He explained that as negotiations became more complex, countries started to pursue their specific interests, leading to fragmentation among developing nations. Nonetheless, he emphasized the need to find common ground and negotiate favourable outcomes by leveraging shared interests.

Turning to the present, he highlights India’s current G20 presidency and its significance. He recalls that during his tenure as Foreign Secretary in 2003-2004, several countries expressed support for India’s permanent membership in the UN Security Council as part of the organization’s reform efforts. However, despite these aspirations, he observes that more countries have entered into the consultation process of the G20, gradually altering the dynamics of international organizations like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Ambassador Shashank mentioned India’s current G20 presidency and the unique opportunity it presents. He acknowledged that despite previous support from various countries for India’s permanent membership in the United Nations Security Council, this reform has yet to materialize. Instead, the G20 has emerged as a platform where major developed and emerging economies collaborate.

However, the ongoing European crisis and the conflict between Russia and Ukraine have overshadowed the G20 Summit, according to Ambassador Shashank. He explained the background of this crisis, including Russia’s concerns about NATO deploying missiles near its borders and the subsequent breakdown of verbal agreements. The European crisis has raised questions about the effectiveness of G20 decision-making, particularly in the face of economic challenges and recent bank collapses in the United States.

Regarding India’s neighbours, Ambassador Shashank acknowledged the adversarial relations with China and Pakistan. He discussed recent border conflicts with China and India’s efforts to strengthen its defence capabilities and regional partnerships. With Pakistan, he highlighted the issue of terrorism and Pakistan’s alleged support for such activities not only in India but also in other parts of South Asia.

Despite these challenges, India aims to promote peaceful and cooperative relationships with its neighbours and work towards regional stability. In his address, Ambassador Shashank candidly addressed concerns regarding India’s neighbourhood-first policy. He acknowledged the historical attempts by Pakistan and China to form coalitions against India, capitalizing on internal divisions and providing financial aid to smaller neighbouring countries.

However, he shed light on China’s ultimate ambition to surpass the United States, asserting that its strategy revolves around keeping countries in debt crises and exerting influence over them. In contrast, Ambassador Shashank highlighted India’s substantial diaspora spread across the globe, which has engendered empathy and goodwill, thereby bolstering India’s global reputation and standing.

Furthermore, Ambassador Shashank turned his attention to India’s engagement with Sri Lanka. He acknowledged the significant debt Sri Lanka owes to China but underscored India’s proactive role in helping avert an impending economic crisis. Despite occasional divergent statements from Sri Lankan leaders concerning China and India, he emphasized the enduring importance of nurturing sustained relationships and fostering regional cooperation in Asia.

Ambassador Shashank’s insightful remarks shed light on the complex dynamics shaping India’s approach to its neighbourhood. He astutely recognized the historical challenges posed by Pakistan and China but also provided a broader perspective by highlighting China’s global ambitions and India’s diaspora-driven soft power. By acknowledging India’s efforts to assist Sri Lanka while advocating for sustained relationships and regional collaboration, Ambassador Shashank emphasized the importance of long-term engagement and cooperative strategies in navigating the intricate regional landscape.

In conclusion, Ambassador Shashank’s speech on India’s G20 presidency and its role in shaping foreign policy provide insights into India’s historical journey, the challenges and opportunities it faces in international relations, and the pursuit of unity among developing nations. His speech addresses economic issues, regional relationships, and the need for consensus-building to achieve practical outcomes. Overall, he underscores India’s aspirations as a global leader and its efforts to represent the interests of the global South in the international arena.

Mahek is a Research Intern at IMPRI.

Read more session reports from Day 2 of India’s G20 Presidency and Contours of Indian Foreign Policy:

Feminist Foreign Policy – IMPRI Impact And Policy Research Institute (impriindia.com)

India’s Security Challenges in Changing World Order – IMPRI Impact And Policy Research Institute (impriindia.com)