Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a privilege for me to address the 2nd International Asian Congress in this beautiful home of Copernicus. I see it as a marker of Poland’s emerging global vision that we gather here today in the heart of Europe and reflect on distant Asia. We do so at a time when the Asian continent is being refashioned rapidly at several levels. A few days ago, the Prime Minister of India completed a historic swing through Asia, including a visit to China; the two Asian giants, home to 2.7 billion people, are working on an agenda of economic and political collaboration, which provides an interesting backdrop to our deliberations on Asia. Commentary in the media has even suggested that the coming together of India and China signals well and truly, the arrival of the Asian century. This characterization of the 21st century as the Asian century, is meant to parallel the description of the 20th century as the American century and the 19th century as the British or the European century. The nomenclature may be debatable, but what is beyond doubt is the larger trend of the eastward shift in the balance of economic and political power in the last decades.
But rather than focus on the mega-trends and alignments within Asia that this conference will no doubt examine, I thought I would zoom in on India’s story in the last one year, which makes not just for a narrative of resurgence and hope for the people of India, but also signals India’s deeper economic engagement with the world.
One year ago, the people of India voted a new Government to power, with a powerful mandate for change, growth and jobs. This has been India’s first single-party government after decades of coalition rule, empowered to re-write India’s destiny. The Government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has since embarked on an ambitious path of transforming India’s economy through domestic actions and by redefining its engagement with the world. Major economic reforms are on its agenda. New flagship programs like Make in India, Smart Cities, Digital India, Skill India, Sanitation (Swachh Bharat), Ganges Rejuvenation and Financial Inclusion (PM Jan Dhan Yojana), present a bouquet of diverse opportunities for investors. Among the measures which have been rolled out are those aimed at a friendlier business environment in India: rationalizing restrictive labour, environmental and Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) norms; and setting up a fully functional single-window system for starting a business, which would allow entrepreneurs to get more than 100 central and state government clearances online. Make in India aims to encourage domestic and foreign investors to make India a manufacturing economy, raising the share of manufacturing in our GDP from 16 percent to 25 percent. To support this process, India plans to create 100 smart cities and rejuvenate 500 others, also to provide opportunities for skilled employment to the millions of urbanizing young. The results are beginning to show on the ground. Global investors are seriously looking at India’s offer of ‘democracy, demography and demand’. The Indian economy is now the fastest growing amongst the large economies of the world, with a growth rate in 2014 of 7.4 %. India hopes to grow at over 8 % in 2015 and move to a trajectory of double-digit growth over the next decade. This process also creates an unprecedented economic opportunity for global partners to not just contribute to India’s growth story, but also to profit from it. If this dream is realized, we stand on the threshold of one of the most ambitious transformations in Asia’s history, aimed at bringing hope and development to millions.
At the same time, we need to remember that Asia is no stranger to transformations. We have seen several in the last decades of the 20th century; Japan, the Asian tigers, China, have all made enviable leaps forward. India itself is in the third decade of reform, and has embraced incremental, steady change to unleash its potential. But the current resurgence speaks of an unprecedented scale of ambition, to launch India on a path of sustained growth.
Re-imagining India’s engagement with the world
India’s approach in reaching out to the world is to align its global engagement to national priorities of growth, development and security. This presents a win-win, particularly in terms of the capital and technologies India can absorb, and the myriad economic opportunities India offers to partners.
India’s vision towards Asia is clear. Prime Minister Modi’s approach of 'neighbours first', defines the new government's foreign policy thinking. India’s new leadership has engaged with South Asian neighbours on an unprecedented scale, building trust and friendship on the premise that peace and prosperity must lift the entire neighbourhood for it to be sustainable. India's rescue operations in Yemen, evacuating people trapped in the conflict, or those in Nepal, pulling out earthquake victims, irrespective of their nationalities, reflect this policy approach. With the extended neighbourhood of South-East Asia, India has a robust ‘Act East’ policy, based on a strategic India-ASEAN partnership, and deepening economic engagement. India’s ‘Connect Central Asia’ policy brings it closer to this crucial neighbourhood for economic, security and energy collaboration. A ‘Link West’ policy highlights India’s engagement with the US and Europe, critical partners providing capital and technology to fuel India’s growth.
With vigorous multilateral engagement in new structures like the BRICS and G20, India has questioned the global governance structures of the last century, which fail to address the needs of current times. Prime Minister Modi made this point two days ago at the Asia Leadership Council in Seoul, when he said that Asian countries must unite to reform global governance. A serious restructuring of the global political and economic architecture, including the UN Security Council, the World Bank and the IMF, could move the world to a genuine era of multi-polarity.
India is willing to be a steady and responsible force in a multi-polar world, coordinating with Asian partners, and reaching out to global ones. India’s resurgence will positively impact our world.
Thank you for your attention.