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Indian Ambaasador’s Interview to Izvestiya Daily
«India does not believe in trade war»
Ambassador of India to Russia Venkatesh Varma — on cooperation in the era of pandemic and problems with China
By Natalia Portyakova
The economic consequences of coronavirus pandemic prompted the Indian authorities to strengthen development of the domestic potential of the country, but this, in no way, dampened New Delhi’s interest in further strengthening cooperation with other countries. The Ambassador of India to Russia Venkatesh Varma assured Izvestia of this. The diplomat also spoke about how the country, which ranks third in the world in terms of the number of COVID-19 cases, is coping with the epidemic and its consequences, whether this difficult situation has affected the contacts between New Delhi and Moscow, and whether there is any contradiction in India’s defense cooperation with Russia and the United States.
— The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the usual course of things in most of the areas of life around the world. How has the current situation affected cooperation between Russia and India?
— Our countries have not been able to avoid the negative medical and economic consequences of the pandemic, which is quite understandable in view of its global nature. However, high-level contacts, meetings, consultations and practical cooperation have continued and will continue.
Over the past four months, President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Narendra Modi had two telephone conversations. In particular, on July 2, our Prime Minister congratulated the Russian President on the 75th Victory Day and successful completion of voting on amendments to the Constitution. And our Defence Minister as well as the Indian military contingent, took part in the events dedicated to the 75th Victory Day. The Indian Foreign Minister took part in a video conference of the foreign ministers of the BRICS, RIC and SCO countries. Similarly, our Minister of Trade communicated with his colleagues in the BRICS. Contacts continue at the level of the Foreign and Defense Ministries of the two countries.
During the pandemic, medical supplies weighing more than 90 tons were delivered by air from India to Russia. Thousands of Russian citizens in India and Indian citizens in Russia returned home using special flights. Therefore, despite the difficulties caused by the pandemic, relations between India and Russia continue to evolve, reflecting mutual trust, confidence and strength that are inherent in our special privileged strategic partnership. And President Putin is expected to make an official visit to India later this year, during which we will celebrate the 20th anniversary of our strategic partnership.
— Unlike the countries leading in the number of cases of coronavirus — the United States and Brazil, India took the threat of a pandemic seriously from the very beginning and took, as apparent, all precautions. Nevertheless, the country is now at third place in registered cases. What led to this scale and how are the authorities dealing with the problems associated with the pandemic?
— India is a country with a population of more than 1.3 billion people, so a pandemic of such an easily transmitted disease as the coronavirus is fraught with unique problems. Besides, India is a democratic country with a strong federal system in which states play an important role in healthcare. The real numbers in India may seem high, but the number of infections per million people remains low, only 538. At the same time, the recovery rate is 64% and the death rate is 2.4%, which is much lower than the world average of more than 5%.
Over the past four months, India has become completely self-sufficient in production of test kits and protective equipment. We have succeeded in developing a vaccine. Besides, we provided medical assistance to more than 150 countries in different parts of the world — both developed and developing, that has brought India to the unofficial rank of the «pharmacy of the world». By the way, our pharmaceutical enterprises are doing large-scale cooperation with Russian companies.
I will also note that during the pandemic, India could organize air transportation of its more than 600 thousand citizens from other countries to homeland, which became largest such program in the world. Finally, our country is now running the world’s largest food security program aimed at protecting the poor rungs of the population.
— Since the past couple of months, the border conflict between India and China has not left the news headlines. But today there is no special news from the “front”. What is happening in the region now?
— India and China are negotiating through diplomatic and military channels about the situation on the Line of Actual Control in the border areas between the two countries. In particular, Indian Foreign Minister Subramanyam Jaishankar and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval have conducted talks with their Chinese counterparts.
At the same time, while India seeks to resolve these problems through dialogue, we have made it clear that we will not do business with China as usual until there is a complete disengagement of military forces along the Line of Actual Control and de-escalation in the border areas in accordance with bilateral agreements and protocols. As Prime Minister Modi noted, this is an era of development, and the era of expansion has come to an end.
— In majority of cases, tensions between India and China have not been visible at trilateral meetings in the RIC format or the broader BRICS format. Was it possible to protect cooperation within these structures from the impact of conflict between New Delhi and Beijing?
— Bilateral issues are not on the agenda of the RIC, BRICS or SCO formats. Recently Russia held meetings of the foreign ministers of the countries belonging to these three associations, and none of them touched upon bilateral problems.
We are grateful to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Russia has demonstrated understanding of India’s position on the border issue and supported a bilateral dialogue between India and China aimed at resolving problems. And we are completely satisfied with the progress of our military-technical cooperation with Russia and the rapid delivery of weapons, so we look forward to the visit of Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to India towards the end of this year.
— Since April, a campaign to support the domestic manufacturing ‘Make in India’ has been gaining momentum in India , which, against the backdrop of friction with China, continued with calls for boycott of Chinese goods. And recently, this has resulted in banning of dozens of Chinese mobile apps. Are the countries now on the brink of a trade war?
— India does not believe in trade war with any country. The ban on some Chinese apps is a measure to ensure digital security .
In order to support domestic producers, given the severe economic impact of COVID-19, Prime Minister Modi announced “Atmanirbhar Bharat” program that aims at strengthening the country’s domestic capacity. But our doors remain open for foreign cooperation.
And here, by the way, there are several opportunities for cooperation between India and Russia in the field of defense production, construction of railways and inland waterways, pharmaceuticals and digital technologies. I believe that Russian and Indian companies will build productive and profitable partnerships.
Many big foreign companies have shown interest in working with India. For example, Google announced that it will invest $ 10 billion in our country over the next ten years, Facebook will invest $ 5.7 billion, and Walmart — $ 1.2 billion. This indicates confidence in the Indian economy as it is recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the rich potential of our technologies and the country’s readiness for international cooperation.
— Russia is still one of the main players in the Indian arms market, but at the same time New Delhi is actively building up its military-technical cooperation with the United States. For example, at the beginning of the year, during a visit of the head of the White House, Donald Trump to India, New Delhi announced its intention to purchase arms worth almost $ 3 billion from Washington. How is this affecting relations with Moscow?
— India has a strategic partnership with the United States and cooperation on global issues. But India pursues an independent foreign policy. We have never joined any alliance and will not do so in future. We take independent decisions regarding defense procurement, and I see no contradiction between further development of India’s defense relations with Russia and those with the United States.
Between India and Russia, there are traditional friendly and partnership relations. Our military cooperation with the Russian Federation will continue, taking into account the interests of India in the field of national security .
— Since past few years, politicians have increasingly heard the phrase as the concept of the Indo-Pacific region. However, different countries interpret this concept differently. What does the Indian side mean by this concept?
“We believe that the Indo-Pacific Concept is aimed at promoting cooperation, connectivity and compliance with international law and norms, in one of the most significant parts of the world. And the central role of ASEAN in Indo-Pacific is one of the key principles.
Along with India’s Act East Policy, our Prime Minister announced the Act Far-East Policy, last year in Vladivostok, under which India is considering cooperation with Russia on Russian territory of the Far East. There is a huge potential for cooperation in the areas of energy, economics, trade, investment opportunities and communications in the territories from Yamal to Vladivostok and up to Chennai. India and Russia share common interest so that the Indo-Pacific region becomes a region of peace, stability and economic prosperity, so that no country seeks unilateral advantage at the cost of the entire region.
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