NEW DELHI: External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said on Thursday that India's decision not to join the China-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) does not indicate a shift away from its Act East Policy.
Jaishankar, who was delivering the keynote address at the 4th Ramnath Goenka Memorial Lecture, also said that India's co-operation with its neighbours spans so many domains that the decision to stay out of the RCEP does not undermine the basics of its foreign policy.
"What we saw in Bangkok recently was a clear-eyed calculation of the gains and costs of entering a new arrangement. We negotiated till the very end, as indeed we should. Then, knowing what was on offer, we took a call. And that call was that no agreement at this time was better than a bad agreement," said Jaishankar.
The RCEP is a proposed free trade agreement (FTA) between 10 member states of the ASEAN -- Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam -- and its six FTA partners China, Japan, India, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.
On November 4, India had decided against joining the 16-nation RCEP trade deal, saying it was not shying away from opening up to global competition across sectors but had made a strong case for an outcome which is favourable to all countries and all sectors.
"It is also important to recognise what the RCEP is not. It is not about stepping back from the Act East Policy, which in any case is deeply rooted in distant and contemporary history. Our cooperation spans so many domains that this one decision does not really undermine the basics.
"Even in trade, India already has FTAs with 12 out of the 15 RCEP partners. Nor is there really a connection with our Indo-Pacific approach, as that goes well beyond the RCEP membership. There can be a legitimate debate on the merits of joining RCEP or any other FTA for that matter. Just don't confuse it for grand strategy," added Jaishankar.
Jaishankar also said that talks about internationalisation of the Jammu and Kashmir issue and hyphenation of India's ties with Pakistan reflects the dogma of thinking from the past.
"This is thinking from the past, reflecting neither the strength of India, the mood of the nation, nor the determination of the government. Uninformed comments abroad on our internal affairs is hardly internationalisation.
"And the reputational and real differences between India and Pakistan put paid to any hyphenation effort. In reality, these fears are but a thinly disguised advocacy of inaction. Their intent, conscious or otherwise, is to legitimise a status quo that has now been overtaken by history," he added.