Opening statement by Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock at GMF’s India Trilateral Forum

December 06, 2022
Annalena Baerbock
8 min read
Photo credit: German Marshall Fund and ORF America

The following is the full text of German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock's opening statement at the German Marshall Fund's India Trilateral Forum, delivered on December 6, 2022 in New Delhi, India. 

Nobel Peace Prize winner Rabindranath Tagore once said: “You can't cross a sea merely by standing and staring at the water”.

I think we would agree that we face quite difficult times, quite a lot of waves and rough seas at the moment. This is exactly why we have to decide whether we will stand by the water and stare at the waves, or whether we will act together with courage, as natural partners, whether we set our sails so that we can pass through these rough waters. In this vibrant region, as the world’s largest democracy and a rising political and economic power in Asia, for us India is the natural partner to sail this rough sea together. Because if you’re going out on rough seas, you have to trust your partners. After all, you don't know what the morning will look like, or how big the waves will be. So, in these very trying times, for me the question of trust is one of the most important aspects of international relations. If you trust somebody, you don’t have to share the same opinions on everything. But when it comes to your most important values, most important beliefs, it’s important that you share the same way of thinking.

What is really crucial for us in the region, here in India and also in the European Union, is our fundamental belief that we have to deliver for our citizens, that we serve our people - men, women and children - without discrimination. That they are free to live prosperously and safely in terms of human safety and human security. I’m convinced that we can best strengthen the security in both of our regions as open societies if we find common answers.

Yesterday, my dear colleague and friend, Dr Jaishankar, said that our relations are deep and wide, but we can grow them further. I truly believe this. We can grow them further if we talk openly and frankly about the waters ahead, also about our differences, and if we talk openly and frankly about our own self-reflection.

There are three points I think we definitely have to talk about. First, my country’s security agenda during the past months has been driven by Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine. It has shaken the whole world. I hear concerns from people who say that we haven't paid enough attention to the conflicts in the rest of the world.

Whether we accept this or whether we say no, we not only stand with the people of Ukraine, but also with the UN Charter. And as a world, we have decided to stand at the side of justice, at the side of the victim.

And that’s probably right. But we can decide to talk about the past or we can decide to shape the future together. I truly believe this is what politics is about: shaping the future together - learning from the past, but shaping the future. We have to look at what is at stake as a result of this war. This is not only a European question. This is not only about the European peace order. This is a question, for the whole international community. The question is whether we accept that one country can bully or invade its smaller or less armed neighbor in a blatant breach of the UN Charter. Whether we accept this or whether we say no, we not only stand with the people of Ukraine, but also with the UN Charter. And as a world, we have decided to stand at the side of justice, at the side of the victim.

I am really thankful that we are standing up for our UN Charter with partners around the world. In many discussions we had, as foreign ministers, but also in the North or South, East or West, we have seen that this kind of threat actually exists everywhere. Because there are only a few countries around the world which are so heavily armed and which give signals that they could invade their neighbor.

In your region too, in the Indo-Pacific, one cannot ignore the fact that there is a situation where one bigger and stronger neighbor talks about the power of the strongest, not the rule of law, international law. With regard to the South China Sea, but also with regard to the question of how they are building military infrastructure along the border, for example, with India.

Today's era must not be an era of war because this is not the life we want to live and this is not the future we want to build on.

So, you know, as we know, that this question of security, this question of international law is not an abstract debate. It's the reality we’re living in. We didn’t want this. I’m 40 years old and I've lived my whole life in peace, mostly in reunited Germany. So none of us, nobody in Europe wanted to live in a time where war was on the agenda again. But this is our time. We cannot wish it away. We have to tackle the challenges we face in today’s world. As partners, we share not only a desire for stability in our region, but a desire for our kids to live in a more peaceful world. This is why it was so important to us to discuss together with you, to discuss at the G20, how we can stand up for the international order.

Not only in Europe but worldwide. “Today must not be an era of war”. This was what the G20 leaders finally agreed at the end of the year, in Bali, loud and clear. And this statement didn't come from European partners. It was Prime Minister Modi who first said it to President Putin. Today's era must not be an era of war because this is not the life we want to live and this is not the future we want to build on. That this finally made it into the Bali statement is a remarkable diplomatic success which I would like to applaud.

My second point is that you are only capable of doing this if you are capable of self-reflection. At the beginning of the war, there were many different perspectives on it. Obviously, if—like us—you are a direct neighbor, or if you live thousands kilometers away and think, well, we’ve also had some wars around our region. In these crucial times, in these choppy waters, it’s important to be self-reflective enough to understand that if we are calling for the support of partners and friends, these partners and friends must feel that they can trust us in the future.

To understand this and build mutual trust together on self-reflection is a high priority for me. We’ve seen that our high level of dependency on Russia in the beginning made it very hard for us to take the political measures we actually wanted to take. So self-reflection for us means: What do we do to prevent this kind of situation in the future? I think this was also the most interesting discussion we had as foreign ministers at our G20, G7and UN meetings—self-reflecting.

So what measures are needed to ensure that we don’t end up in this kind of situation in the future? Obviously, the question of supply chains, dependencies and economic ties is vital in an interconnected world. Your region is home to half of the world's population and 60 percent of global GDP. As we were walking through the streets of Delhi yesterday, we saw and felt the sense of innovation and dynamism that is driving men and women in this vibrant region. I believe our regions can best advance through economic ties based on rules and fair competition, without dependencies that could enable other countries to blackmail us in the end.

We can only face the future together, only if we stand united as a family, understanding that we share this one Earth.

My third point concerns the climate crisis. Obviously, it is the biggest threat this century, for everybody in the world and no army can protect us from it. We can only fight this together. So even though we didn’t succeeded in everything at the Climate Conference in Sharm el Sheikh, it’s good that we’ve opened a new chapter for climate justice, showing that in fighting the climate crisis, we can grow stronger together and work on justice. Because it's a blatant injustice that those countries, those regions, those people who suffer most from the climate crisis are the least to blame for CO2 emissions.

India has put climate action high on the agenda for its G20 presidency. “One Earth, one family, one future” – I think that’s a great motto for your presidency. It reflects the fact that we can only face the future together, only if we stand united as a family, understanding that we share this one Earth. And it's right to address this at the G20 because the G20 is not only responsible for 80 percent of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide, but also for much of the loss and damage this crisis has caused in the past, and will cause in the future. Working on climate justice can give us hope in this very difficult year. And you can definitely count on our support during your G20 Presidency.

This is about the future of our people. It's about the security of us all. We don’t want to stand and stare at the water but build solid bridges and set sail to cross them. I thank you very much that we have stood together during the last ten months of this very difficult year.

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