‘Denmark has always supported the rise of India. We find India’s request to be a permanent member of the Security Council as fair, given its size and importance.’
New Delhi: Denmark, a Nordic powerhouse and the hub of cutting-edge technology and innovation, is looking at India anew as a rising global power with its own unique voice in global affairs. In this wide-ranging interview with Manish Chand, Denmark’s Ambassador to India, Freddy Svane highlights how India-Denmark relations have acquired a new momentum since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Copenhagen in May this year and voices his hope about how a rising India can act as a bridge-builder in a polarised world. The Danish envoy expressed hope that India, with its good contacts with Russia, Ukraine and the West can help bring the hostilities in Ukraine to an end as soon as possible. An incorrigible optimist, the envoy backs a permanent seat for India in a reformed UN Security Council. Excerpts:
Q: Denmark is looking at India anew. In the Danish Security and Defence Toward 2035 policy report, India is mentioned as one of Denmark’s key global partners. How do you view the strategic importance of India in the evolving architecture of the Indo-Pacific?
A: You cannot underestimate the role of India in Asia. Given the growing importance of Asia, economically, politically and in terms of security policy, India’s role will become more prominent. It is the world’s largest democracy, solidly founded on democratic principles, having full respect for multilateral rules and the rule of law. We see India as our strategic partner in this part of the world. At the opening of the Danish parliamentary session this year, our Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen highlighted India prominently in her speech. India is, by all standards, the most important player for Denmark, in Asia. The Danish 2035 report says: “Approaching 2035, India will become one the world’s most influential countries, driven partly by its size and technological development power, partly by its own global ambitions. It will greatly impact the new world order.”
Q: What’s the way ahead for India-Denmark relations after Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Copenhagen in May 2022?
A: India-Denmark and India-Nordic ties have gained a new momentum after PM Modi’s visit. Recently, I signed an agreement on behalf of the Danish government with United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) through which we are supporting the Jal Jeevan Mission of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. We are getting ready a centre in Himachal Pradesh for dairy production. India is the world’s largest milk producer, but the value of the milk is low. We would like to bring in our knowledge. Looking ahead, Denmark is looking for opportunities for enhanced cooperation with India in defence and security. In this context, I will like to highlight that Denmark has developed sophisticated radar technologies that can detect the drones. Danish companies have also developed technologies that can prevent infiltration, if people with evil intentions are crossing the border between Pakistan and India.
Q: India’s stand on the Ukraine crisis has evoked criticism from the West. How do you look at the role of India in crises such as this?
A: The biggest expectation that Denmark and others have is that given the size and the importance of India, and not to forget the stature of PM Modi, the fact that India has good contacts with Russia and Putin, and the West, India should really do everything possible to bring the hostilities to an end as soon as possible. Every hour counts, every day counts. India has a moral obligation to ensure that this hostility is brought to an end before it devastates the global economy and ruins the future of the youth, including Indians. If there is a nuclear war, it will be an end of civilization. I am sure Prime Minister Modi is working on this. If India succeeds, it will be a big gain for India’s stature. Even if it fails, the world will still appreciate the effort India put in. But doing nothing does not correspond with Prime Minister Modi’s image of a global leader.
Q: Do you see India as a bridge-builder in an increasingly polarized world?
A: This planet cannot have too many fractures. There cannot be endless discussion about the South versus the North. We need to bridge and, hopefully, India will be able to handle this challenge.
Q: How do you look at competition from China in the region?
A: We are looking into a situation where China is an economic partner, but has also a very aggressive presence in the South China Sea. We see the border skirmishes with India, the expansion of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which has even reached the Arctic. We have to also consider China as a competitor with whom we do not see eye-to-eye on the principles that we have laid as fundamental for our societies. India’s role will only enhance, as we share the same values. India will partner with us to secure a world that is more democratic, and where power does not determine rights.
Q: Recently, India’s External Affairs Minister, Dr S. Jaishankar pushed hard for reform and expansion of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). How do you regard India’s candidacy for UNSC?
A: Denmark has always supported the rise of India. We find India’s request to be a permanent member of the Security Council as fair, given its size and importance. We think it’s important to bring in India, and also other countries, that will represent today’s world in a far better balanced way. We were also asked by Prime Minister Modi to help lead the discussions under the last General Assembly, on the reforms of the UN, and we have been a strong supporter of reforms. We strongly believe that India should be given a permanent seat in the UNSC. It is imperative. The world cannot function if countries of the size of India, or continents like Africa are not represented.
Q: You have spent over eight years in India as Denmark’s ambassador. What is your view on Prime Minister Modi’s skills as a global leader?
A: I was the first European ambassador to break the ice with him, when he was the Chief Minister of Gujarat. Since then, Prime Minister Modi has emerged as a very respected global leader. He has taken a number of initiatives, and we laud his agenda for India’s development. There are negative stories, but one has to look beyond them. I remember his Independence Day speech in 2014, and how people were so surprised to hear him talking of Swachh Bharat, because at that time, who cared about all this. He has embarked on the world’s largest developmental project in lifting millions of people out of poverty, empowering them, especially women, with schemes like Jal Jeevan Mission and digitisation. He will stand out as the most global leader, ever, of India. He has his finger on the pulse of all issues that are relevant—health, education, digitisation, climate change. He is an iconic leader.
Manish Chand is CEO, India Writes Network, India and The World and Director, Centre for Global India Insights, a think tank focused on global affairs.