India showcases global aspirations with Raisina Dialogue

Fifth edition of annual gathering seeks to address changes in areas ranging from politics to technology

This handout photograph released by India's Press Information Bureau (PIB) and taken on January 12, 2020 shows India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing a gathering on the occasion of the 150 years of the Kolkata Port Trust, in Kolkata, during his two-day official visit to Bengal.  - RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / PIB" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS -
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Top officials from US, Iran and Russia are taking part in a three-day annual flagship conference in New Delhi as India aims to unleash its soft power on the global arena.

The fifth edition of the Raisina Dialogue starts on Tuesday with experts and delegates focusing on trade wars, global security, climate change and fake news.

More than 2,000 participants including 13 foreign ministers are expected to attend the meeting, jointly organised by India's foreign ministry and the Delhi-based think tank Observer Research Foundation. The theme this year is "21@20: Navigating the Alpha Century".

New Delhi has increasingly asserted its position on the global front through the event as it seeks a greater role in dealing with political, security and economic upheavals affecting the world.

The Asian powerhouse under Prime Minister Narendra Modi has aimed to enhance its involvement in world affairs, a new approach for the country that traditionally avoided alignments.

“Respecting freedom of navigation and adhering to international norms is essential for peace and economic growth in the larger interlinked marine geography of the Indo-Pacific," Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s said in a tweet ahead of the meeting.

"The theme this year is Alpha century. We had a decade of protests around the world and there are nationalist leaderships, the world has strong leaders and we will have a large number of leaders coming for the conference who will talk on a wide range of issues that are very important in more than many ways," Sunjoy Joshi, chairman of the Observer Research Foundation, told The National.

"We are focusing on cyber security, capitalism, new technology and such other important issues concerning around the world."

The 116 speakers scheduled to address the event include the foreign ministers of Russia, Iran, the Maldives, South Africa, Uzbekistan, Rwanda and Tanzania and the former prime ministers of Sweden, South Korea, Denmark and New Zealand.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who was invited as the chief guest and scheduled to deliver the inaugural address, pulled out of the meeting because of the devastating bushfire crisis in his country.

Bangladesh Deputy Foreign Minister Shahriar Alam also cancelled his visit to New Delhi, with commentators blaming the raging controversy over India's new citizenship law that offers nationality to Bangladeshi Hindus.

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov will address the gathering, which could see discussions on the fallout from the US killing of Iranian general Qassem Suleimani in Iraq.

Matt Pottinger, the US deputy national security adviser will be also at the summit.

The US State Department's chief diplomat for South Asian affairs, Alice Wells, will also be in attendance after launching frequent criticism of the Indian government over its handling of Kashmir following the Modi government's decision to revoke the region's autonomy last year and the security and communications restriction imposed there since August 5.

She is expected meet senior Indian officials to advance the US-India strategic global partnership before proceeding to Islamabad. Ali Rashid Al Nuaimi, chairman of the World Muslim Communities Council, will also speak at the conference on identity and religion in the digital age. He will discuss how new technologies are altering beliefs about life, the universe, and everything.

“Going by the past conferences, I am hopeful that this year the conference will be successful and we will succeed in having primary debates on important issues in the changing world," Mr Joshi said.