Embassy Archives Embassy Archives

AMBASSADOR MEERA SHANKAR ADDRESS AT THE GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY'S AMBASSADORS FORUM AND THE DISTINGUISHED WOMEN IN INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS SERIES

Washington, DC

It is an honor to be here today at the Elliott School for International Affairs to speak on India’s evolving strategic partnership with the United States. I would like to thank the Elliott School for taking this initiative to profile this relationship in collaboration with the Sigur Center for Asian Studies, the Ambassadors Forum and the Distinguished Women in International Affairs series. The timing of this event is also particularly apt as we are preparing for the first ever State Visit of President Obama to India in November this year. It promises to be a landmark visit and we look forward to not only consolidating the enormous strides that we have taken in our relationship in recent years but also to set directions and lay out a vision for the future course of our strategic partnership.

 As we complete the first decade of the 21st century, we are at an interesting juncture in history when we not only face immediate challenges but are in the midst of profound long-term changes that will shape a new world order in this century. Part of this great flux of our time is India’s own transition in a changing world and the transformation in India’s relationship with the United States. The end of the Cold War and the opening up of the Indian economy created the circumstances for reshaping our relationship; shared values, increasingly convergent interests, growing economic ties and connections between our peoples are propelling the new partnership between our two countries.

 We are the world’s two largest democracies. Forged from different faiths and cultures, we embrace pluralism, celebrate diversity and define our nationhood on the basis of values and not identities. Governance by consent of those governed, the institutional checks and balances of an independent judiciary and free media, commitment to secularism, fundamental freedoms, human rights and the rule of law are the pillars on which our democratic polities rest. Beyond this, in the realm of ideas, India and the United States have profoundly influenced each other at important moments in their histories - whether it was Martin Luther King using Mahatma Gandhi’s concept of non-violence for his civil rights movement in the United States or the Indian Constitution makers drawing upon the ideals and experiences of the world’s oldest democracy in America as they sought to fashion a constitutional framework for independent India.

 The 2.7 million strong Indian American community has been both a window to India’s heritage and achievements and a bridge for strengthening our ties. Indeed, this is a relationship which enjoys enormous popular goodwill and broad political support in both our countries across changes in governments and administrations.

 The relationship has acquired wide range and depth in the areas of cooperation as well as their content. Today our economic ties are robust and growing. The two countries work together in the fields of counter-terrorism, defence, nuclear energy, energy security, space, science and technology, education, agriculture, health and other fields.     Broadly, our cooperation can be classified under the framework of strategic cooperation and security, the trade and economic relationship and developmental efforts.

Terrorism remains a major challenge for both our countries and indeed for all open and democratically pluralist societies. Last month we marked the 9th anniversary of the dastardly terrorist attacks of 9/11 in the United States. Next month, on November 26th, we will mark the terrible terrorist attacks in Mumbai. The threat of terrorism still remains and its roots lie in our neighbourhood. The investigation of David Coleman Headley -  a U.S. citizen – in connection with the 2008 Mumbai attacks shows that the tentacles of such terrorist groups now span the globe. We have, therefore, a common objective in ensuring that the forces of terrorism and violent extremism are defeated and safe havens for such forces cease to exist. A Joint Working Group on Counter-Terrorism with the United States was established in January 2000 and over the years our mutual understanding on the sources and nature of the problem and our cooperation have increased. Particularly after the November 2008 Mumbai attacks, cooperation between our intelligence agencies has gained momentum. Under the new bilateral framework for Counter-terrorism Cooperation, we will focus on strengthening exchange of intelligence and information, share best practices and on capacity-building. Given the similar framework of democracy and federalism in both countries, we hope to learn from the U.S. as we reform and upgrade our internal security structures, institutions, systems and technologies to make them better capable of meeting the challenges that we face.

 We in India have vital stakes in the stability of Afghanistan. The path to achieve this will not be easy, but the consequences of not doing so will be far more destablising not just for Afghanistan but for the region and the wider world. India has been making its own contribution to help in the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan through our assistance of over US$1.3 billion, which has helped in building vital infrastructure, schools, healthcare units, transmission lines and irrigation projects. We are also concentrating our efforts on helping Afghanistan develop its agriculture, build its human resources and government institutions. We are gratified by the goodwill and appreciation that we have received throughout Afghanistan. We are guided by our ancient civilisational links with Afghanistan, enormous mutual goodwill between our peoples and our legitimate interest in seeing Afghanistan emerge as a stable, independent and moderate State. We do not see Afghanistan as a platform for regional competition, but as a future hub of regional stability, trade and transit connecting Central and South Asia and we believe that all stakeholders in the region and beyond must work for that common vision for Afghanistan.

Asia’s surge to prosperity is shifting the centre of gravity of global opportunities and challenges towards Asia. The rapid transformation of Asia across its immense diversity has thrown up new questions about co-existence, cooperation and competition in the wider Asian region. Located at the strategic and cultural crossroads of Asia, India has a vital interest in Asia’s security and stability. We believe that we must work towards the evolution of an open, inclusive architecture of economic and security cooperation in Asia which accommodates the interests of all countries. India recognizes that the United States has a role and stake in the future of Asia. We are working together with the United States and others for security and stability in Asia and the Indian Ocean region.

 India and the United States hold regular and candid dialogue on Afghanistan and Pakistan; we exchange views and coordinate approaches on other developments in South Asia; we have commenced a dialogue on East Asia and the evolving Asian economic and security architecture. We discuss how we can work together for development of Africa. In the larger Asian and global context, both the United States and India have begun exploratory discussions on how they can work together to ensure the safety of the Global Commons – including maritime security and protecting the domains of space and cyber space.

 Our defence cooperation has grown significantly and reflects deeper mutual trust. Our two defence forces have been undertaking periodic joint exercises. From a position where we had no relationship in the field of defence equipment, India has placed orders for defence purchases of over US$4 billion from the United States in the last few years and another $4 billion are in the pipeline through the FMS route. There are expanding opportunities for defence partnerships as India seeks to build its defence production capabilities with a greater role for the private sector, including 26% foreign direct investment. We have also seen increased interaction and cooperation in the field of maritime security, including anti-piracy efforts and humanitarian assistance. We are committed to add greater substance to the defence partnership and believe that expanding cooperation in defence is in our mutual interest.

 Nothing was a greater symbol and instrument of transformation in India-US relations than the Civil Nuclear Agreement. It not only addressed an issue which had constrained the full potential of our bilateral relationship but also created new economic opportunities to cooperate in the areas of civil nuclear energy, energy security, climate change and nuclear proliferation. India has identified two sites for building nuclear reactors in cooperation with U.S. companies and we hope to commence commercial negotiations shortly. A new dimension is our Space cooperation with India’s first moon mission, Chandrayaan 1, carrying a NASA payload which detected the existence of water on the moon. There are good prospects for expanding this cooperation in other areas such as exchange of data for weather prediction and climate change, space exploration and space flights.

 The Indian economy has been gathering momentum since the reforms initiated in 1991, which deregulated the economy internally while liberalizing trade and investment policies. We are the second fastest growing major economy in the world and in recent years had reached a growth trajectory of 8 to 9 % a year. This growth has been largely driven by domestic demand and by domestic investment. The global economic and financial crisis slowed down our growth to about 6.7% in 2008, but growth has rebounded this year and is projected to be over 8.5%. India’s sustained economic growth will transform it into one of the three largest economies in the coming decades and make it a potential anchor of global economic momentum and stability.

Our economic partnership with the United States is establishing a strong framework for our relationship, defined by mutual benefit not mutual vulnerability. India-U.S. trade and investment ties, both still relatively small, are growing rapidly and in a balanced manner in both directions. Between 2004 and 2008, our trade in goods more than doubled to US$44 billion, with U.S. exports to India growing three times. While trade dipped in 2009 because of the global economic crisis, the first six months of this year have seen it rebound with a growth of over 30%. Trade in the much scrutinized services sector has also been broadly balanced.  Today the U.S. is one of our leading trade partners and a major source of investment though there is scope to do much more. Interestingly, Indian direct investment into the United States has been growing rapidly, with Indian companies investing US $5.5 billion in green field ventures in the U.S.  and over US $20 billion in mergers and acquisitions between 2004 and 2009, helping to generate wealth and jobs in the United States. The Trade Policy Forum, the Private Sector Advisory Group and the CEO’s Forum have been reconstituted to see what governments and the private sector working together can do to facilitate and encourage our trade and business ties. An Economic Partnership dialogue has been launched. It would be important to eschew protectionism and focus on a positive sum game. India’s growing market will be an extraordinary business opportunity, including in the infrastructure sector where we need to invest over US $1 trillion in the next decade and we would like to see U.S. companies more actively engaged in this sector.

The U.S. is the largest source of technical collaboration for Indian companies.  The U.S. economy will remain the world’s largest for the foreseeable future and will continue to be the leading centre for research, innovation and enterprise.  India, too, is witnessing a burst of entrepreneurial energy and innovation, spurred by economic liberalization, the availability of skilled scientific and technical talent and the sheer magnitude of our challenges.  So, as we look to the future there are exciting opportunities to forge partnerships in the areas of research and development, innovation and high technology.  To fully realize the enormous potential for commerce in high technology and defence and shared endeavours in innovation, a facilitative export control framework in the U.S. would be crucial.  Our dialogue in this area has covered considerable ground and we are hopeful of progress.

As social and economic development is a key focus area for us in India, developmental cooperation has become an important focus of our strategic partnership.  Issues such as agriculture, energy, education and health have a direct impact on the lives of common people.  In India for instance, people still remember the enormous contribution made by the late Dr. Norman Borlaug, the “father” of the first Green Revolution in India in the 1960s that enabled us to increase our food grain production and become self-sufficient. Today we are working together with the US to revive the spirit of our cooperation and catalyze the next Green Revolution.  We have agreed to establish working groups in diverse areas related to agriculture and launch a new agricultural dialogue which should help us increase productivity, develop our logistics and food processing capabilities and also contribute towards regional and global food security. 

 Education is another area where we seek deeper purposeful engagement with the United States. 50% of India’s population is under the age of 25 and providing quality education, including higher learning or vocational skills, is imperative for India to sustain its growth and ensure that it is inclusive which is a key national priority. There is tremendous potential for closer collaboration between educational institutions of the two countries and the two governments are actively striving to unlock this potential, including through adoption of the Foreign Education Service Providers Bill, which has been introduced in our Parliament. There are at least 100,000 Indian students in U.S. universities today. As we move ahead with our educational reforms and envisaged expansion and upgradation of our educational infrastructure, we would hope that U.S. universities will actively engage themselves in India. The Nehru-Fulbright Fellowship Programme and the Singh-Obama Knowledge Initiative which facilitate exchange of scholars and experts will act as catalysts in this process. The India-U.S Science and Technology Endowment will also enhance our ongoing research collaboration and academic exchanges. 


 Energy is another new emerging area of cooperation.  Both our countries face similar challenges of dependence on energy imports and fossil fuels and we both recognize the importance of addressing the challenge of climate change.  For India, sustainable development is a necessity.  Our long-term perspective plan on energy and our ambitious National Action Plan on Climate Change seek to increase the share of clean and renewable energy in our energy mix and increase energy efficiency across the economy.  We have launched a National Solar Mission and are committed to establish a strong manufacturing base in this field.  In November 2009 Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Obama launched a Clean Energy and Climate Change Initiative to advance cooperation in clean and renewable energy, and energy efficiency.  We are working together to ensure speedy implementation of its various provisions including establishing a Joint Research Centre on Clean Energies.

  
As India and the United States increasingly work together to address global challenges, we must also work together to reform the international architecture of global governance.  We are already moving towards more representative mechanisms for global financial and economic management, but we need to reform the institutions that deal with political and security challenges including the U.N. Security Council for which there is growing support.  This would not only enhance their legitimacy but also impact positively on the efficacy of these institutions.  As a country of over a billion people, with one of the fastest growing economies and as a democratic nation, India is willing to assume its responsibility to meet the global challenges of our times. 

I have tried to present before you how we view the constantly evolving range and depth of our relations with the United States and the great promise they hold in the interests of the two countries and the world at large. In the present times, the use of the expression - “strategic partnership” - to describe relations between two countries has often been too liberal. However, the basic fundamentals of the India-US relations, regardless of any minor issue-specific differences, give us confidence that the strategic dimension of this relationship would truly manifest itself in practical terms through joint efforts in all areas of our cooperation, including at the international level. Both countries have the strong political will to move in this direction. We share common interests and concerns, and jointly seek to build our relationship as a long-term global partnership. Both countries have expressed conviction that enduring bilateral relations do not serve us only bilaterally, but also in meaningfully addressing new global threats and challenges.

During Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh’s visit to Washington as the first State Guest of the Obama Admnistration in November last year, President Obama had declared the partnership with India as one of the defining relationships of the 21st century. We look forward to President Obama’s visit to India next month with great hope and optimism and as an opportunity at the highest political level to steer our relationship onto a new higher plane.