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Speech by Ambassador Meera Shankar at American University on "India - United States Partnership: Today and Tomorrow"

Washington, DC
October 6, 2009

Dean Louis Goodman, Professor Surjit Mansingh, friends,

I am, indeed, honoured by the invitation from American University. I always welcome an opportunity to visit a university, because universities are the crucible in which new ideas take shape and future leaders are born, and, as in the case of the American University, the seeds of future international partnerships are sown. With its global outlook and presence, American University is, I believe, well equipped to respond to the imperatives of our globalised world. 

I am pleased that American University’s engagement with India is growing. It is a reflection of your vision, Dean Goodman. I know that among the 95,000 Indian students at US universities today, several are here in American University. They, together with over a dozen faculty members from India, are part of the university’s rich mosaic, but also an important window to India. And, since nothing helps more than a personal visit to improve understanding and appreciation of a country, I am glad that American University is expanding its students’ study trips to India. These are wise investments, because the increasingly close India-US relations will become stronger in the future.

Our youth will live in a world of ceaseless changes and uncertainties. The tools of work and communication, and for creating and distributing wealth, which this generation takes for granted, did not even exist a few years ago. The relentlessly growing inter-dependence is creating collective opportunities, but also shared vulnerabilities, as we just experienced in the global economic crisis. The new digital age co-exists with festering problems of poverty in many parts of the world, but now, more than ever before, we have the means and the tools to educate, enable and empower them to take advantage of the new opportunities.

The new global order is yet to fully evolve and the new organization of the global system is still to take shape, but we know that the number and location of global powers are expanding. Asia is emerging as the new engine of the global economy and increasingly the center of its opportunities and challenges. It is being joined by Latin America as another pole. We are also at a rare moment in history, when the possibilities of cooperation and collaboration among major powers far exceed the potential for division. 

After three centuries of industrial development, we are beginning to understand its costs and the challenges it presents to the future generation. At the heart of the debate on climate change and sustainable development is the question of whether we can bring about a fundamental shift in the paradigms and technologies that determine how we produce, consume and live. This debate is of existential importance to the developing world, where huge masses of people still live on the margins of the economy. And, in this debate, we have to address our common challenges through a collective response, based on equity and fairness, historical responsibilities, resources and capacity. 

I am reflecting on the broad trends before us, because while we cannot predict what this century will turn out to be, we do know the critical issues that we face. And, the youth, which so easily embraces the future, will also have the responsibility of shaping it. And, it is a future that is intrinsically linked to the youth of India. India is demographically young. 70% of its population is below the age of 35 years. Today, every tenth person in the world is a young Indian. In so many ways, their destiny will have a strong impact on this world.

I believe, in a globalised world, all countries, small and large, will need to work more closely together. But I also think that a closer partnership between India and the United States will be of great value both for the two countries, but also for forging global consensus and cooperation. 

India and the United States are the world’s two largest democracies. We are forged from different faiths and cultures, and we have defined our nationhood in terms of values and ideals, and not in terms of identity. We have both used the power of peaceful means and democracy to transform our societies and overcome historical legacies of exclusion and discriminations. Indians and Americans have learnt to respect diversity, embrace pluralism and work across their personal identities for common national purposes. The India-US partnership can and should be a bridge across our inter-connected but diverse world. 

In this context, we must work together, and in partnership with other countries, to shape the global political, economic and security architecture so that it reflects the contemporary reality and a global environment that is marked by consensus, cooperation and co-existence. 

Our economic fortunes will be more closely and deeply entwined. In India, we remain committed to and confident of returning to the growth trajectory of 8-10% per year. Our economy has weathered the global economic crisis relatively well, though growth slowed down from an average of around 9% for four years to 6.7% last year. This year growth is again predicted to be between 6 to 6.5%. The progress of one-sixth of humanity, driven largely by domestic demand and savings, represents a huge economic opportunity and one of the anchors of global economic prosperity. As an example, according to a study, India still has to build about 80% of the infrastructure it would need by 2030. Our investments in infrastructure alone over the next five years would require, at the very least, 500 billion U.S. dollars at Indian prices providing enormous opportunities for business partners around the world, including the United States. 

The United States remains the largest economy and continues to be a wellspring of discovery, innovation and enterprise. India, will continue to look to the United States as a major development partner. 

Our economic ties, although still modest, have already demonstrated the enormous potential. India-US trade has doubled just in the last five years; US exports to India have grown three times during the same period. Our trade in services is growing rapidly and, more important, is balanced in both directions; while India exported $ 9.6 billion worth of services to the U.S., the U.S. in turn exported $ 9.35 billion worth of services to India. Though the US is the largest source of foreign investments in India, the levels are relatively modest and there is considerable potential for this to grow as the Indian economy expands. 

Our economic ties are growing in both directions. Indian direct investment into the US has been growing rapidly and, in fact, on the basis of annual flows, exceeds US foreign direct investment into India in recent years. In 2007-08 alone, an estimated US$ 10.25 billion was invested by Indian companies in the US, which, according to industry estimates, created an additional 65,000 jobs in the US. This trend is expected to continue as Indian companies increasingly seek to position themselves in the global economy.

India has experienced the benefit of international trade, and we will continue to work together with the US and others for an open, stable global trading regime that is a positive sum game, reflecting a fair and equitable balance of interest for all. Just recently, India hosted a ministerial meeting in Delhi to restore momentum in the Doha Development Round of WTO. We must also create new structures of global economic governance that are not rooted in the realities of the past, but reflect the imperatives of the 21st century global economy. At the Pittsburg Summit of the G 20, we have begun taking steps in that direction, with agreement to reform the governance structure at the IMF and World Bank. This is a positive development but there is considerable ground to traverse. 

Indians and Americans have partnered to shape the IT industry and the knowledge economy. If properly harnessed this partnership can help create a greener future for our planet and our economies. We can develop technologies that reduce the use of energy; we can make renewable energy reliable and affordable; and, we can make existing sources of technology cleaner. In doing so, we will not only address a major threat to our planet, but we will also address our shared concerns on energy independence and security. 

Above all, we will also be creating enormous new economic opportunities for our people. For instance, as India seeks to increase its energy capacity by five times over the next two decades, we will seek to expand our nuclear energy from 4000 MWe to 20,000 MWe by 2020; add nearly 20,000 MW of solar energy by 2020; substantially expand the base of wind and biomass energy and increase energy efficiency. Our two countries are simultaneously developing clean coal technologies. Just as the historic civil nuclear agreement of 2009 has opened enormous possibilities in the nuclear field, a new framework for collaborating in developing green technologies can open new avenues for strengthening our partnership.

Science and technology, education and research, enterprise and innovation are the common thread that will link all our joint endeavours of the future. That is why I believe that critical to our future relationship will be a new emphasis on science and technology collaborations and partnerships in higher education. This is an area of enormous potential, given the emphasis on higher education and on science in our two countries. So many of these relationships are spontaneous and the outcome of the vision of individuals and institutions. But, the governments must also play a role in facilitating and catalyzing them. 

We have made an encouraging start with an agreement in July 2009 to launch an India-U.S. Science and Technology Endowment Fund of US $ 30 million with equal contributions from both sides. In 2006, we launched an e-learning initiative that brought 20 leading universities into collaboration with 42 technical institutions in India. We will now seek to create a framework for substantive partnership in expanding and upgrading the higher education sector in India, and in generating productive partnerships between laboratories and research institutions in the two countries. Later this month, India’s Minister of Human Resource Development will visit the US to advance this goal.

The India-US partnership will not only seek a more prosperous future for our people, but also a safer one. India and the United States increasingly recognize that they face common security challenges, in particular, because the locus of so many of the global challenges runs through India’s extended neighbourhood. We have shared interests in maintaining global stability; countering terrorism and violent extremism; preventing further proliferation; ensuring the security of sea lanes of communication ; and, finding ways in which fragile states do not become a source of threat and instability to their own people and the world. 

The threats we face are multiple, unpredictable and often simultaneous. No one country can address them alone. We have to work together more closely. At the bilateral level, India and the United States will deepen their military exchanges, develop opportunities for defence trade, intelligence sharing and counter-terrorism cooperation. From our perspective, the security engagement with the United States is not directed against any other country and is not at the cost of our relations with any other country. It is an important element of our growing web of cooperation with major and regional powers. At a multilateral level, we will need to work together to adjust the global political and security architecture, as we are beginning to do in the economic domain, so that it reflects contemporary realities and improves our ability to respond to crises. Reform of the U.N. Security Council would be crucial in this context. 

To translate our possibilities into concrete efforts and tangible outcomes requires not only shared values and common interests, but also a strong habit of collaboration and partnership, based on mutual trust and confidence and a sense of mutual benefit. For decades, relations between our two democracies were adrift. The end of the Cold War and the liberalization of the Indian economy in 1991 created the opportunities for intensified engagement.

Acknowledging the new opportunities, over the past ten years, our political leadership and our people have made extraordinary investments in transforming India-US relations and have set it on an entirely new course.
In the course of this remarkable journey, our political dialogue has expanded, our strategic understanding has deepened and our cooperation has entered new frontiers. We have created a new framework of cooperation and turned constraints of the past into opportunities for the future. We now have over 25 bilateral mechanisms for consultation and cooperation – the highest that India has with any country.

The strength of the ties between our two governments is matched by the vitality of private partnerships and the warmth of ties between our people, in particular, the 2.7 million strong Indian-American community. 

Indeed, in many ways, this relationship has been defined and nurtured by the vision and enterprise of our people. This is how it should be between democracies; and, this is what has given this relationship the sense of excitement and energy that we see today. The relationship rests on the solid foundation of broad-based political support and public goodwill in India and, I believe, in the United States, and, therefore, will continue to progress through democratic transitions in both countries.

Over the past few months, as the new Administration assumed office in Washington DC and the government returned with a renewed and stronger mandate in Delhi, the process of engagement has continued to make seamless progress. We have had a series of ministerial visits, covering areas from counter-terrorism to environment. During Secretary Clinton’s July 2009 visit to India, we charted out a new roadmap and put in place a revised dialogue architecture to reflect our emerging priorities and focus. On November 24 this year, President Obama will host Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh as his first state guest. 

As we chart our course for the next decades, our bilateral agenda will be broad-based and will respond to the challenges of the 21st century. We shall pursue our goals with the confidence that we draw from the recent progress in our relationship, our shared values, the goodwill and support that the relationship enjoys in both the countries, and, above all, the imagination, inspiration and innovation of the talented and enterprising youth of India and the United States. 

Thank you.