Remarks on India and the United States: A Vision for the 21st Century
Secretary of State
President Obama made a state visit to India last year. I have been here twice in the last two years. And why, one might ask? Why are we coming to India so often and welcoming Indian officials to Washington as well? It’s because we understand that much of the history of the 21st century will be written in Asia, and that much of the future of Asia will be shaped by decisions not only of the Indian Government in New Delhi, but of governments across India, and perhaps, most importantly, by the 1.3 billion people who live in this country.
And we have a great commitment to our government-to-government relations, but we have an even greater commitment to our people-to-people ones. And we view them as absolutely central to the partnership and friendship between our countries. As President Obama told the Indian parliament last year, the relationship between India and the United States will be one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century. How will we define it? How will we work together to inject content into it? What will we do to build trust and confidence and do more that will bring us together?
Well, speaking for the United States, I can tell you that we are, in fact, betting on India’s future. We are betting that the opening of India’s markets to the world will produce a more prosperous India and a more prosperous South Asia. It will also spill over into Central Asia and beyond into the Asia Pacific region. We are betting that advances in science and technology of all kinds will both enrich Indian lives and advance human knowledge everywhere. And we are betting that India’s vibrant, pluralistic democracy will produce measurable results and improvements for your citizens and will inspire others to follow a similar path of openness and tolerance.
Now, we are making this bet not out of some blind faith, but because we have watched the progress of India with great admiration. You have maintained that democratic foundation while focusing on improving lives, particularly on the poorest among you in a way that the United States both recognizes and admires. Yet I know very well it will take time to realize this potential. And I also know, because I hear it from friends and colleagues and I see it from time to time in the Indian press, which is so exciting to read – I never know what I’m going to find when I turn the page of one of your newspapers, and I’m always both delighted and surprised.
But I find that there are those who raise questions about the direction of the relationship between us, and I understand that. It is true that we are different countries with different histories and backgrounds. And we will, from time to time, disagree as any two nations or, frankly, any two friends inevitably will do. But we believe that our differences are far outweighed by our deep and abiding bonds. Our nations are built on the same bedrock beliefs about democracy, pluralism, opportunity, and innovation. We share common interests like stopping terrorism and spurring balanced and broad-based economic growth that goes deeply into our societies.
And that is why our two governments have established a Strategic Dialogue which we announced when I first came as Secretary of State back in 2009 and when Prime Minister Singh visited later that year, and which, of course, we now have held two important sessions of, one in Washington and then this week in New Delhi. I met with a broad array of Indian officials, and I am very pleased to report to you that our work together is producing real results. We have already established a new clean energy research and development center that will be putting out the requests for proposals so we know what it is we can work on together to advance our common goal of clean energy and combat climate change.
We have worked together for the important task of preventing cyber attacks on our respective infrastructures. We are talking about a new bilateral investment treaty that will build on the 20 percent increase in trade we’ve seen just this last year. And we have watched as trade is increasingly flowing in both directions. We have new initiatives linking students and businesses and communities, and one of my personal favorites is the Passport to India, a program designed to bring more American students to study in India to match the great numbers of Indian students that come to America to study, because we want to create those bonds between our young people and our future leaders. We also consulted on the work we will be doing in the months ahead, strengthening our joint fight against terrorism, boosting our economic ties, completing our civilian-nuclear partnership, and deepening our defense cooperation. We think this work is very much in the interests of both of our countries and both of our peoples.
But I came to Chennai today to discuss in more depth, publicly, two issues that we discussed in our official meetings in New Delhi. And it really – they both are about India’s growing leadership role in the world, because today, India is taking its rightful place in the meeting rooms and conference halls where the world’s most consequential questions are debated and decided. And President Obama recognized this when he said that the United States looks forward to a reformed United Nations Security Council that includes India as a permanent member. (Applause.)
So what does – for India and for the United States and for the world, what does this global leadership mean in practical terms? And what does it mean for the relationship between the two of us? Well, for starters, it means that we can work more productively together on today’s most complex global challenges. For example, to advance democratic values, the world’s oldest democracy and its largest can both support the democratic transitions taking place in the Middle East and North Africa.
India’s election commission, widely viewed as the global gold standard for running elections – (applause) – is already sharing best practices with counterparts in other countries, including Egypt and Iraq. To help rebalance the global economy after the recession of 2008 and to spur growth, India and the United States are working together through the G-20 which has become the premier forum for international economic cooperation. To promote clean energy and to seek climate change solutions, this partnership that we have launched will accelerate research and deployment of effective technology, but it will also enable us to work together to make the UN Conference on Climate Change coming up in Durban a success.
India was a very constructive partner to the United States and others at both the conferences in Copenhagen and Cancun, where we’re not making enough progress, but we could put some milestones of progress and ongoing processes together to continue our efforts. To curb nuclear proliferation, we are working together with the international community to address shared concerns about provocative actions by countries like Iran. We have called for Iran to meet its international obligations at the IAEA. India has taken steps to ensure that products from your high-tech industry cannot be diverted to that nuclear weapons program. And we work with India, who is currently a nonpermanent member of the Security Council, to persuade Iran’s leaders to change course. And to promote sustainable development, the United States is encouraging India to share broadly its expertise in dry field, drought-tolerant agriculture, and to apply other lessons about how to lift millions of people out of extreme poverty.
So in these and many other areas, from democracy to economics, climate change, nonproliferation, development, our interests align and our values converge. A great deal has already been written about our efforts to collaborate on these cross-cutting global challenges, but today, I want to focus on two aspects of our cooperation, where the choices we make in the immediate term will have profound impacts on our security and prosperity in the years ahead. First, our work together in the Asia Pacific, and second, our shared interests in South and Central Asia, because this is a moment when these regional concerns have profound global resonance. And as I discussed them in depth with officials in Delhi yesterday, I’d like to explore them further with you today.
And let me start with the Asia Pacific. There is no better place to discuss India’s leadership in the region to its east than here in Chennai. In this port city, looking out at the Bay of Bengal and beyond to the nations of East and Southeast Asia, we are easily reminded of India’s historic role in the wider region. For thousands of years, Indian traders have sailed those waters of Southeast Asia and beyond. Indian culture has left its mark. The temples of Angkor Wat bear the influence of Tamil architecture. The Hindu god Ganesh still stands guard against homes in Indonesia. And today, the stretch of sea from the Indian Ocean through to the Pacific contain the world’s most vibrant trade and energy routes linking economies and driving growth.
The United States has always been a Pacific power because of our very great blessing of geography. And India straddling the waters from the Indian to the Pacific Ocean is, with us, a steward of these waterways. We are both deeply invested in shaping the future of the region that they connect. And there are big questions for us to consider. Will this region adopt basic rules of the road or rules of the sea to mobilize strategic and economic cooperation and manage disagreements? Will it build the regional architecture of institutions and arrangements to enforce international norms on security, trade, rule of law, human rights, and accountable governance? Through its Look East policy, India is poised to help lead toward the answers to these questions.
The United States believes that is a very good thing because we believe our vision for the future is very much similar. We both wish to expand economic ties. The United States is pushing forward on comprehensive trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership and our free trade agreement with South Korea. We are also stepping up our commercial diplomacy and pursuing a robust economic agenda at APEC. India, for its part, has concluded or will soon conclude new bilateral economic partnerships with Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, South Korea, and others. The more our countries trade and invest with each other and with other partners, the more central the Asia Pacific region becomes to global commerce and prosperity, and the more interest we both have in maintaining stability and security. As the stakes grow higher, we should use our shared commitment to make sure that we have maritime security and freedom of navigation. We need to combat piracy together. We have immediate tasks that we must get about determining.
These shared interests give India and the United States is a very strong incentive to make sure that the regional architecture for the Asia Pacific is up to answering the questions and delivering results. President Obama looks forward to joining Prime Minister Singh at the East Asia Summit later in the year this fall in Indonesia. We want to work with India and all of our friends and allies to build the East Asia Summit into the Asia Pacific’s premier forum for dealing with political and security issues. We want to use it to help set our priorities and lay out a vision for other regional institutions. At this year’s upcoming summit, the United States intends to collaborate with India and others to help advance an East Asia Summit agenda that draws on our two countries’ unique capacities. And high on this list should be maritime security, including developing multilateral mechanisms of cooperation. The East Asia Summit should also focus on disaster readiness, response, and relief, and nonproliferation, including working toward a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.
Now, later this week, Foreign Minister Krishna and I will attend the ASEAN Regional Forum, and we will there be working in conjunction with ASEAN partners and others, and we will soon inaugurate a trilateral U.S.-India-Japan dialogue. America’s treaty alliances with Japan has long been a cornerstone of security in East Asia, and as a fellow democracy with us and India, we believe enhanced cooperation will be beneficial. We are also committed to a strong, constructive relationship among India, the United States, and China. Now, we know this will not always be easy. There are important matters on which we all disagree, one with the other. But we do have significant areas of common interest. We could begin by focusing on violent extremism, which threatens people on all – in all of our countries. Ultimately, if we want to address, manage, or solve some of the most pressing issues of the 21st century, India, China, and the United States will have to coordinate our efforts.
As India takes on a larger role throughout the Asia Pacific, it does have increasing responsibilities, including the duty to speak out against violations of universal human rights. For example, we recognize that India has important strategic interests in maintaining a peaceful border and strong economic ties with Burma. But the Burmese Government’s treatment of its own people continues to be deplorable. So it was a signal moment when Foreign Secretary Rao met with Aung San Suu Kyi last month. And I hope New Delhi will continue to encourage the Burmese Government to engage in dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi and also to release other political prisoners.
In all of these areas, India’s leadership will help to shape positively the future of the Asia Pacific. That’s why the United States supports India’s Look East policy, and we encourage India not just to look east, but to engage East and act East as well, because after all, India, like the United States, where we look to the Atlantic and to the Pacific, India also looks both east and west. And its leadership in South and Central Asia is critically important. For example, India’s diverse democratic system in which people of all faiths and backgrounds participate equally can serve as a model for Sri Lanka as it pursues political reconciliation. Here in Chennai, we can see how much a society can achieve when all citizens fully are participating in the political and economic life of their country. Every citizen of Sri Lanka deserves the same hope and opportunity for a better future. (Applause.)
India also has a great commitment to improving relations with Bangladesh, and that is important because regional solutions will be necessary on energy shortages, water-sharing, and the fight against terrorists. And in Nepal, as the latest deadline for concluding the peace process and promulgating a new constitution approaches, Indian support for that process is critical. And in the Maldives, India is providing important economic assistance and partnerships to improve ports and other infrastructure. Looking north, in Central Asian states like Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, India has forged new partnerships on energy, agriculture, cyber security, and other areas, because India and the United States share an interest in helping the people of this entire region build strong democratic societies and market economies, and to resolve long-festering conflicts. And of course, the conflict in Afghanistan continues to be a major challenge for us both.
I want to be very clear. The United States is committed to Afghanistan and to the region. We will be there. Yes, we are beginning to withdraw combat troops and transfer responsibility for security to the Afghan people, a process that will be completed in 2014, but drawing down our troops is not the same as leaving or disengaging. We and the Afghans are making progress on a new strategic partnership declaration that will define our relationship after 2014. And through that partnership, we will continue to assist the Afghan army and police and the Afghan Government. And we will do everything we can to help the Afghan people rebuild after decades of war.
At the same time, we are pursuing an active diplomatic effort with all the countries in the region toward two goals: First, a responsible political solution in Afghanistan, and second, stronger economic ties through South and Central Asia so that goods, capital, and people can flow more easily across borders. Representatives from Afghanistan and all their neighbors will have the chance to discuss this vision at a summit hosted by Turkey this November, and they will discuss it again with the rest of the international community at the Bonn conference in December.
How do we get from where we are to where we and especially the Afghan people need to end up? In February, I gave a speech at the Asia Society in New York explaining our support for Afghan-led efforts to reach a political solution to end the insurgency and to chart a more secure, prosperous, and peaceful future. As we have said many times, there are unambiguous redlines for reconciliation with insurgents. India has pioneered some of this work over years of effort in bringing people into the political system and taking them out of the forest or out of insurgencies.
Number one, people must renounce violence. Number two, the Taliban must abandon their alliance with al-Qaida. And number three, anyone wishing to reconcile must agree to abide by the laws and constitution of Afghanistan. Now, these are necessary outcomes of any negotiation. And let me say a special word about the last point. Any potential for peace will be subverted if women and ethnic minorities are marginalized or silenced. What we have learned in the 20th century that we must apply in the 21st century is that you cannot deny women and minorities, whether they be religious minorities or ethnic minorities or tribal or any other minority – you cannot deny your own people the chance to be full citizens in their own country.
And so when we look at what will happen in Afghanistan, the United States will not abandon our values or support a political process that undoes the progress that has been made in the past decade. Reconciliation, achieving it, and maintaining it, will depend on the participation of all of Afghanistan’s neighbors, including both Pakistan and India. We all need to be working together. Whether we live in Kabul or Islamabad, New Delhi, or Washington, we have to be committed to a common vision of a stable, independent, Afghanistan rid of the insurgency and a region free from al-Qaida.
In Kabul earlier this year, Prime Minister Singh reaffirmed India’s commitment to the Afghan-led reconciliation. And the Indian Government reinforced that commitment last month by supporting a United Nations Security Council resolution that cleared the way for lifting sanctions on insurgents who do reconcile. At the same time, India has rightly expressed concerns about outside interference in the reconciliation process, and we agree with those concerns and are consulting closely with India about that.
We will continue to encourage New Delhi’s constructive role. For example, in advocating based on India’s own experience that reconciliation, beginning at the very start of the process, must include representatives from a range of political parties and ethnic groups. We also believe Pakistan has an essential role and legitimate interest in this process, and those interests must be respected and addressed. We welcomed Pakistan’s decision to participate in a joint peace commission with Afghanistan and in what we call the core group of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the United States to manage the withdrawal. Achieving lasting peace and security in the region will require a stable, democratic, prosperous Pakistan free from violent extremism. That’s in everyone’s interest, because Americans, Indians, Pakistanis, and Afghans have all suffered at the hands of violent extremists, and none of us should tolerate a safe haven for terrorists anywhere.
So we look to the Pakistani Government to press insurgents to join the reconciliation process, to prevent Pakistani territory from being used for attacks that destabilize Afghanistan or India and to deny al-Qaida the space to regroup and plan new violence. And beyond India and Pakistan, all of Afghanistan’s other neighbors – Russia, Iran, China, the Central Asian states should recommit themselves to the goal of a stable and independent Afghanistan. That means they too must support reconciliation and respect Afghanistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. That is a pledge that all the countries of the region made nearly a decade ago when they signed the Declaration on Good Neighbourly Relations. The time has come to operationalize that agreement and to create mechanisms that ensure nations will live up to their commitments, and the United States will invest the considerable diplomatic effort needed to help build such support for those outcomes.
This diplomatic and political effort is the first element of our approach, but it will only succeed if it is paired with a strategy to increase economic ties that connect all the countries of the region. Because while many countries, including India, have given generous assistance to Afghanistan, no country, including my own, can afford to provide aid forever. We have to get an economy going. We have to have trade and investment coming. And the Afghan people themselves do not want receive aid forever. An Afghanistan firmly embedded in the economic life of a thriving South and Central Asia would be able to attract new sources of foreign investment and connect to markets abroad, including hundreds of millions of potential new customers in India. And increasing trade across the region would open up new sources of raw material, energy, and agricultural products, creating more jobs in India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.
But we have a long way to go before we could ever realize that in today’s world, because today, an Indian entrepreneur in Chennai who wishes to ship her products to a customer in Kazakhstan has to send them either through China or Iran, thousands of miles out of the way. An Indian business must import cement from Southeast Asia instead of from the flourishing cement industry next door in Pakistan. A traveler going between India and Pakistan not only has a difficult time getting a visa; he also often has to be routed through airports a thousand miles away just to get across the border. Now, we have no illusion about how difficult it will be to overcome the longstanding distrust that holds back economic cooperation, but we also are absolutely convinced this is very much in India’s interest, Pakistan’s interest, Afghanistan’s, and other nations as well.
Historically, the nations of South and Central Asia were connected to each other and the rest of the continent by a sprawling trading network called the Silk Road. Indian merchants used to trade spices, gems, and textiles, along with ideas and culture, everywhere from the Great Wall of China to the banks of the Bosphorus. Let’s work together to create a new Silk Road. Not a single thoroughfare like its namesake, but an international web and network of economic and transit connections. That means building more rail lines, highways, energy infrastructure, like the proposed pipeline to run from Turkmenistan, through Afghanistan, through Pakistan into India. It means upgrading the facilities at border crossings, such as India and Pakistan are now doing at Waga. And it certainly means removing the bureaucratic barriers and other impediments to the free flow of goods and people. It means casting aside the outdated trade policies that we all still are living with and adopting new rules for the 21st century.
I was very encouraged by the reports of the resumption of discussions between India and Pakistan, the meeting between Prime Ministers Singh and Gillani at Mohali, and the forward-looking roadmap produced by the Indian and Pakistani commerce secretaries in April are very important steps. The upcoming meeting of Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers is another chance to make tangible progress. And I was pleased to see Afghanistan and Pakistan commit to implement fully their transit trade agreement. This is an agreement that Afghanistan and Pakistan started negotiating together in 1961. All these years later, they have finally signed it. And we want to see trade begin to move across that border, and then we want to see that trade expanded into Central Asia and India – two-way trade, multiple paths for trade.
Because someday, that entrepreneur here in Chennai should be able to put her products on a track – on a truck or a train that travels unimpeded, quickly, and cheaply through Pakistan, through Afghanistan, to the doorstep of her customer in Kazakhstan. A Pakistani businessman should be able to open a branch in Bangalore. An Afghan farmer should be able to sell pomegranates in Islamabad before he drives on to New Delhi. Or as Prime Minister Singh put it so beautifully, “I dream of a day, while retaining our respective identities, one can have breakfast in Amritsar, lunch in Lahore, and dinner in Kabul. That is how my forefathers lived. That is how I want our grandchildren to live.” (Applause.)
I couldn’t agree more, and neither could you. Now it is just as important as applauding to support the work that must be done to realize that dream. When I look at the potential of the people in this region, I am absolutely convinced you can out-compete, outgrow, out-prosper anybody in the world. But that’s why the barriers must come down. When Indian Americans used to come to the United States, their hard work and their success was such a symbol of what was possible. Today, there’s migration back from the United States to India, because the opportunity society has arrived here. Pakistani Americans, Afghan Americans, they still come to the United States seeking opportunity. They too deserve an opportunity society. And in order to that, we have to move beyond the past into a present filled with possibility and then to make a future that delivers.
In what I’ve discussed today, India’s growing role in the Asia Pacific and in South and Central Asia, I do so because I think this is the only way forward. Yes, it is ambitious agenda, but we can afford to be ambitious, because when we in the United States and particularly in the Obama Administration look at India, we see, as President Obama said, a nation that is not simply emerging, but has emerged, and a nation with whom we share so many bonds, and one that will be a leader globally in shaping the future we will all inherit.
Now of course, both of our nations being democracies are dealing with challenges that have to be met and require immediate attention. But great nations can do more than one thing at a time. In fact, we can do many things at once by enlisting the powerful participation of our own people – Indian and American businesses, Indian and American academics, Indian and American entrepreneurs, inventors, students. In a democracy, we are all helping to shape our future. That is what sets us apart from other systems and other nations. I mean, it does look a little messier from time to time, but it is the most sustainable way human beings have found to organize themselves, and that’s what we must do.
For both America and India, the threats, the perils, the problems are discussed endlessly. Turn on the television, pick up the paper, go on the internet. But I see a much brighter picture because I think there isn’t anything we cannot do, and I believe in India’s future. This is not, therefore, a time when any of us can afford to look inward at the expense of looking outward. This is a time to seize the opportunities of the 21st century, and it is a time to lead. So I come to Chennai as an admirer of what India has accomplished, someone who, in just the course of the last 18 years, has seen the changes firsthand. There are great forces at work, but there is nothing preordained or inevitable about the future of your country or mine.
Generations before us fought to give us a democracy, fought to build our institutions, fought to overcome the inherent problems of pluralism and diversity, fought to make good the values that we know are essential to the systems that we have built. And now, it is our turn, and it is particularly the turn of the young people who are here today. For each of us to make our contribution, for each of us to work in every way we can not only for our own personal betterment – although that comes in an open society like yours and mine – but to work for the common good, to work for our nation, and to work for a world that is worthy of our dreams. So let us commit to do so. Thank you all very much. (Applause.)