Introduction: India on the Rise
Vannakam and good afternoon. Thank you Professor Bhaskar Ramamurthi for your invitation to join the students and faculty of IIT-Madras for a conversation on the U.S.-India relationship. I am thrilled to visit one of India’s most distinguished universities and alma mater to two generations of students who have brought innovation and excellence both in India and in the United States as well.
Your graduates are in the highest ranks of business, including Google, Infosys, Microsoft, and Tata Steel; in education at MIT, Carnegie Mellon, Harvard, and of course here at IIT-Madras; and they have become leaders in government and public life too. I was also pleased to learn about your close partnership with Purdue University focused on joint graduate education. You have produced not just the world’s best engineers and scientists, but inventors and innovators, the very people who are leading India on the global stage and bringing new depth and breadth to the U.S.-India partnership.
One of my most famous predecessors, Ambassador John Kenneth Galbraith, used to give a lot of speeches, particularly at universities and to students across India. He was always amazed at the big crowds that would gather to hear him speak. He used to take pride in the applause that came at the end of his speeches, particularly the foreign policy speeches. But only did he later learn, as he writes in his memoirs, that the students were cheering so loudly because it was indeed the end of his speech! So I don’t intend to give a long foreign policy speech or ramble on, as I’d rather take your questions and engage in a discussion. But I do want to provide a brief overview of the US-India relationship – a partnership that is on the move and has soared in recent months.
But, first, I think it’s worth a look back on this week’s events, just to ensure we all appreciate the significant global role India plays on the world’s stage. There was, of course, the significant and welcome announcement between India and Pakistan, resuming talks on key security and economic issues. There was the trip of the Prime Minister to five Central Asian nations, where he secured important commercial and energy deals. And back in India, there was a successful rocket launch by ISRO of five British satellites, demonstrating an impressive array of space launch capabilities.
This is the new normal – India as the global strategic, political and economic player. We welcome that role, and will continue to be supportive of India’s global aspirations. We will continue to support India’s bid for UNSC membership in a reformed security council; we support their phased membership in the four export control regimes; we want them to play a leadership role in Paris at the Climate talks; we have welcomed and saluted their role in humanitarian response – from Yemen to Nepal to the Maldives.
U.S.-India: A Status Report
Back on the bilateral relationship, I’m as optimistic today about the promise and potential of our partnership with India as when I started here over six months ago. You may have seen the recent Pew Research poll showing President Obama’s approval around 74%, and with the US more generally with similarly strong numbers. I feel that same sentiment, and excitement for our renewed ties when I travel around India.
I returned from Washington a couple of weeks ago, where I had an extensive round of consultations at the State Department, the White House, the Defense Department, with leaders of Congress and leaders of industry. To suggest that the interest in India remains strong would be an understatement – everyone wants to know what’s happening in the relationship and what’s coming up next. Even today in Washington, commemorating the 10 year anniversary of the civil nuclear deal, Vice President Biden will give a major address on US/India relations.
We see no signs of the interest or enthusiasm dissipating. Our cooperation is no longer limited to South Asia and we are working in more areas than ever before. I now refer to our partnership as a “Strategic Plus”, with the “plus” indicating a broader geographic zone of cooperation and engagement in more areas than ever before.
We have some 80+ initiatives coming out of the January visit by President Obama; and 30 some dialogues/working groups have been re-launched since the Prime Minister’s visit to DC last September. So, as we mark nearly six months since President Obama was here as the Chief Guest for Republic Day, let me try to sum up where things stand and where we are headed in five key points:
Our military to military contacts are growing, defense sales numbers are increasing, and co-production and co-development is now a reality. I was delighted that Secretary of Defense Carter could be here in June to cement our relationship together for the next 10 years with the signing of the new Defense Framework Agreement.
Our major naval exercise, Malabar, will include the Japanese navy this year, and will continue to build a common operating platform for conducting advanced humanitarian and disaster response missions, as well as military operations. Similarly, our Army exercise, Yudh Abhyas, will be held in Joint Base Lewis McChord in Washington in September, and will bring our two Armies closer together to forge common understandings on battlefield tactics and strategy. And the Indians will rejoin our signature Air Force exercise, Red Flag, next year in the United States.
I would also note that our aircraft carrier working group will be meeting in the next couple of months. While we may not yet be building the next aircraft carrier together, we will be talking about how our respective systems could operate together, what technologies we use, and the battle rhythms of our carrier fleet. We have come a long way from not wanting to discuss interoperability – it’s now a mantra for the future.
We are also working hard on building out the landmark Joint Vision Statement for the Asia Pacific that the President and Prime Minister entered into in January. That means developing new initiatives in maritime cooperation and in humanitarian and disaster response. Last week, we held a trilateral meeting between India, Japan and the US at PACOM focused on these subjects. It also means furthering our interests in economic integration and upholding international norms and rules in the Indo Pacific.
The United States and India look forward to a day very soon when, for the first time, we establish secure phone lines between our respective National Security Advisors, as well as between the President and Prime Minister, further opening key channels of communication on sensitive issues. All these moves point to stronger and closer ties strategically that will benefit not just our two countries, but for the global commons and for the rules based international order we are committed to upholding.
While economic reform measures may not often move as fast as some want, there has been steady progress in our commercial, trade and investment relationships, which bring significant benefits to both our countries. Two-way trade numbers are up, and have surpassed $103 billion, and increasingly Indian companies are opening and investing in the US. Foreign direct investment in India from American investors is on the rebound, and we’ve seen a very positive “race to the top” in the Indian states trying to compete for American investment, as they tout new regulatory reforms and improvements in the ease of doing business. And, some critical sectors like insurance and mining have become more open in recent months to outside ownership and investment.
We are in intensive consultations over a bilateral investment treaty; we have similarly intense discussions on food security at the WTO; and we have established robust dialogues and information sharing mechanisms on finance and tax. In fact, this past week, India signed a bilateral agreement with us to share information to deter and detect tax evasion and money laundering. The dialogues and information exchanges are imperative to resolving old disputes, like longstanding tax cases, while also ensuring our commercial connections grow stronger to help power both our countries’ growth.
We are also lining up to support India’s priorities in developing India’s infrastructure for the 21st Century and helping to deal with the massive urbanization challenges confronting the country in the years ahead. We are a close partner in the Smart Cities campaign and in three cities in particular we are bringing our financing, technology and expertise to bear to help plan and design more modern, safe and sustainable living spaces. We are also committed to supporting India’s plan to greater digitize its government services and delivery of benefits. Again, we believe our technologies and expertise will play a key role in this effort.
We are committed to sharing our experiences, our technology, and our financing possibilities to help India meet its aggressive renewable targets, to combat air pollution and to lessen the impact of temperature increases upon India. We have brought billions to the table in low-cost clean energy financing, and we will continue to help sponsor and bring clean energy solutions to market. We were pleased last week to establish a joint US/India multimillion dollar fund to support bringing green power to Indian communities that have none.
South India has an especially significant role to play in India’s quest to achieve 175 GW of renewable energy by 2022. Here in Tamil Nadu, there is a strong commitment to clean energy with twice as much installed wind capacity as the next Indian state. Both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have significant solar potential as well.
Our civil nuclear cooperation also continues to move ahead – the Indian Government has committed to ratify the international convention ensuring liability for nuclear accidents is channeled to operators, not suppliers; they have moved out aggressively on establishing an insurance pool; and our companies are working closely with NPCIL, India’s nuclear power company, on ensuring these government to government commitments make their way into commercial contracts.
And we continue to have excellent discussions with India on the leadership role it intends to play in the Paris climate talks. The Prime Minister himself said he needs no convincing on the impacts of climate change, and we are hopeful that India will chart a compelling way forward that reduces its dependence on carbon-based sources of energy and embraces the huge opportunities available in today’s green economy. We will continue to do our part in facilitating the financing and technology necessary to help facilitate this critical transformation.
For all that we have in common, we are not the same countries, nor do we aspire to be. There is bound to be some dissonance in our partnership. But what I have seen – and what I will continue to work on – is that we are talking at all levels and on a regular basis – not only on those areas that unite us, but on those areas that may continue to divide us. And, this is the hallmark of a durable and mature partnership. That’s why all these dialogues and working groups are so important – they help regularize our relationship, they build trust, and they help provide an outlet when disputes may arise, and that’s a good thing.
This has worked in practice over the past 9 months – we solved our longstanding dispute on liability in the civil nuclear arrangement through the US/India contact group; we negotiated a way forward to India’s food security concerns at the WTO; we not only averted a stalemate at the Montreal Protocol discussions on HFCs, we are now working constructively with India on their proposal to reduce HFCs; and on intellectual property, we have been able to voice our concerns through the trade policy forum and even weigh in and provide feedback on India’s overhaul of its IP policy. When we talk and engage on the full spectrum of issues, we can get important things done.
So, we will continue to work with our Indian counterparts on improving the ease of doing business, protecting intellectual property, and seeing that more sectors of the economy are open for investment. And we will continue to use the mechanisms we’ve developed with our friends and colleagues in India to bolster civil society, free speech and inclusive governance.
The American and Indian people are at the heart of our strategic partnership. Thousands of Indians have participated in professional and academic exchanges with American citizens, and a growing and active diaspora in the U.S. continues to build personal connections. These relationships have brought our countries closer together in ways governments alone cannot achieve. I speak to Americans and Indians everyday who are making a difference to both our countries. And I’m meeting more today here at IIT-Madras.
Over three million Indian Americans contribute every day to the prosperity and success of the United States. In recent days in the United States, Indian Americans were at the forefront of the news. Governor Nikki Haley from South Carolina courageously helped bring down the confederate flag in her state, a divisive symbol of our past. And Sunita Williams was one of four brave astronauts chosen to test-fly commercial spacecraft, a promising development for our future.
Over 100,000 Indian students are studying in the United States. This year, there are two IIT-Madras scholars headed to the United States under the Fulbright-Nehru program and two Americans headed to IIT-Madras. Our university and community college presidents are talking to their counterparts in India about expanding the reach of our higher education and skills training efforts to future generations.
Americans in India are working side by side with their counterparts on health, development, human rights, and science & technology, and space cooperation. We look forward to path-breaking work between NASA and ISRO on deep space exploration to Mars and beyond, and future low Earth orbit missions to better monitor and understand climate change.
And in health, our doctors and development professionals are working together in 10 other countries to combat disease and child mortality. The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Center for Disease Control (CDC) have established excellent joint research projects with the Indian National Institute for Research in Tuberculosis (NIRT) which I look forward to visiting tomorrow. In short, our cooperation across so many sectors is deeper and broader than it’s ever been before.
One of the recent trips I was privileged to take was to Punjab to visit the hometown of my mother and grandmother, and also give the commencement speech where my father graduated from college 64 years ago. I went back to the two-room house down an alleyway where my mom and grandma lived following partition; I went to the girls school across from a slum area where my grandmother taught; I saw her pay records from the mid-1960s showing a few hundred rupees each month; and I saw the admission records of my father for DAV college – an admission that lifted this eldest of 11 children from a village, and with the help of a scholarship from the University of Northern Iowa, put him on the path to becoming a college professor.
They say that understanding where you are from can help you better understand where you want to go – and that trip further crystalized for me the great importance of our deep people to people ties and how they can help drive our bilateral relationship forward. It was also a clear reminder that the scholarship and exchange programs, the USAID initiatives, and other people-to-people programs we help lead are so important, as I know what kind of impact they can have on people’s lives.
The Prime Minister may have said it best when he said it is too limiting to ask what the US and India can do for each other – the real test will be in seeing what we can do for the world. The bottom line is we are stronger together. The two largest democracies, operating together, can bring greater peace and prosperity to the world. That’s why we are so committed to driving forward on all aspects of this relationship. All of you here at IIT-Madras have been and will continue to be an integral part of shaping our future path together. Thank you very much.
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