“Reimagine and Reconnect: Indo-Pacific synergies through the lens of culture”
November 21, 2022, Rajkutir, Kolkata
Thank you, Sabya Datta, Executive Director, Asian Confluence, for the warm introduction.
Good morning, distinguished guests and participants. A special warm welcome to all our friends from far and near across the Indo-Pacific. It is my pleasure to welcome you to this unique conclave, which puts people-to-people and cultural connections at the heart of policy discussions in the Indo-Pacific region.
Kolkata is an eminently suitable city to host this kind of a unique dialogue. It has masterfully maintained its stature as India’s cultural capital into the modern era. Ancient evidence suggests that Kolkata was an established trading hub much before the arrival of the Delhi Sultanate, the Mughals, the Portuguese, the French and the British. The city is an essential node of economic activity and governance—both at a domestic and an international level—by virtue of its geographical proximity to Southeast Asia and connectivity to other parts of the Pacific. Kolkata holds even greater promise for the future as new connectivity and supply chain infrastructure is conceived of and developed.
This is also a city with whom the U.S. Consulate General Kolkata is celebrating 230 years of diplomacy. The relationship dates to 1792, when the first U.S. president, George Washington, appointed Benjamin Joy as U.S. Consul to India in Kolkata. We hosted our National Day on November 1, also celebrating the 75th anniversary of our countries’ diplomatic relations, as well as the diplomatic legacy and shared history.
Our shared values continue to strengthen our bilateral ties and shape the involvement of our countries globally. As the world’s oldest and largest democracies, we remain committed to the preservation and promotion of our shared ideals as we pool our strengths toward addressing key issues at the bilateral, regional, and global levels. Along with the world, we are excited to witness India’s G20 presidency as it takes over from Indonesia on December 1. The G20 role will open new opportunities for multilateral global engagements, with a focus on sustainable growth and inclusive development.
The United States is a proud Indo-Pacific nation. We have maintained and continue to strengthen our long-term commitment to an Indo-Pacific region that is free, open, interconnected, prosperous, resilient, and secure. Our commitment is to every corner of the region, from Northeast Asia and Southeast Asia to South Asia, Oceania and the Pacific Islands.
The Indo-Pacific of today enjoys unprecedented economic ties and represents the world’s biggest producers of goods and largest trade markets. More than 50 percent of global GDP is now generated by the Indo-Pacific. From the world’s most populous countries – China and India – to the world’s smallest populations in the Pacific Island nations, the region is home to a diverse group of around 4.3 billion people, which is more than half of the global population. Over 60 percent of the world’s youth live in Asia-Pacific. This translates into more than 750 million young women and men aged 15 to 24 years. Enhanced prosperity and an energetic, innovative population are critical growth factors, and it is incumbent on us to fortify our historical and geographic ties and move forward together to face the challenges that lay ahead.
The revival of the Quadrilateral Dialogue, which occurred in 2017 on the sidelines of the ASEAN meetings hosted in Manila, was the result of a common U.S.-India vision. The United States, India, Japan, and Australia have been collaborating on developing policy and action-oriented approaches within the Quad framework of functional cooperation across diverse sectors.
The shared Quad vision for the Indo-Pacific is one of a free, open, more resilient, more prosperous, better interconnected, and more secure region. This two-day conclave will help us synergize, brainstorm, and collaborate on common interests against the backdrop of political, social, economic, and cultural spaces.
Let me expand on each of the five core elements of this vision. I believe this same vision is shared by many present here today:
- FREE AND OPEN: We will advance a free and open region, by
investing in democratic institutions, a free press, and a vibrant civil society,
improving fiscal transparency,
ensuring the region’s seas and skies are governed and used according to international law, and
advancing common approaches to critical and emerging technologies, the internet, and cyber space.
- INTERCONNECTED: We will build collective capacity within and beyond the region, by
deepening our five regional treaty alliances with Australia, Japan, the Republic of Korea (ROK), the Philippines, and Thailand,
strengthening relationships with leading regional partners,
contributing to an empowered and unified ASEAN,
strengthening the Quad and delivering on its commitments,
supporting India’s continued rise and regional leadership, and
expanding the U.S. diplomatic presence particularly in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands.
- PROSPEROUS: We will develop new approaches to trade that
meet high labor and environmental standards,
govern our digital economies and cross-border data flows,
advance resilient and secure supply chains that are diverse, open, and predictable,
make shared investments in decarbonization and clean energy, and
close the region’s infrastructure gap through the Build Back Better World with G7 partners.
- RESILIENT: The Indo-Pacific continues to face major transnational challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic inflicted painful human and economic tolls. Climate change continues growing more severe as South Asia’s glaciers melt, and the Pacific Islands battle existential rises in sea levels. We will continue to work with allies and partners to develop 2030 and 2050 targets, strategies, plans, and policies consistent with
keeping the 1.5 degrees Celsius increase in global temperatures in reach,
reducing regional vulnerability to the impacts of climate change and environmental degradation, and
bolstering global health security.
- SECURE: We will continue to bolster Indo-Pacific security by deepening cooperation and enhancing interoperability with allies and partners and innovating to operate in rapidly evolving threat environments, including space, cyberspace, and critical and emerging technologies.
The United States has already provided more than $1 trillion in foreign direct investment in the Indo-Pacific region. The region has told us loud and clear that it wants us to do more. The launch of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) in May 2022 is a part of making that intent a reality. IPEF has been endorsed by thirteen other countries, including India, and is a U.S.-led framework that allows participating countries to solidify their relationships and engage in crucial economic and trade activities through four pillars. Let me explain them briefly.
The first pillar relates to connected economies, which entails nations working toward higher standards and rules for digital trade. Building resilient supply chains that in turn constitute resilient economies forms the second pillar to protect countries from the effects of potentially disruptive global occurrences such as the COVID-19 pandemic. The third IPEF pillar comprises efforts directed at meeting and subsequently exceeding our COP commitments through practical green energy commitments and green infrastructure projects. The fourth and final pillar underscores the importance of fair trade and seeks to create rules targeting corruption reduction while formulating and agreeing on measures for effective taxation.
We are working with India and the other IPEF partners to develop the details and tackle these 21st century economic challenges. I am glad that the two-day conclave will focus on all four pillars. Working together with all of you to defend the rules-based order that we’ve built together over decades helps ensure the region remains and continues to develop in ways that meet our shared vision.
A vibrant interconnectedness had prevailed in this region for around 2,000 years, until it was altered by human decisions and activities that had consequences that became part of our cultural learning and social DNA. But our human brain and its desire for connection has resurrected and renewed convergences between states and peoples through cultural diplomacy, historical research and exploration, companies that fuse the best of our ideas to fill unmet needs with new products, and existential fears that compel us to apply these same innovative brains to address strategic concerns.
This is why I am excited that this conclave is focused on exchanges between people. Observing, listening, testing, learning, creating, debating, revising, building….these acts are not only the scientific process but also the gateway to enhanced, expanded, and improved political and economic relations. They are the path to new paradigms of pedagogy, policy, and research. They are the means of turning alliances, experiences, and imagination into international policies that contribute to the positive development of the now 8 billion people who live on our increasingly small planet, and beyond into the ever-expanding universe.
I personally witnessed this kind of synergy in action as part of the West Bengal Tribal Hill Festival in the Himalayan Hills earlier this month. My team partnered together with five indigenous communities and young leaders from the United States, India, Nepal, and Bangladesh through the U.S. Department of State’s Arts Envoy Program. The act of conceiving of and creating a multilingual artistic performance within a Festival in multiple cities led to a deeper understanding of governments, policies, histories, and the connective and overarching ideals of diversity, inclusion, equity, and accessibility across peoples and nations. The bonds we formed are deep, strong, respectful, and powerful.
We cannot know—especially after the overwhelming experience of the pandemic that gripped our planet—what the next decade will bring. But we do know that we can meet any challenge with certainty if we strengthen our collective capacities, pool our resources and drive toward outcomes that are in alignment with our shared values.
I look forward to participating in the conclave conversations and making new friends over the next two days. I hope you all join in shaping this vision toward our collective prosperity and security.
Thank you so much for your time today.