Thank you for that introduction, Bunty. And thank you to all of the Asia Society staff, members, and guests for welcoming me this evening. Although I traveled to western India last month to accompany Secretary Kerry to Vibrant Gujarat, this is my first visit to Mumbai as Ambassador. It’s a pleasure to spend part of my time here with you.
As you might have seen in the press, it’s been quite a first five weeks on the job for me. Some Ambassadors never get visits from the Secretary of State or the President during the entirety of their tenure. I’ve somehow managed to welcome both in my first five weeks, along with half our cabinet! In the legal profession—and I’m a former lawyer—we use the term “rainmaker” to describe someone who is successful in bringing in new clients. I suspect my team at the Embassy in New Delhi fears I’m a rainmaker for high-level U.S. visitors. With Treasury Secretary Jack Lew arriving here in Mumbai tomorrow, they may very well be right.
In all seriousness, these are exciting times for our two countries. President Obama’s historic visit led to breakthroughs in a number of areas and Secretary Kerry’s participation at the Vibrant Gujarat Summit served as a clear demonstration of the importance we place on our bilateral relationship. I am absolutely convinced that we are primed to unlock the potential of our relationship with India.
There is also an increasing convergence of interests in the region and an enormous opportunity for American and Indian leadership to help define the future of global peace, democracy, and economic prosperity and inclusion in a region with more than two-thirds of the world’s population.
I would like to take a moment to highlight a telling and important exchange from the President and Prime Minister’s radio address on “Maan ki Baat.” If you haven’t listened to it or read the transcript, I encourage you to do so. It’s a fascinating exchange that, I believe, reveals the core values that underpin the policies our leaders seek to implement.
During the radio interview, one of the questions referenced an old photograph of Prime Minister Modi in front of the White House. The Prime Minister was a tourist at the time and said he never imagined he would have the opportunity of actually going into the White House. Following the Prime Minister’s response, President Obama gave an identical reply. He, too, had visited the White House, stood outside the fence, and never imagined he would be visiting there, much less living there.
It’s inspiring to consider the President and Prime Minister standing outside the White House as tourists earlier in their lives. There is more to this powerful image, though. Here you have two men from humble beginnings—Prime Minister Modi was a tea seller, and President Obama is the grandson of a cook for the British army—who were able to make it to the highest leadership positions in our two countries.
This principle of removing barriers to provide opportunity and access for our businesses and our people was one of the key themes that emerged from the President’s visit. It is also a key strategic theme from which we will draw on to usher in a future of optimism and progress for all of our people.
I think all of us would agree we are witnessing a new moment; the dawn of a new era in U.S.-India bilateral relations.
I would like to share with you today why this is such a significant moment, what draws our two nations together, and some of the core elements that I believe are really at the center of what we hope to achieve between our countries: specifically, our shared democratic values, prosperity, social inclusion, and our shared vision for the region.
Shared Democratic Values
First, shared democratic values: When you look at the sheer magnitude of India’s diversity, traditions, and people, you cannot help but appreciate the energy, sacrifice, and persistence that were behind India creating the largest democracy in the world.
When the two largest democracies come together, we can have a powerful impact on people’s lives, not only in our two countries, but we can provide a powerful example to other nations as well.
Reflecting the close ties between our two great democracies, our two nations agreed to elevate our long-standing strategic partnership with a Declaration of Friendship through which we, in keeping with our national principles and laws, agreed to respect equal opportunity for all our people through democracy, effective governance, and fundamental freedoms. This also includes respect for an open, just, sustainable, and inclusive rule-based global order.
Our countries also committed to address those who seek to undermine democracy and democratic values. As the President and Prime Minister jointly stated, we will oppose terrorism, piracy, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. And we will deepen collaboration to combat the full spectrum of terrorist threats and condemn terrorism in all its forms and manifestations with “zero tolerance.”
We will do this because as democratic nations with strong democratic traditions, it is not only the right thing to do, but also the smart and practical thing to do.
Second, shared prosperity will be a central focus of our commercial and trade relationships. All companies want the opportunity to compete on an open and level playing field, whether it is trade in food and agricultural products or solar panels. In that spirit, Prime Minister Modi and President Obama, in their joint statement, affirmed their shared commitment to facilitating increased bilateral investment and fostering an open and predictable climate for investment. As our trade, technology, manufacturing, and investment linkages between us become stronger, we will not forget our commitment to maintain labor standards in accordance with domestic law and international norms.
I have no doubt we can find win-win solutions. But identifying these solutions won’t happen overnight or on its own. Making progress will require hard work, continued dialogue, and keeping an eye on our ultimate goals so that minor setbacks won’t derail us.
And what is our ultimate goal? It is recognizing that more important than the fivefold growth to $100 billion per year in bilateral trade and investment; or the breakthrough WTO deals; or adding hundreds of billions of dollars to the global economy; is what all of this means for the living standards and economic well-being of average citizens and their children. We move forward with our eye on the prize; to creating opportunities for all of our people—from the street cleaner who dreams of owning a business to the student on a scholarship in Bangalore who dreams of becoming the next big software developer, to the kids in front of the White House or on Main Street who dream of making the world a better place.
To this end, together we are committed to explore areas of collaboration in skill development ranging from partnerships between American skills building institutions – community colleges – and their Indian counterparts, establishing skills certification standards, nurturing and promoting social entrepreneurship and strengthening the innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem. Both of our governments also have been tasked to assess the prospects for moving forward with high-standard bilateral investment treaty discussions.
Third, shared inclusion: Our nations are also strongest when we reinforce the central role of robust civil society and government engagement to advance shared goals of peace, prosperity, and the well-being of all people. To put it simply, a strong civil society reminds us of why it is we are doing what we are doing, and for whom we are doing it. If our endgame is the prosperity of our people, then we can only benefit from forging a strong alliance with those who have their fingers on the pulse of society’s needs and challenges.
One of the most enjoyable parts of my job will be to meet many of India’s dynamic civil society leaders who are working with government to create inspirational change all over India, like women’s empowerment pioneer Meenu Vadera, who is working with the government to break down barriers to women in traditionally male-dominated professions—specifically in the public and private transportation sector—and as a result, helping women become financially independent decision-makers in their families and in society. Through her women-operated “Cabs for Women” she is also addressing one of society’s most pressing challenges—women’s and girls’ safety—a theme the Prime Minister also prominently addressed in his Independence Day remarks.
Another commitment between both of our countries that I look forward to implementing with the Government of India and civil society is to re-launch the Women’s Empowerment Dialogue, focusing on ways to make our nations stronger through the inclusion of women’s and girls’ safety, education, and economic empowerment.
Both the President and Prime Minister also committed to work together to promote the shared values that have made our countries great, recognizing that our interests in peace, prosperity and stability are well served by our common commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). In that spirit, our governments agreed to also re-launch the Global Issues Forum, which will focus on mutually agreed areas of cooperation between the U.S. and India on a range of global human rights and social development issues. We’ll also explore new areas of partnership, particularly in third nations.
Shared Regional Vision
Fourth, our shared regional vision: Expanding on that regional theme, the work we do and successes we achieve in India on all of these issues will also create an opportunity for leadership in the region. We recognize that with more than two-thirds of the world’s humanity, Asia is and will be the center of gravity for a long time to come. It’s important, therefore, to simultaneously focus on a strategic regional convergence of our shared democratic values and respect for the stability and prosperity that the rules-based international system has brought to the world.
This was the idea behind the President’s and Prime Minister’s Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia Pacific and Indian Ocean Regions. It is a vision borne out of the recognition that India’s Act East policy and our rebalance to Asia are complementary and have the potential to create meaningful impact in the region. We want our partnership to benefit not only our two countries, but also the region—and to a larger extent have our partnership stand as a model for emerging democracies worldwide.
But this should not be seen as a strategy that is confrontational to our relationship with China. On the contrary, as our new National Security Strategy outlines, we welcome a stable, peaceful, and prosperous China and a constructive relationship that also promotes security and prosperity in Asia and around the world. At the same time, we will manage competition from a position of strength while insisting that China uphold international rules and norms on issues ranging from maritime security to trade and human rights. This includes cyber-security, where we will take necessary actions to protect our businesses and defend our networks against cyber-theft of trade secrets for commercial gain whether by private actors or the Chinese government.
We look forward to cooperation on a wide range of issues; from implementing a global health security agenda, to enhancing connectivity, enabling the freer flow of commerce and energy in the region, and welcoming India’s role as a regional provider of security and its expanded participation in critical regional institutions.
At the same time, we will continue to work with both India and Pakistan to promote dialogue, combat terrorism, and advance regional economic integration in South and Central Asia. This includes Afghanistan, where both India and Pakistan are key partners in that country’s future.
We look forward to strengthening all of our regional dialogues, making trilateral consultations with third countries in the region more robust, deepening regional integration, strengthening regional forums, and exploring additional multilateral opportunities for engagement with the ultimate goal of building capacity in the region for long-term peace and prosperity for all.
In sum, our countries are making a strategic bet on each other—a bet that has the potential for enormous reward if we act together and not alone; confident that the conviction of our beliefs, the value of our hard work, and the investment in our people, will be what makes us successful.
As Ambassador, therefore, I have a clear roadmap to follow: to work with Indian partners in government, business, and civil society to unleash the potential between our two countries and in the region. We are not just natural partners. As the President stated, the United States can be India’s best partner.
The clear rapport between our leaders on display during the President’s visit, and their ability to make progress on some of our toughest bilateral issues, set a clear signal that our government ministries and departments should follow as they engage each other.
Finally, I would like to think my story—that of an American of Indian descent—can also serve as a bridge between our two countries. It is a story that represents the promise of Indian and American cooperation, supported by strong personal ties.
My parents arrived in the United States in the 1960s with only a few belongings and even fewer dollars. Thanks to their perseverance and resilience, and with a lot of help from friends and neighbors, they raised five children. They furthered their own education. They recognized that as a country of immigrants, the United States allowed them to retain cultural and ethnic values that were important to them and that they passed on to us.
My personal story is an American story. And just like many of you, the story of President Obama and Prime Minister Modi standing outside the White House so long ago is one to which I can easily relate. Like them, I never imagined I would be in this position today.
When we see people who come from humble beginnings succeed in life, it should invigorate and inspire—at least it has that effect on me. As Ambassador, I will seek to provide opportunities that do just this, in cooperation with our Indian partners. I am committed to carrying forward the progress we already have made and to continue the momentum from the Prime Minister Modi’s visit to the United States and the President’s visit to India.
Chalein saath saath. Thank you.