KOCHI: Good Afternoon! It’s a pleasure to be back in “God’s Own Country.” This is my second visit to Kerala, and my first visit to Kochi. The people of this great city have welcomed me with incredible warmth, generosity and hospitality, and I am very excited to be here.
Let me begin by thanking the Center for Public Policy Research and CPPR chairman Dr. D. Dhanuraj for organizing this conference on the U.S. Rebalance to the Asia-Pacific.” This is the second time the U.S. Consulate General in Chennai has worked with CPPR during my tenure.
Through our Public Affairs small grants program, CPPR also organized a conference on energy security last December. Thank you for your leadership in creating these opportunities to discuss important strategic issues of interest to both our countries.
I also want to thank our distinguished guest today His Excellency M.K. Narayanan. And I would also like to acknowledge Dr. Murray Hiebert and Ingrid Henick for traveling all the way from the United States to be a part of this important conversation.
This is an exciting time for U.S.-India relations, filled with great potential. Nothing exemplifies that more than the relationship between our two leaders. From Prime Minister Modi’s hugely successful visit to the United States last fall to President Obama’s historic visit to New Delhi just four months later, becoming the first U.S. president to be “Chief Guest” at India’s Republic Day celebration and the first sitting U.S. President to visit India twice.
During his speech to the people of India, President Obama shared his belief that India and the United States are not just natural partners, but that America can be India’s best partner; That when our two nations – the world’s largest democracy and the world’s oldest democracy – work together, we can lead the world toward greater peace, prosperity and security.
The President said that his visit reflected “the possibilities of a new moment.” And under the leadership of our ambassador, Richard R. Verma, the U.S. Consulate General in Chennai is focused on the shared efforts that can move us from the possibilities of this moment to the progress that our leaders envision.
Part of that shared effort is our Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region. Our cooperation on Asia stems from the recognition that, as home to more than two thirds of humanity and world GDP, many of the questions that will define the future of global peace and prosperity will be settled in Asia.
India’s Act East policy and our rebalance to Asia are complementary approaches based on our shared democratic values and respect for the stability and prosperity that the rules-based international system has brought to the world.
As Prime Minister Modi has said publicly, when he thinks of the United States, he doesn’t think to look to the West. He thinks to look to the East, and he sees the U. S. Pacific shore. And as the United States implements our rebalance, we see India as a fundamental provider of economic growth and security across the region.
This strategic vision 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.
As President Obama and Prime Minister Modi stated in the joint vision statement they penned last fall, the partnership between our two countries will not only work for the benefit of both our nations, but for the benefit of the world. Our partnership in the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region brings us one step closer to making that vision a reality.
In the joint vision statement, we agreed to support regional economic integration through the promotion of accelerated infrastructure connectivity and economic development in a manner that links South, Southeast and Central Asia, including by enhancing energy transmission and encouraging free trade and greater people-to-people linkages.
It’s fitting that we are holding this conference today here in Kerala. Its roots run deep in the history of the global economy as a major spice trade center with linkages across the Arabian Sea to major Mediterranean and Red Sea ports as well those of the Far East.
The historic spice trade between Kerala and much of the world at the time was one of the main drivers of the world economy, and Kerala’s ports were among the busiest of all trade and travel routes.
The ties between India and East Asia continue today. From 1990 to 2011, trade between South and Southeast Asia grew from 4 billion dollars to 86 billion dollars. An increase in infrastructure investment equivalent to 1 percent of global GDP would likely translate into an additional 3.4 million jobs in India and 1.5 million jobs in the United States.
Asian economic integration is good for economic prosperity and for stability. And when the countries of Asia are trading and working together in an open, fair, rules-based commercial order – that’s good for society, for working people, and for the bottom line. As the President said when he was here, India’s rise is in the interest of regional and global stability, and global economic growth. If our two economies are growing together, we can be a powerful engine for prosperity across the globe.
Regional prosperity depends on security. Shipping lanes and air routes are the veins and arteries that keep our economies alive. Through the joint vision statement, our leaders recognized that we can do much more to safeguard maritime security, ensure freedom of navigation and overflight throughout the region, and promote peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean region.
Last year, the United States, India, and Japan jointly participated in the Malabar naval exercise in the Pacific Ocean and the trilateral disaster response and risk reduction workshop in Hawaii. Looking forward, expanding our bilateral Malabar naval exercise by regularizing the participation of Japan, and elevating our trilateral dialogue with Japan to the ministerial level, are lines of effort that can help us uphold the freedom of navigation and peacefully resolve disputes in the region.
Strengthening regional architecture will also be instrumental to furthering our shared goals in East Asia. We therefore welcome India’s interest in joining the APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation) forum; and we look forward to working with India to strengthen the East Asia Summit to promote regional dialogue on key political and security issues.
In closing, I want to echo the thoughts of Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Nisha Biswal who said: For the first time in our bilateral relations, there can be no doubt about the strength of the U.S.-India joint strategic vision. Our two countries are indispensable partners in promoting peace, prosperity, and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. We are drivers of growth across the region and around the world. And we are net providers of security, together ensuring freedom of navigation and safeguarding maritime security. These values are clearly reflected in our Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region, leaving no doubt about our commitment to a peaceful, prosperous, and stable Asia in the 21st century.