Thank you, President Qureshi, for your hospitality and for this opportunity to engage with your esteemed guests at the Indian Islamic Cultural Center (IICC). And a special thanks also to the IICC members and staff who helped to organize this event.
I very much enjoyed the tour of your facilities that I just received and I’m honored to have been able to participate in a ribbon-cutting of your new board room. I’m also delighted to know that there is a Karim’s in such close distance to my residence! I will definitely be making another trip to your center shortly to dine there.
I want to thank each of you participating in this town hall. I know many of you traveled to Delhi from across India. I appreciate your willingness to share your enthusiasm, ideas, and entrepreneurial spirit.
I believe our people-to-people engagement is the anchor of the U.S.-India relationship. Our bilateral relationship is in full bloom because people like you make the time to come to the table. Through these opportunities, we discuss our perspectives and values, learn about our shared human experiences, and most importantly, imagine together the steps we can take to improve the lives of the next generations in both our countries. Our efforts will not only enrich the lives of our fellow citizens, but can also contribute to a more peaceful and prosperous world.
But while we look to the future of this relationship, I don’t want to downplay our countries’ common challenges – for example, with diversity and social inclusion. Given recent sad events in my own country, particularly the attack on three Muslims in North Carolina, I especially wanted to reassure you about the openness of American society to visitors and immigrants, and that the United States celebrates and welcomes people of different ethnic, national, religious, racial, and other identities.
The President acknowledged our quest to form a more perfect union – and it is something we have to continue working on each day. Diversity – social, racial, religious, and ethnic inclusion are hallmarks of our two countries. Both of our countries are also governed by the rule of law. Where there is crime and wrongdoing, perpetrators must be brought to justice. Where there is harassment or intimidation, law enforcement and whole communities must stand up against it.
We often say that America is a land of immigrants, and my family is certainly a testament to that fact. My own family emigrated from India to the United States in the 1960s. I was raised in a small Pennsylvania town called Johnstown. Most of the people living in our town at that time had very different cultural backgrounds from our own. And, we were the only Indian family in the community when we first moved there.
I learned that when families of different backgrounds come together, there is always a mutual learning process about our different perspectives and experiences. But, as is often the case when people approach each other with open minds and hearts, we discovered that our families, despite our origins in opposite ends of the planet, shared far more in common than we could ever have imagined. So, growing up, I knew our family stood out in certain ways because of our ethnicity, cultural, and religious heritage. But, really thanks to my parents, they were able to strike that balance of assimilation into our new home, but also while retaining our values and traditions. They were tough task-masters on education, and they knew that education would ultimately be the best way to seize the opportunities that were before us. I’m so grateful for all they did, thankful also to all the friends and neighbors that helped us along the way.
Governments, civil society, and individuals – we all have our parts to play in helping our neighbors and colleagues succeed, regardless of their backgrounds. We all have to continue to stand up for those trying to make it; and speak out for those who may face obstacles along the way. And as I look around this room, I see the entrepreneurs, educators, scholars, scientists, lawyers, doctors, researchers, and notably, religious leaders who are each vital players in advancing our countries’ shared values and vision and work together. I urge you, as I urge my team at the U.S. Embassy, to reach out with open and curious minds, to identify partners who share a vision of shared opportunity, mutual respect and a commitment to building a brighter future. I know what a key role the IICC has played in this regard.
The POTUS Visit
I wanted today to highlight some of the tangible outcomes of President Obama’s January visit, in order to give you specific examples of our collaboration. We are at a new place in our bilateral relationship. It is not just a strategic partnership but rather something I would call strategic plus. As President Obama said, the United States is not just aiming to be India’s partner, but rather, India’s best partner. Let me mention four broad areas for growing U.S.-India cooperation. Namely, these focus areas include cooperation on 1-climate change and clean energy; 2-development, science, and health; 3-economic and commercial issues; and 4-defense and security cooperation. These focus areas help to serve as our roadmap for advancing our bilateral relationship and achieving our shared objectives.
Climate Change and Clean Energy
As we all experience the impact of a warming planet, we also share collectively in the responsibility to address climate change and promote clean energy. This is a crucial focus area of our continuing cooperation. India, having suffered the effects of intense droughts, melting glaciers, and torrential monsoons, has much to gain from positive developments in this focus area.
The United States and India have already been working together to realize India’s ambitious targets for generating renewable energy. Various U.S. bodies are supporting India’s efforts, such as the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. Export-Import Bank; and the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation. In fact, the U.S.-India Partnership to Advance Clean Energy has already mobilized over $2.4 billion to invest in clean energy projects across India.
And we’re not just seeing but growing the results of our collaboration. For example, in 2009, a small Indian enterprise called Husk Power had the dream of bringing light to rural villages in Bihar which were without electricity. The company’s idea was to generate power by providing rice husk-fueled bio-gasification mini-grid systems. This company, supported by USAID and OPIC, lit up the lives of over 180,000 people! Husk Power’s technology and business model was so successful that U.S. solar panel manufacturing giant First Solar invested in the company in 2014. Now, together, they are expanding operations to other parts of the world.
This success tells the story of the kinetic energy waiting to be put into motion when Indian ingenuity is supported by U.S. investment. I believe that the scientists, researchers, and entrepreneurs in this room are at the heart of Indian ingenuity and innovation. Joining hands, we can create not only a “Swachh Bharat” but a greener, cleaner world.
In fact, a new area of cooperation on which Prime Minister Modi and President Obama agreed this January was combatting air pollution. This is an issue that affects our collective health, quality of life, and work productivity. We wasted no time in turning their vision into action. A team of experts from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is meeting this week with senior officials and experts at the Ministry of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change, at the Central Pollution Control Board, and at other key Ministries in Delhi. Their collective goal is to map out how we can most effectively work together to address this challenge. Your ideas and initiatives in this area, too, will be a welcome contribution to growing our bilateral relationship.
Development, Science, and Health
As a second area of focus, India and the U.S. are also working toward realizing the benefits of sustainable, inclusive development and increasing our collaboration in health and science. Actually, the U.S. and India have a long history of collaboration in these areas. In the health sector, we have been working together to end preventable maternal and child deaths both in India and worldwide. We are now facilitating new partnerships to fight cancer, including research, prevention, treatments, and the establishment of the India National Cancer Institute. As leaders in education, medicine, and scientific research within your communities, you are the catalysts in identifying and implementing new ideas in health cooperation.
Today, students and scientists at Ohio State University and Aligarh Muslim University are working jointly on stem cell research. Their collective efforts can engender tomorrow’s cure for a rare genetic condition.
Partnering with Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University, we have sent hundreds of students to the U.S. on one-year exchange programs like the Community College Initiative. It is through our opportunities for educational exchanges that we can learn and grow together. In fact, we are proud that over 100,000 Indian students are currently studying in the U.S. and that 4,000 Americans are studying in India. We are working to bring more through our “Passport to India” program!
And our cooperation on inclusive development, science, and health won’t stop at that. In light of India’s estimated $2 trillion infrastructure development needs, our governments agreed to establish an “Infrastructure Collaboration Platform.” This platform is implemented through the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Indian Ministry of Finance. The goal is to work together to identify projects and encourage strategic, coordinated U.S. company participation in India’s infrastructure development.
One ripe area for development is the Smart City projects in Ajmer, Allahabad, and Vizag – cities with significant Muslim populations. Partnerships on clean water and sanitation in India’s largest cities will also help support the Government of India’s “Swachh Bharat” initiative and improve lives for millions.
For our infrastructure and development collaboration to be sustainable and inclusive, your local communities’ engagement and input will be crucial. Our Commerce Department will be traveling to these areas, and I know they would appreciate hearing from your communities. The marker of any project’s success is that it is responsive to local needs.
Economic and Commercial
A third area in which we’re working closely with the Indian government is strengthening our economic and commercial relationship. Economic and commercial ties bind the people of our countries. And our governments recognize that U.S. and Indian businesses have a critical role to play in sustainable, inclusive, and job-led growth and development. Growing our trade and investment is key to job creation and profitability in both countries. And the investment stream flows in both directions. The success stories aren’t just about U.S. firms investing in India, but Indian companies investing in the U.S.
Just last year, Tamil Nadu’s Shri Govindaraja Textiles announced its investment of $40 million in the state of North Carolina, where the company built a facility to take advantage of a talented labor force, proximity to cotton-producing regions, and U.S. ports. This is but one example of mutually beneficial collaborations. Your entrepreneurial savvy will be essential in identifying many more opportunities for mutual prosperity. Whether it’s in the export of Indian handicrafts to U.S. specialty stores or the import of U.S. ingredients for your Indian confectionary, boosting our trade from $100 billion to $500 billion is an objective we can only achieve with your efforts.
Defense and Security Cooperation
Defense is an important fourth area on which we are growing our bilateral cooperation. Military-to-military ties between the United States and India are stronger now than they were ten years ago. We intend to take these ties even further in the coming months and years.
A symbolic illustration of growing defense collaboration was a U.S. parachute team joining an Indian team for the first time for demonstrations at this year’s Aero India in Bangalore, Asia’s premier air expo. This demonstration underscored our focus on joint military exercises, which have grown in size and complexity over the years. These endeavors are part of a shared U.S.-India regional vision. Our vision reflects the strategic convergence of our shared democratic values. It highlights the respect our nations have for the stability and prosperity that a rules-based international system has brought to the world.
In January, Prime Minister Modi and President Obama reaffirmed the importance of the Defense Technology and Trade Initiative, DTTI. We believe the DTTI will cement the creation of a robust Indian defense industrial base. A senior leader from our Defense Department was just in India last week, and I am very hopeful that we will soon be signing agreements to co-produce and co-develop concrete defense projects together. The United States is committed to expanding its technology cooperation with India. Defense cooperation is another area where people around this room – as retired military personnel and entrepreneurs in various sectors – can make an impact.
India and the U.S. have also worked successfully together on fighting a number of threats that emerged from the distortion of religion into extremist philosophies. For example, in our shared endeavor to create a more secure world, President Obama and Prime Minister Modi recently called for eliminating terrorist safe havens and infrastructure. They also called for disrupting extremists’ networks and their financing to prevent them from crossing our countries’ borders. The two reaffirmed the need for joint and concerted efforts to disrupt entities such as Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, ISIL, and D Company.
However, what you might consider your ordinary daily activities contribute directly to our security cooperation initiatives. Your personal efforts take our countries an extraordinary step closer in building a safer world for our children. As religious leaders, scholars, and parents, you educate your children about the foundations of your faith and its respect for other faiths. Within your communities, you promote volunteerism and positive relationships with other communities of faith. As lawyers, entrepreneurs, and authors, you fight social injustice and economic inequality – the twin evils that often become the root causes of susceptibility to extremist ideologies. As scientists and educators, you create innovations that can improve law enforcement or mold the next generation of university students to become engaged citizens.
Each of you – is a vital voice in ensuring social inclusion, in countering extremist narratives, and in promoting dialogue. We are grateful for all that you do and we will seek to find appropriate ways to support your work and engage with you even more.
Whether it is advancing our security objectives together, or collaborating together on cancer or climate change, the future of the U.S.-India relationship depends on human capital. Your perspectives and contributions are the key asset for its growth. The United States and India share a bond that is unique among the countries of this world. We are two democracies that emerged from a struggle for independence grounded in the conviction that our citizens are equal before the law, and before each other. As President Obama noted during his recent visit to India, this tradition of multicultural co-existence enriches our societies beyond measure. Diversity and tolerance are the springs of innovation and progress. I would argue that no two other countries are as blessed with this potential as our own. As we focus on a future of boundless possibilities, we see the sharp image of the progress we have made. I look forward to learning from you about how we can work effectively together toward the bright future of bolstered U.S.-India relations.