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Inaugural Address by External Affairs Minister at the India-US Forum (July 31, 2017)

July 31, 2017

My colleague in the Ministry MoS Gen. V K Singh
Shri Jamshyd Godrej Ji,Chairman, Ananta Centre
Distinguished Guests

Ladies & Gentlemen


I am delighted to address you all at the inaugural edition of the India-US Forum. I welcome you and would like to express my deep appreciation for your presence.

The strong relationship between India and US is based on our shared values of individual liberty, freedom, democracy, pluralism, rule of law and justice; and strengthened by our increasing convergence on bilateral, regional & global issues.

Last two decades have seen a rapid transformation in India-US relations which has truly become a strategic partnership of global significance. Having greater awareness about our respective postures and positions on a range of issues has, therefore, become more important than ever before. Candid conversations and regular dialogue among a broader range of stakeholders are necessary to steadily increase comfort levels, expand convergences and improve our understanding of each-other.

The US-India Forum has been conceived to provide a platform for such a dialogue. It brings together government, parliamentary and business leaders as well as strategic thinkers, academic experts & media personalities on both sides.

We hope to make this into an annual gathering. I am confident, that with time, it will emerge as a premier forum for generating ideas and giving guidance.

Ladies & Gentlemen,

In his address to the Asia Society in New York in September 2000, PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee had described India and the US as "natural allies”. He had added that India-US partnership was necessitated by our "common interests” but was "important, above all, for Asia”. At that time, this statement was more a reflection of his aspiration for India-US ties rather than an accomplished outcome. However, as we stand here, 17 years later, these words sound prophetic.

We have possibly accomplished more than what Prime Minister Vajpayee imagined at that time. In the intervening years, we have built a web of ties whose range, sweep and depth extends to diverse areas of cooperation.

Capturing the essence of this development, Prime Minister Modi - while speaking a decade and half later at a Joint Meeting of the US Congress in June 2016 - announced that "our relationship has overcome the hesitations of history”.

In saying so, he was alluding not just to the current strength of our relationship but the ever-growing ambition that has come to characterize it in recent times.

Deeper convergences in critical areas of shared interests have provided an edge to our natural affinity, based on shared values & principles as the largest and oldest democracies. This alone distinguishes our partnership from any other that we both have with the rest of the world.

It is easy for us to take it all for granted today. However, the state of our relations was not always so. Decades ago, a US observer had described our relations as one between "Estranged Democracies”. But the end of the Cold War and opening of Indian economy in the early 1990s offered new opportunities.

Broader geo-political trends around the world &, in particular, in Asia also helped create new imperatives. The emergence of India as a growth engine and its willingness to engage more actively regionally and globally provided new options. But it is one thing to have opportunities; quite another to make use of them.

We were fortunate to have leaders on both sides who worked strenuously to bring us to the high point in our relationship that we are at present. However, we cannot afford to rest on our successes and must continue to work to realize our full potential.

In doing so, it is important to first understand the trends in both countries. India is undergoing a deeper and broader transformation. In the last three years, we witness a new energy - both in our domestic and external postures. Ambitious programmes have been launched by the Government to expand manufacturing, build new infrastructure and skill human resources.

Determined efforts to attract technology, foreign investments and best practices have been supplemented by carefully planned initiatives to improve business conditions, removing bottlenecks & creating a friendly ecosystem. The scale and size of the changes can be gauged by the fact that the government has removed 1200 obsolete laws and taken 7000 steps to improve ease of doing business at the federal level alone in the last three years.

It is also reflected in ambitious reforms such as the introduction of Goods & Services Tax which is the biggest economic reform since independence.

These efforts are yielding concrete results. India has emerged as one of the largest recipients of foreign direct investments, reaching the figure of US$ 60 billion last year. Major credit agencies have rated India as one of the most competitive economies. It has become the fastest growing major economy with healthy fundamentals that will ensure sustained high growth rate for the next decade.

The ongoing transformation goes beyond economic reforms to include a broader social agenda. The emphasis on clean India is about changing the mindset. There is a new emphasis on financial inclusion. The introduction of direct cash benefit transfer scheme aims at cutting out intermediaries and rooting out corruption.

Use of digital identity to deliver services to the underprivileged or use of mobile phones as a socio-economic tool are other examples. We have also placed special emphasis on skill-development, empowerment of women and housing for all.

In our external engagement, too, we have shown greater energy and pursued a pragmatic and outcome-oriented foreign policy.

This is reflected in our unprecedented diplomatic outreach covering the bulk of international community irrespective of size and distance. Our "Neighbourhood First” policy has yielded results with all countries in the region barring one. Our interactions with major powers have increased in both quality and frequency.

We have transformed the ‘Look East’ Policy into the ‘Act East Policy’. Relationship with countries of Africa, Gulf region and Latin America have enhanced considerably. We have shown greater readiness to take on global responsibilities & share burdens, commensurate with our growing capacities. Global good & Indian interests are seen increasingly as symbiotic and mutually-reinforcing.

On its part, the US too, is undergoing a change. Internally, it shifted its economic focus to create more jobs, revive manufacturing, rebuild infrastructure and expand prosperity. On the external front, it is in the process of redefining the terms of its engagement with the rest of the world.

Both these processes are creating new opportunities for bilateral cooperation. A strong US is in India’s interest and we believe that a stronger India should equally be a US priority.

The visit of PM Modi to Washington DC last month should be seen in this context. This first meeting between the two leaders, confirmed once again that our partnership transcends changes in governments and cuts across political divides in both countries.

The spontaneous rapport and warmth we witnessed between the two leaders was as much about personal chemistry as it was about growing affinity between the people of the two countries.

The visit reaffirmed the principal directions of our relationship and provides a firm basis for us to further strengthen it. The outcomes and understandings reached set up a clear agenda for bilateral, regional and multilateral cooperation in the coming years. At bilateral level, we are today cooperating effectively in all areas that the two countries can possibly conceive of. The US is a partner of choice when it comes to India’s social and economic transformation through our various flagship programmes.

Our growing trade & investment engagements have helped build prosperity and well-being of our citizens by creating jobs and expanding growth opportunities.

India’s emergence as the world’s fastest growing major economy and the revival of growth in the US create win-win opportunities for both countries.

It is not coincidental that a rapidly growing Indian market has created demands from the US in civil aviation, energy and defence sectors. India’s plans to expand its nuclear and renewable energy sectors, and diversify its energy sources have opened new possibilities. Similarly, US growth creates export opportunities for Indian manufacturing & skills.

Our common commitment to promoting technology, innovation and knowledge-based economic activities provides us with new possibilities in these areas. The success of Indian entrepreneurs and innovators in the Silicon Valley is widely known. This has been a mutually beneficial partnership which needs to be nurtured. Further, both countries are known for entrepreneurial skills. It is, therefore, significant that India and US will co-host the next Global Entrepreneurship Summit in India this year.

The increasing strategic convergence between our countries is also reflected in our defence ties. Our military exchanges have grown in range and complexity. The focus now is on co-production and co-development. The recognition by the US of India as its Major Defence Partner is an important development; and we hope that it will enable higher levels of technology partnerships that is essential for the success of joint projects.

Ladies & Gentlemen,

Another area of growing convergence is the high priority being attached by both sides to countering terrorism. Both our countries have been direct victims of this scourge. In India, we have been facing cross-border terrorism for many years now. This is now recognized as a larger regional – even global – challenge. The clear and unambiguous message given jointly by PM Modi and President Trump needs to be pursued with resolve by the international community.

An important theatre of cooperation over the last decade and half between India and US has been Afghanistan. We deeply appreciate the sacrifices made by the US to preserve peace, security and democracy in Afghanistan. However, it is important that the international community, particularly the US, must remain engaged in Afghanistan so that the gains of last 16 years are not frittered away.

India has made its own contributions and we remain committed to continue supporting the Government and people of Afghanistan.

We have pledged another 1 billion to the earlier US$ 2 billion as reflection of our continued commitment. During PM’s visit to the US, our leaders have agreed to work together and with the Government of Afghanistan to secure a democratic, peaceful, prosperous and stable Afghanistan.

One of the main challenges confronting the world today is the evolving situation in the Indo-Pacific. Strong India-US partnership is critical for peace, stability and prosperity in this region. Enunciation of common principles to guide our approach in the region during the visit of Prime Minister is, therefore, significant. India and the US stand together in upholding an international rules-based system that has benefited all nations.

We have also outlined the principles that should be adhered to in undertaking connectivity initiatives, including ensuring respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity. India will continue to work with the US and other partners in support of these objectives and principles.

There are several other areas, where our engagements have gone beyond purely bilateral domain and yielded global benefits. These include development of affordable vaccines for rotavirus or dengue; joint studies of gravitational waves, observation of distant planets; establishing norms for cyberspace; training peacekeepers in Africa; or extending humanitarian assistance in the Indo-Pacific. We are also pooling efforts to complement development efforts in third countries.

An area of strength in our relationship right from the outset has been the presence of a large Indian diaspora in the US. They have not only contributed to strengthening of the US economy but also provide the links between our two countries. We are also connected by over 160,000 Indian students studying in the US. These links need to be preserved and nurtured. We are happy to note that India’s entry in the Global Entry Programme during the visit of Prime Minister is one such measure that will help buttress these people-to people contacts.

Ladies & Gentlemen,

Speaking at the Joint Press Interaction, Prime Minister said that India and the US were partners not only in realizing their potentials but also in facing the present and future challenges. President Trump said "the relationship between India and United States has never been stronger and has never been better”. He added that "the future of our partnership has never looked brighter”.

I would say that it is with this sense of confidence and optimism, that we should pursue our engagements.

Let me once again extend a very warm welcome to all of you and wish you all success in your deliberations.

Thank You !

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