India Is An Essential Partner In America’s Broader Engagement With Asia

US vice-president Joseph Biden declared last July that India and the US will shape "peace and prosperity in the 21st century''. Through hard work and firm commitment, we have established a lasting partnership that is equipped to meet not just today's news but tomorrow's global challenges.


Our successes are significant: a nearly fivefold expansion of US-India trade between 2000-12 to reach almost $100 billion, a thriving defence relationship that is founded on a common strategic vision and a commitment to expand our partnership across most fields of human endeavour — from education to innovation, intelligence sharing to counterterrorism, space collaboration to energy cooperation — including in areas that once seemed impossible given where our relations were just a few short years ago.

That does not mean our relationship does not have real challenges to overcome. Given recent events, many wonder whether US-India ties have plateaued. Participatory democracy prides itself in the rough-and-tumble of open discourse across our vibrant media and our respective political cultures. When differences of opinion arise, we sort through them in a healthy, open, vigorous public debate that befits our values.

I assure you the challenges to the bilateral relationship pale in comparison to the strength of our enduring commitment. As India's ambassador to the US eloquently noted just two weeks ago, "The grand strategy underwriting our ties is fundamentally sound."

It is becoming widely accepted that our converging interests will shape Indo-Pacific strategic and economic geography, and with it the future of the 21st century and half the world's population that call this region home.

Our counterterrorism, intelligence and law enforcement cooperation will keep our peoples more safe; our diplomatic and service-to-service partnership in the Indian Ocean will keep vital sea lanes free for navigation and commerce; and the co-development and co-production of defence platforms will enhance the security of both our nations for generations to come.

So what should we strive to accomplish, given what we have already forged? During his trip, Biden articulated a vision of a half trillion dollars of bilateral trade, quintupling our current levels. We must strive to create more open and transparent trade and investment regimes that make all our citizens more prosperous. Stronger enforcement of intellectual property and patent protection is not just good for American companies but will also protect India's entrepreneurs, content creators and investors. We should strive to conclude a bilateral investment treaty that will greatly boost our ability to achieve the ambitious goal set forth by Biden.

In a globalized world, a relationship like ours can't be focussed on developments in Delhi and Washington only, nor can it be limited to our bilateral interests. India is an essential partner in America's broader engagement with Asia, where our interests naturally converge.

Over the course of this century, our governments need to work with partners across the Indo-Pacific region to ensure that all countries can enjoy the benefits of peace, stability and freedom that come with open societies and open markets. To that purpose, we should seize the historic opportunity afforded by Myanmar's opening to connect South and Southeast Asia into an integrated economic landscape. Through our trilateral dialogue with India and Japan, we are doing just that.

We are similarly working together to ensure a prosperous, stable, secure future for Afghanistan by working to connect the economies of South and Central Asia. India has committed more than $2 billion in aid to increase prosperity and stability in Afghanistan. It has improved its transit trade with Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The US is helping Afghanistan access regional energy supplies through efforts to advance the CASA-1000 hydropower initiative and the TAPI natural gas pipeline. We are also helping increase regional trade through rail and road connectivity.

In short, we are helping link up the markets of the least economically integrated neighbourhood in the world to India, one of the most dynamic economies in Asia.

At its core, our relationship is between our two peoples and our societies. Our educational institutions, research facilities, corporate boardrooms, families, media and state- and local-level governments are forging strong, diverse linkages that buttress the work governments are doing.

Our landmark civil nuclear agreement will enable American companies to assist India in building state-of-the-art reactors, capable of lighting cities and powering factories even through the hottest of India's summers or coldest of winters. We are also pioneering cooperation in areas such as sustainable and renewable energy, weather and monsoon forecasting, water resources, forestry and agriculture and space research.

Working together, we have advanced the US-India relationship in ways that will deliver undeniable benefits for both our peoples. We have forged a partnership that advances our values and interests even as we witness the emergence of a truly globalized world — brought closer by technology and innovation, but still contending with the ills of inequality, conflict and environmental degradation.

And at this strategic moment, the opportunity for the US and India to work together to improve lives in both our countries and the world has never been more important.

(The writer is US assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia)