Ambassador Shankar addresses students in Land Lecture Hall on April 21, 2011
Ambassador Meera Shankar: India-US Relations in an Asian-Pacific Century
April 27, 2011
Author: Yuki Kondo-Shah
In a public address for the Belfer Center and the Future of Diplomacy Project entitled “India-US relations in a Pacific Century,” Meera Shankar, the Indian Ambassador to the United States explained that the current Indian foreign policy priority is “peace, progress, and prosperity.” As the Asia Pacific region becomes the new locus of power,
Ambassador Shankar stated that India has become more aware of its “Asian Pacific identity.”
As the center of gravity of global challenges and opportunities are shifting rapidly toward Asia, India must face new methods of reconciling regional historical differences. Fortunately, the India-US relationship has never been stronger, and Ambassador Shankar reported that bilateral cooperation on borderless issues such as terrorism, nuclear proliferation and piracy has strengthened the regional security architecture. She stated that “traditional regional distinctions have lost meaning, because of the global nature of the challenges we face.” From the economic perspective, the region has seen a strong surge in prosperity that has “anchored global growth.”
India realizes the strong U.S. trade, financial and military influence in the Asia Pacific region, and recognizes the U.S.’s renewed engagement in the region supporting the continuation of economic prosperity, she said. President Obama’s visit to India spelled out the shared regional vision and the increasingly global nature of the U.S.-India partnership on issues such as counterterrorism, non-proliferation, joint development projects (particularly in Afghanistan), economic security, joint naval exercises, clean energy development, as well as high-tech trade. As members of the G-20, India and the U.S. continue to work together for sustained economic recovery. In the realm of global governance, President Obama has publicly articulated U.S’ support for India’s role in an expanded United Nations Security Council, which is a clear recognition of India’s capacity to play a global role, the Ambassador noted.
Ambassador Shankar emphasized that the future of Asia is vital to India, as past links of trade and culture in the region has left a lasting impact. She referred to the increasing economic ties that India has with its neighbors, citing statistical evidence to prove shifting markets. Previously Europe and the United States used to be the main markets for Indian produced goods, but now around 54 percent are exported to Asia. Regarding energy imports, India continues to acquire energy from West Asia, maintaining diversity when it comes to energy imports in order to ensure that India is not too dependent on one region. Additionally, Indian companies are robustly investing abroad, while the “United Kingdom and the United States are preferred destinations, now investments is spreading to Asia and Australia.”
India has strengthened regional partnerships through international institutions and bilateral agreements. Currently, India has secured comprehensive economic agreements with South Korea, Japan and Singapore. Additionally, India continues to work on an economic framework with ASEAN countries. A Free Trade Agreement Study with Australia is among other notable bilateral discussions. Ambassador Shankar said that the Prime Minister had “articulated a vision for the Asian economic community, and the web of free trade agreements are creating a foundation.” She continued, saying that “engagement is not only economic, but strategic and political,” and discussed key partnerships such as the 2004 ASEAN-Indian partnership in addition to regular summit meetings.
Ambassador Shankar acknowledged the importance of the India-China relationship stating that it had a “strong bearing on the future of the region,” but ensured that “the world is large enough to accommodate the growth ambitions of the two large countries.” India and China can “power global and economic growth,” she said, emphasizing the need to find common ground. The relationship will be defined with both elements of cooperation and competition, specifically on the matter of Indian raw materials exported to China leading to a trade deficit. Furthermore, border disputes continue to be an issue of divergence; however, representatives from both governments have sought to maintain tranquility through dialogue, expand political and economic engagement, and cooperate in areas of common interest.
On specific bilateral relations, Ambassador Shankar shed light on India’s relationship with Pakistan, which recently enjoyed a high point with the Pakistani Prime Minister’s visit to India during the cricket semi-finals, but emphasized that this recently resumed dialogue should also focus on combating terrorism and the further investigation for the 2008 Mumbai attacks. On the topic of Afghanistan, she said that her country did not consider Afghanistan a theater for regional competition, but as a potential regional hub of energy and transit, as well as a gateway to Central Asia, and explained that Afghanistan rated India as the best development partner.
In addition to the political and economic diplomatic themes, Ambassador Shankar commented on the power of Indian cultural and public diplomacy. She noted that the the power of university exchanges with institutions of higher learning, such as Harvard University, should not be underestimated in their impact on shaping a better global understanding. She brought humor to her public address with vignettes from her witnessing an Indian movie star mobbed by young teenagers in Berlin as a commentary on the spread of the influence of Bollywood movies.
As Asia stands today at the center of geo-political challenges, India finds itself in an important time in history, Ambassador Shankar noted. With a combination of wisdom and skills, India will be able to create stable relationships and build regional cooperation.
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