Student Townhall

Robert O. Blake, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Patna, India
June 18, 2011

 ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Thank you so much. Let me tell you it’s a wonderful pleasure to be here at the American Corner, and I want to welcome all of you today here.

This is my very first visit to Bihar. I lived in India from 2003 to 2006 when I was the Deputy Ambassador at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, but I never had the pleasure of coming to Bihar so I’m happy to be here this time.

Let me briefly make some remarks about Indo-U.S. relations, and then I’d love to just open it up and hear from all of you and hear your comments, hear your questions, anything you’d like to talk about.

I’ve been working on Indo-U.S. relations since 2003 and I must say it’s been wonderful progress in our relations since then. Part of the importance of those relations is that there is what we call bipartisan support both in the United States and in India for the progress that we’re making. In the United States both Republicans and Democrats have been involved in a lot of progress, as well as Congress, the BJP and other parties.

The other very important part of our relationship is what we call people to people ties. As you all know, there are more than 100,000 Indians who are studying in the United States. There are 2.5 million, maybe more, NRIs [non-resident Indians], that is Indians who have gone to the United States and done so well and are among the most successful citizens that we have in the United States. And they form a very crucial bridge between our two societies.

One of the things that I’m trying to do more of now is to work with the Indian Diaspora to encourage them to get as involved as possible in helping in places like Bihar to develop opportunities for young people.

In terms of the relations, as I said, there’s been a great sweep of progress over the last ten years or so. It began with the visit of President Clinton at the end of his administration in the year 2000. He came here for five days. And I think that opened up a lot of opportunities. A lot of people began to understand in the United States some of the opportunities that we had to work together. After 9/11, after the terrible acts of 9/11 in New York City and elsewhere, we began to realize that we and India had many many common interests not only in combatting terrorism but also in working together on a great many other issues. That really began a steady process. One of the big milestones took place in 2005 with the signature of the civil nuclear deal. As many of you know, nuclear issues had been one of the most important irritants in our bilateral relations. The civil nuclear deal turned that into an area of opportunity for us. That was very very important. As a result of that, now several years later we’re very close to being at a place where U.S. companies can now come in and operate inside India and help India to meet its growing energy needs, its growing electricity needs. So that will be a very wonderful opportunity for India, but also a terrific opportunity for our companies. So the civil nuclear deal was a very good deal.

When President Obama and Secretary Clinton came into office they wanted to build on that progress, so one of the things they did was to establish a Strategic Dialogue between our two countries. We have a huge range of dialogues now between the United States and India. The purpose of the Strategic Dialogue is it gives some overall strategic direction to what we’re trying to get accomplished. So we held the first of those last year in the United States, and External Affairs Minister Krishna and many other Ministers came to the United States. We’re going to have the next round of that in July. Again, Secretary Clinton and many of her colleagues will be coming out to Delhi to meet with Minister Krishna and other Ministers here in Delhi. So we’re very much looking forward to that. My visit is really to begin to prepare for that and talk to many of my counterparts in the External Affairs Ministry and elsewhere about that.

President Obama had a great vision that India can really be a very important global partner of the United States and I think India itself also wanted to be a partner for the United States. India, because of the tremendous economic growth that has occurred in your country particularly in the last ten years, India has the resources to begin to project your influence overseas in a very important way. As a result of that, you are planning to be and hope to be a permanent member of the UN Security Council. The United States, President Obama, has endorsed that vision. But you’re also very active in places like Africa, in the Middle East, in South America, and of course in Asia.

When President Obama came here last November for his famous state visit, that was the longest state visit that he had anywhere in the world. I think that was a very concrete sign of the importance that he personally attaches to building better relations with India. Before that visit he said that India is going to be one of the most indispensable partnerships of the United States in the 21st Century. And he said that because we’re working in virtually every field of human endeavor, but we’re particularly working on some of the big global issues of the world - non-proliferation, stopping climate change, working to combat global hunger. Also we’re working for the first time on a trilateral basis together. For example, as a result of the President’s visit he and Prime Minister Singh agreed that we should be working together to promote women’s empowerment and agriculture in Afghanistan, and to help promote agricultural development in Africa together. We’re also working to expand our dialogue, not just to Asia but in Central Asia and in the Middle East and other places. So there’s a huge range of cooperation going on and we see a very very bright future not only for your country but for our relations.

We’re very excited about all these possibilities, but we’re particularly anxious and want to work more with young people. All of you represent the next generation of Indian leaders and our government also wants to work with you. So we’re doing a lot of different things, working through, for example, social media, through Facebook, wherever we can to try to reach out to the next generation in India. I’m so happy to see so many young people. We have a variety of different programs that we undertake to try to interact with you in various ways through our public affairs program. I encourage you to go on to Google, and then you can just type in U.S. Embassy New Delhi, and you can get to our web site. You’ll see a lot of different things that we have going on in Delhi but also elsewhere in places like the American Corners here in Patna.

Again, I want to extend a very warm welcome to all of you and let me stop here and I will much prefer to take your questions and your comments and have more of an interactive dialogue. So thank you for coming.

Who would like to start the discussion? The first question’s always the hardest, I know.

QUESTION: My question is [inaudible]. So how does [inaudible]?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: So the question was how does America want to be a friend of India? I would say we’re a good friend by partnering with you in so many different ways. As I said earlier we’re partnering on a lot of these big global issues where we’re working together, for example, on climate change. We’re working together to stop proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. We’re working together on some of the big important strategic issues of the day like Afghanistan. How can we help to stabilize Afghanistan? That’s obviously a very important strategic priority for India. It’s also a very important strategic interest to the United States. If we can stabilize Afghanistan, if we can stabilize Pakistan, that will help to stop terrorism, that will help to provide opportunities for young people in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Instead of going into terrorism they’ll have job opportunities and other opportunities. That’s a very concrete example of how we’re working together.

But as I said, one of the great things now is that it’s not just our governments who are working together. It’s our business people, it’s our scientists, it’s our lawyers, it’s our doctors. That is really the role of government, is to provide an enabling atmosphere so that all of the people to people kinds of cooperation can take place.

India has become the United States’ 12th largest trading partner just in the last five years or so. Our trade is doubling every three or four years which is a wonderful thing. That trend will continue. So those business ties give rise to all kinds of other kinds of cooperation in areas like educational cooperation, in terms of scientific cooperation, things like that.

Again the government to government part of it is important, but even more important is all the other things that we have helped to incubate. That’s a very good question.

QUESTION: [Inaudible].

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I think what I’d like American investors to know about Bihar is that things are changing in Bihar. People often had the impression many years ago was when you thought of Bihar you used to think of problems like corruption and crime and a lack of opportunity. I think that the new Chief Minister, not so new anymore now, has done a really terrific job of trying to promote democracy and good governance, to try to reduce the levels of crime, reduce the levels of corruption. Because of that there’s now a new sense of optimism, a new sense of possibility here in this state. And that’s why I’m here. I wanted to learn more about that and learn from all of you about that, to talk to the Deputy Chief Minister -- the Chief Minister’s away in China right now. To learn about those opportunities. In fact I think a U.S. business contingent is going to be coming here I think either later this year or early next year, the U.S.-India Business Council, which is part of the American Chamber of Commerce, to organize a trade and investment mission here to Bihar because there are new opportunities, and so I’ll meet with the Deputy Chief Minister later on. But if you have any suggestions, you’re welcome to pass them on.

QUESTION: [Inaudible] together [inaudible] relationship. And isn’t India [inaudible]? [Inaudible]. Isn’t that [inaudible], your visit to [inaudible].

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: First of all let me say that President Obama and many many other leaders of the United States have very warmly welcomed the rise of India. I think the greatest story of India is not that you’re a developing country. The great story of India is the very fast progress that you’re making and the fact that you’re the second fastest growing economy in the world right now. By the year 2030 India will have the third largest economy in the world. And some estimates say by the year 2050 you might even have the largest economy in the world. So the rise of India is one of the great stories of the 21st Century. I think that’s one of the reasons that we want to work more closely with you.

The other one is that we have a great many shared interests and shared values, the most important of which, of course, are shared democratic values. I think that more than anything helps to cement our friendship and has helped us to understand that it’s so important that we try to work together to solve some of the big problems facing the world today. And that’s the underlying logic behind the strategic partnership between the United States and India. So we very much value the rise of India. We don’t see India as a developing country, but quite the contrary it’s a growing power and one who has great influence around the world and therefore one that we’d like to work very very closely with.

QUESTION: My question is [inaudible]. [Inaudible] India and the Chinese are progressing in a [inaudible]. Also [inaudible]. So I want to know what you [inaudible] on this.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: As I said earlier the rise of India and the rise of China is a good thing, it’s something that we welcome. That means greater development, more opportunities to work together, but also frankly, bigger markets for the United States for our goods.

When President Obama talks about jobs in China or jobs in India he’s doing that because he wants to encourage our own people to do as much as possible, particularly on the education front. Just as in your country, education is probably the most important thing that we focus on, to make sure that our young people in India and the United States are getting the best possible education so they will be able to compete in this world. In this world now what happens in India matters to us. What happens to Greece matters very much to us. What happens anywhere around the world, we have a direct interest in. As I say, our companies are competing with your companies and all the other companies of the world so we all have to make sure that we have the best possible education. And that includes India as well.

People talk a lot about the demographic dividend that India has. You have one of the youngest populations in the world at a time when, for example, most of the populations of Western Europe, Northern Europe are beginning to drop because birth rates are much lower in those countries.

So over time a lot of the new workers in the world are going to be in India. But that is only an advantage for you if all of those young people get the proper education so they can be prepared to work and to compete in the 21st century. I know this is a very important priority for Prime Minister Singh, for your Minister of Human Resource Development, and for many many other people to make sure that the young people of India get a proper education, and that’s something where we feel we can work very closely together with you. Already there are 100,000 Indian students in America, but we want to send more American students here as well. I think our American universities would like to do more here as well, maybe establish campuses, have various kinds of research and development partnerships. So there’s a great deal of opportunity there to do more. So that’s one of the areas where we’re going to be doing more in the next year. We’re planning a big higher education summit in Washington this fall which will be chaired by Minister Sibal and by Secretary Clinton. So that’s one small but important example of how the United States and India are working together.

QUESTION: My question, [inaudible]. What is [inaudible] for us? Generally [inaudible]. And [inaudible]. [Inaudible]. What is the need for it?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I think the question was what do we mean when we say America is a free nation and a nation where you can realize your dreams.

What we mean by that is that America is quite an unusual country. It’s a country where the most important thing you need to succeed is you need drive and you need an education. And if you have those things, you’re going to succeed. We don’t have biases, we don’t worry about what the color of your skin is, what your religion is, or anything else like that. What’s most important is how smart you are and that you have a good idea. If you have a good idea and you’re smart and you’re well educated, you’re going to do well in the United States.

I think a great example of that is the acceptance that Indian-Americans have had. In the 1970s and ‘80s and 1990s a very large number of Indians traveled to the United States in part because there weren’t a lot of opportunities here in India at that time. They became American citizens. As I said earlier, they are now among the most successful doctors, lawyers and engineers that we have in the United States. Their average income is among the highest of all ethnic groups in the United States. So we’re very very proud of the contributions that Indians have made. That’s a very good sign I think and a very good example of how really anybody from any nationality or religion or anything else can do right if they have the proper education.

So that’s what we mean by a nation that’s free and a nation where you can really realize your dreams.

The other really important thing I think that I’d like to talk about is that people say why do we have so many small businesses in the United States? Why have they been able to succeed where others have failed? I think an important part of that is several things. First of all we have an independent judiciary system just like you do. So if you have a good idea you can go to the patent office and you can get that idea registered or patented, then you can make a profit out of that idea. You can make a profit because you can go, and we have a very good banking system and a very good system of venture capital. And people are willing to give money for good ideas because they know that idea is going to be protected by our judicial system. If somebody tries to steal that idea you can protect yourself in the courts.

As a result of that a huge number of start-up companies exist in the United States and that’s one of the reasons I think we have a great country. Again, very much a similar situation here. One of the great stories now in Indian and American relations is that a lot of the Indian-Americans, the young Indian-Americans that went to the United States for education are starting to come back to India because there are so many opportunities now in your country. So they’re going back to Bangalore, they’re going back to Hyderabad, they’re going back to Delhi, they’re probably coming back to Bihar. And that’s a very good thing because they are taking some of the income that they earned in the United States and some of the ideas that they’ve learned, and they’re applying them to the opportunities here in India

So when you go to a place like Hyderabad or you go to a place like Bangalore you’ll see a whole range of small start-up companies in biotechnology, in nanotechnology, in areas like that. And again, that just shows the dynamism of your economy but also the fact that you also have an independent judiciary system and the opportunity for young people to do well in a very important way. That’s a good question, thank you.

QUESTION: [Inaudible]?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: The question was which is my favorite place in India. I suppose I have to say Bihar, right? [Laughter]. To be honest, I like the mountains. So when I had a little bit of extra time I used to go up in the mountains a lot, so one of my favorite places in India is Ladakh. I used to go up to Ladakh and go hiking and do that kind of thing. If I got to go in the warmer weather! I used to spend a lot of time down in Kerala as well. I loved going down to Kerala. But the truth of the matter is, I’ve travelled around India a lot and it’s a very hard question. There are so many wonderful, beautiful places to see. You have an incredibly rich culture, and it’s one of the reasons that you have so many American tourists here. There is a tremendous amount to see. You have lovely hotels and a very friendly and welcoming people which is very very important.

QUESTION: My question is that I want to know about your opinion about terrorists. There is a problem and [inaudible]. [Inaudible] is a problem [inaudible]. And [inaudible] what I am concerned high damage [inaudible]. [Inaudible] has affected from that, broken up, so that [inaudible] in Pakistan. The U.S. has [inaudible]. [Inaudible] Taliban and [inaudible] Osama bin Laden. What do you think about that, and [inaudible]?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I think the main message with regard to terrorism is that all of the peace-loving nations of the world need to fight together to fight terrorism. And I think that we’re making progress in that regard. One of the most important things that the United States and India are working on is this joint fight against terrorism. Many of the groups that are targeting you, like Lashkar-e-Tayyiba and others, are also targeting the United States. So we have a lot of common enemies that we need to work together to try to fight together, and we’re doing that. We’ve made tremendous progress together expanding our cooperation on terrorism issues. I think that’s been one of the centerpieces of the growing friendship between our two countries. But there’s still a lot more to be done.

Al-Qaida as an ideology has been discredited. But still there are many many terrorist organizations out there and a lot of that feeds on lack of opportunities. Particularly for young people.

So I think terrorism must be confronted not just through military means but also through economic means to provide education, to provide health care, to provide economic opportunities for young people. If you can do that you will help to reduce the demand and reduce supply of terrorists.

So I think again, both of our countries are working on that, but it remains a very very high priority for not only our two countries but for every country in the world.

QUESTION: My question is what do you think about India-U.S. trade?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: That’s a very good question. We want to do as much as we can to try to expand trade between the United States and India, and as I said earlier, there has been a great deal of progress. Our trade has quadrupled, has gone up four times just since 2002. So that’s obviously a sign of the dynamism of our two economies, but we need to do more. So I think one of the things that we’ll be discussing in our next strategic dialogue that our Ministers will hold is how do we do that? How do we provide further opportunities for our companies to do more?

We already have a huge range of things that we are doing, for example, to reduce the barriers to high technology trade. But one idea is a free trade agreement of some sort. That’s something that our two governments need to discuss. I think from our perspective, we have three free trade agreements that are now pending in the United States Congress because every one of our agreements has to be approved by our parliament. Those are with Colombia, with Panama and with South Korea. So the administration’s top priority is to get those approved by our Congress and then I think consider where else we might want to do a free trade agreement.

One of the other considerations is that whenever we sign a free trade agreement with a country we want to have it as comprehensive as possible, so we want to include all areas -- services and trade, including agriculture. Many countries, including your own, have certain concerns about opening up their agricultural sector. So that will be something we need to discuss. But in general, I think everybody agrees in both of our states that we need to do everything we can to open up further opportunities for trade because it benefits our people in so many important ways.

QUESTION: My question is, [inaudible]. If [inaudible], so what [inaudible] to reduce [inaudible]?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: The question was what is the United States doing to reduce carbon emissions. That’s a terrific question, and that’s another area where we’re working together.

When President Obama came into office one of the most important issues during the campaign was this question of global climate change. Everybody understood that the United States has some of the highest carbon emissions in the world. By the way, China now has the highest, not the United States. But nonetheless we have a very high carbon intensive economy.

So President Obama wanted to reduce America’s carbon footprint and decided that one of the best ways we could do that is to pursue a cleaner energy future. So one of his top priorities has been to promote clean energy in the United States. And that means greater reliance on solar power, on wind power, on a whole range of other renewable energies so that we can reduce what we rely on in terms of coal, what we rely on in terms of oil, imported oil and so forth.

So that’s what we’re doing domestically, but we also want to try to do that as much overseas as well. The United States is part of the very important climate change negotiations that have been taking place and we work very very closely. President Obama has spoken with great admiration of the important role that Prime Minister Singh has played in global climate change negotiations, and we’re also working to do this on a bilateral basis. One of our most active areas of participation and cooperation is in this clean energy field. We’re doing a lot now jointly. We have a joint clean energy research and development center that we set up to incubate new ideas in the clean energy field. We have set up a fund now to provide capital for new entrepreneurs to develop these new ideas. Again, because of your good educational system there’s a tremendous amount of new thinking that’s going on and a lot of new ideas that are emerging in the clean energy area. So I do see this as an area of great promise for future cooperation. But thank you for raising that because that is an extremely important matter for both of us.

QUESTION: How do you see [inaudible], and how do [inaudible]?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: The question was about India’s women and women’s empowerment.

Again, I think India and the role of women in India is a very powerful example for us and also for the rest of the world. This is yet another area where I think we’re trying to do more together.

We have a dialogue on this issue about how we can do more. One of the very best examples, in fact, that we had today. We went to this center of excellence that you have here in Patna that’s run by a very dynamic woman by the name of Dr. Jha. We had a presentation there about some of the very important work that’s being done to promote self-help groups. That is small groups of women, 10 to 12 women in villages all over India, and that’s one of the great important changes that is taking place at the very local level here in India, is to empower women at the village level and at the panchayatlevel.

One of the great examples that you have is that at the panchayatlevel, a certain number of seats are set aside for women. That’s been a wonderful tool for empowering women. So there are a great many examples of how you have successfully empowered women here. I think we hope to be able to work with India to duplicate that experience in other countries. For those who want it. Obviously we’re not going to try to force that on anyone. But it is a very good example of how you can develop opportunities for young women everywhere.

We’re going to be having a conference; the other area of responsibility of mine is for Central Asia. In Central Asia as in Bihar, a great many of the men in some of the poorer countries like Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan, work outside the country because there just aren’t enough jobs. So they work in Russia, they work in Kazakhstan, they work in the Gulf, and as a result of that a great many women remain with their relatives and in their towns. It’s important to find opportunities for them. So we’re going to host a conference in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan in July about how to empower women, how to develop economic power for women, and how to develop networks for women so that they can exchange ideas about how to do that.

This is something that we worked a lot on in the United States and around the world, so we have some good examples to work from. I’m very very excited about that. But again, I think the example that India provides is very powerful, so we’re working closely with India in that regard as well. Thank you

QUESTION: [Inaudible]?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: That’s a very big and long question. Let me just say that we are trying to work productively with your government and all the other countries in the WTO to reach an agreement on what’s called the Doha Round. It’s the latest round of multilateral trade negotiations that are going on. It’s been quite slow going, to be honest. I think we and India and others would like to try to see if it’s possible to reach an agreement because that will be very much in all of our interests to try to do that. But there are a number of disagreements. One concerns on market access for agricultural products but there are a number of others. Questions about services and so forth. So this is frankly something that’s much beyond my own limited brain power to understand, but we have very experienced trade negotiators that work on this whole challenge. Our own trade negotiators are working with your trade negotiators, those of Brazil and some of the other major countries, to see if an agreement can be made.

We have time for one more question.

QUESTION: [Inaudible]?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: We do have concerns about the possibility that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. So we have been engaged in a multilateral process with many of our European friends, the Russians and others, to try to encourage Iran to be as transparent as possible, to work with the IAEA which is a UN organization that is responsible for nuclear transparency, to grant IAEA inspectors access to Iran’s various nuclear facilities. We support peaceful use of nuclear energy such as what India and China do. We do not support the use of nuclear energy to develop nuclear weapons. Thus far Iran has not been willing to be transparent enough in the international community to give us or anybody else the confidence that it is not developing nuclear weapons.

So we very much hope a diplomatic solution can be found. So far it has not happened. So these negotiations continue and I’m hoping that this can be resolved through diplomatic means.

I’m told I unfortunately have to go off to another appointment but again I want to just say in conclusion, I’m so happy to see all of you here. I encourage you to use our American Corners downstairs for the internet but also for the magazines and books and other things. And I encourage you also to get on-line and to join our Facebook and become friends of the United States. We’d love to hear from you. We’d love to have more of a sustained conversation with all of you. And most of all, let me just say how happy I am to be here in Bihar and to see some of the very encouraging trends that are taking place here in this state. So I congratulate you and I congratulate your Chief Minister for all that progress.

Thank you again for your hospitality.

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