India and the United States: A Partnership of Peoples

Robert O. Blake, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue Outreach Event
Mumbai, India
July 21, 2011

As prepared


Thank you, Nehal, for that warm introduction. Thank you also to the Gateway House for hosting this wonderful event. By helping facilitate dialogue between policymakers like us and business and community leaders like all of you, Gateway House plays an important role in advancing mutual common understanding and cooperation.

It is a pleasure to be joined by my distinguished co-panelists. I am especially honored to have the opportunity to address some of Mumbai’s most important business and community leaders. Thank you all for attending tonight.

I would like to say a few words at the outset about last week, when this great city was again senselessly attacked. As President Obama and Secretary Clinton have said, our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families. We know the incredible courage that Mumbaikers have displayed time and again. We know that the heart of Mumbai is strong. We also know that the perpetrators of this despicable act of violence must be brought to justice. As always, the United States stands ready to assist our close friend and partner India in such efforts.

Strategic Dialogue

Friends, I come here having spent the last two days with Secretary Clinton and a host of high-level U.S. government officials in Delhi and Chennai. Everywhere we went the people of India have displayed incredible hospitality, and I am happy to be back in this amazing and vibrant city.

I know tonight’s main topic of discussion is the Diaspora and how important people-to-people ties are to the U.S.-India relationship. We in the U.S. State Department agree. Indeed, Secretary Clinton herself is committed to building a more strategic engagement with our Diaspora communities. I will discuss our efforts with the Indian-American community in more detail later in my remarks. If you permit me, I would like to start by providing a real-time debrief of all the impressive achievements that came out of our meetings in Delhi.

Looking out at tonight’s audience, one is reminded that the dynamic people-to-people ties we share lie at the heart of the U.S.-India partnership. I can personally attest that the links between our governments are growing similarly deep as we craft a strategic partnership that would cover the entire Mumbai waterfront – from counter-terrorism to nonproliferation, education to clean energy, trade to piracy. The depth and breadth of the announcements we made in Delhi offers solid proof of this.

As the second Strategic Dialogue between the U.S. and India, Secretary Clinton’s visit to India marked an important step in our ever-strengthening partnership. We successfully built on what we accomplished during our inaugural Strategic Dialogue in Washington last year, and President Obama’s landmark visit here last November. Let me touch on several highlights that will be of interest to all of you.We agreed to start technical talks on a Bilateral Investment Treaty, which once concluded will give a further boost to investments that are growing fast in both directions.

  • Deputy Energy Secretary Dan Poneman discussed the Partnership to Advance Clean Energy (PACE) Research program, which has just started accepting grant applications for its $100 million, five-year program aimed at stimulating U.S.-India collaboration in solar energy, energy efficient buildings and bio fuels.
  • Our Department of Energy and India’s Department of Atomic Energy signed an agreement to expand cooperation and joint research in high energy and nuclear physics, which will open new opportunities for scientists and researchers from our two countries to work together to enhance our collective scientific understanding and pursue advances in clean energy.
  • Our three financing agencies – EXIM, OPIC, and TDA – announced a number of exciting collaboration in the clean energy sector, including support for smart grid technologies and renewable energy sources.
  • OPIC alone has doubled its exposure in India just since the President’s last visit. Its India portfolio is now the second largest in the world, after Mexico, our neighbor, with an impressive focus on solar energy development.
  • As part of the Secretary’s senior-level delegation, Deputy Secretary for Homeland Security Jane Holl Lute signed an understanding between our Computer Emergency Response Teams, which will strengthen our cybersecurity preparedness and reaction.
  • Secretary Clinton and Minister Sibal announced a U.S.-India Higher Education Summit in Washington October 13th, which will lead to further innovative partnerships between our educational institutions.
  • We are moving forward on the Obama-Singh 21st Century Knowledge Initiative, to which our governments have pledged $5 million each, to strengthen collaboration in teaching, research, and university administration.
  • We announced the private-sector led Passport to India initiative, which seeks to expand the options for American students to intern in India in dynamic Indian companies or innovative non profits.

And that’s just a fraction of the accomplishments from this Dialogue. Our Joint Statement has a more detailed review.

Having built a solid foundation, our strategic discussions now center on the possibilities of the future. Our vision is a U.S.-India partnership in which we work together to shape a more secure, stable, and just world -- moving from shared values and common interests to complementary policies and habits of cooperation.

During the Strategic Dialogue, we focused on India’s role in its neighborhood, and in the broader region of Asia. We reaffirmed our commitment for consultation, coordination and cooperation on Afghanistan. We also reaffirmed our commitment to work jointly in Afghanistan on capacity building, agriculture, and women’s empowerment. We hope to work with India to embed Afghanistan in the region by enhancing regional linkages from Kazakhstan to India and beyond.

People to People

Our governments have worked hard over the years to transform the U.S.-India relationship. Government cooperation is essential and will remain so going forward. But outside the halls of government, forward-thinking individuals and companies have been blazing the U.S.-India trail long before our governments finally caught up. For over a century now, this vibrant flow of ideas and inspiration has in many ways been ahead of the curve of our government-to-government engagement.

Indeed, the partnerships between our people and our businesses stretch back generations. These early linkages have blossomed into a vigorous two-way exchange of entrepreneurs, executives, students, professors, scientists and students that has enormously benefitted both countries and come to serve as a model for others around the world. As President Obama said during his speech to the Indian Parliament, Americans helped build India, and India has helped build America.

The nearly three million Indian-Americans in the United States provide a powerful connection between our countries, as do the more than 100,000 Indian students studying in U.S. universities. Indeed, in many ways, it is the multitude of people-to-people and business-to-business ties that will continue to define and further deepen the U.S.-India relationship.

Secretary Clinton has also been clear that connecting broadly with citizens, not just government officials, is essential to cultivating long-term partnerships. You saw that the Secretary also walks her talk …

So how do we deepen opportunities for Diaspora engagement. My experiences in India and elsewhere led me to create a senior advisor role at the State Department that is focused exclusively on engaging with the Diaspora and other external groups. In fact, I told my advisor on his first day at work – one of your main jobs is to be outside this State Department building as much as you can. In engaging with Diaspora, his mandate is two-fold: develop relationships and dialogues that previously didn’t exist; and build public-private partnerships that promote our interests in the region for mutual benefit.

Leveraging the power of people-to-people and business-to-business ties helps inform our work in a way that benefits both our countries. This is even truer here, where the multidimensional nature of the U.S.-India relationship demands a multidimensional approach.

Let me give you one example of such an approach. We are currently pursuing an initiative aimed at strategically organizing U.S.-originated charitable giving to India. Many in the United States, including many members of the Indian-American Diaspora, want to give their time or money to India, but don’t know how, or are intimidated by the seemingly complicated process. Given the incredible resources of the Indian-American community, this leaves the current state of giving to India far short of its potential. We want to help change that.

So we are working with Diaspora and NGO groups to identify the best way to provide an accessible, trusted platform that will significantly scale private giving to India. This platform can be used to donate not only money, but also volunteer services.

This is important to the State Department for many reasons. Such an initiative would help further deepen patterns of cooperation between our countries. It also complements our government-level work on economic and social development.

Many of you here today, through your various pursuits, are already contributing. Whether you are a student who is part of an exchange program; or a professor researching the Indian Diaspora; whether you are a company executive overseeing a U.S.-India R&D collaboration; or a private equity investor who just made an investment to help scale a promising Indian company – you are helping shape one of the defining bilateral relationships of the 21st century.

One visit to Mumbai tells you all you need to know about people power. Mumbai invokes many vivid images: lively commerce, an impressive and growing skyline, globally recognized cinema; and a rich tapestry of cuisine, art, and culture. But above all, at the heart of Mumbai are its people. Mumbai pulsates with energy because of Mumbaikers and their dynamism.

The topic of tonight’s discussion - the people of India and the U.S. – is relevant to all that we discussed at the Strategic Dialogue. Our people-to-people ties form a partnership of peoples that undergirds everything we do. Indeed, our people are our greatest resource. Whether you are call yourself an Indian-American, NRI, OCI, PIO, “returnee,” or just plain Indian, the work you do is crucial. You are a vital source of the two-way flow of ideas, energy and capital that drives the U.S.-India relationship.

Our two countries – indeed, the world – need you. Many of the global challenges we face today, from energy security to food security, require public-private partnership approaches. Diaspora communities in particular can leverage their unique on-the-ground insights and expertise to help facilitate such partnerships. Indeed, by promoting linkages among entrepreneurs, scientists, professors, business leaders, and others, the U.S. and India can work together to help find solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems.

We must continue working together to ensure that the spirit of President Obama and Prime Minister Singh’s November 2009 summit is carried forward through concrete steps.
India is on track to have the largest population on the planet by 2030, and might have the largest economy by 2050. India is a rising giant whose influence is being felt not only in the Indian Ocean, but in the Americas, in Africa, the Middle East, and in Central Asia. Its rise – fueled by a young, optimistic, dynamic, educated population – will be one of the great stories of our time.

But we know that governments alone cannot realize the full promise of this potential. That’s why we need your ideas and we need your energy and your commitment. You and our Diaspora community will help write the next chapter of the U.S.-India partnership.

I have seen how committed government leaders working hand-in-hand with the business community and buttressed by strong people-to-people ties can transform a bilateral relationship. I am confident that in the future, we can help transform the world.

Our strategic relationship can make the world more secure and democratic, while our commercial partnerships can create millions of new jobs in each of our countries and produce novel goods and services for the global consumer. Together, our people, our businesses, our governments, and our diverse, intertwined knowledge-based societies will write the next chapter of the U.S.-India partnership.

Together we can help shape one of the defining global partnerships of the 21st century.

I want to thank the Indian-American community at home and everyone here tonight for your efforts in helping to bring our two great nations – two great democracies – even closer together.

Because of you, the bond between the U.S. and India is stronger every day. Because of you, we enjoy a dynamic partnership of peoples that serves an unshakeable foundation upon which we can build an even brighter future for all of our citizens. Thank you.