Remarks at the East-West Center International Media Conference
Thank you, Charles, for the introduction and the invitation to be here with you all today. I am delighted to be here with Walter as well - this is another example of the cooperation that has been ongoing between my bureau—South and Central Asia affairs—and Walter’s—East Asia and Pacific affairs.
In many ways, the collaboration between our bureaus and offices mirrors a larger U.S. policy shift towards considering South Asia an integral part of the Rebalance to Asia.
I want to start, though, by expressing my gratitude to all of you in the media. Journalism is an increasingly dangerous profession – reporters around the world face threats not just to their work, but to their lives and those of their families in some cases.
In my last job, as the Public Affairs Counselor in Pakistan, I saw first-hand the tremendous work that journalists were doing in the face of great danger. So let me express my thanks to each of you for your service and your commitment.
South and Central Asia present us with great opportunities, as well as some serious challenges. A few data points with which to start us off:
Close to one-quarter of the planet lives in the region, including one-third of the world’s Muslims. In the coming decades, about half a billion people throughout the region could enter the middle class. Yet most of this population is rural, many hundreds of millions are without electricity, and no other region has as many poor and undernourished people as South Asia.
Geographically, the Indian Ocean’s sea routes connect Asia with the Middle East, Africa, and Europe, and the Straits of Hormuz and Malacca are two of the world’s most important strategic economic throughways. Over half of the global maritime oil trade, and 40 percent of the world’s offshore petroleum production takes place here. The countries of Central Asia share borders with Russia, China, Afghanistan, and Iran – all states where we have complex and critical foreign policy interests – and are historically integral to overland trade between Asia, Europe, and the Near East.
Economically, the region offers some bright indicators, even in the midst of daunting challenges. India, the world’s fastest-growing large economy, is and will continue to be the engine of South Asia’s growth. Bangladesh, with two decades of six percent growth per year, is on track to become a top-thirty economy by 2030. Sri Lanka is rebalancing its own foreign and economic policies thanks to its strategic maritime location to some of the largest markets in Asia.
The biggest economic factor is of course India, and Secretary Kerry’s visit here just last week is emblematic of the strength and depth of our relationship. President Obama has called this relationship one of the truly defining partnerships of the 21st century, and in the past decade we have seen enormous progress in our bilateral relations.
By 2030, India will be the globe’s most populous nation, with a rising middle class of a half a billion people and a reservoir of entrepreneurial ingenuity and talent. The growth they can collectively achieve will help drive the economies of Africa, Asia, and the Americas.
Addressing a Joint Session of the U.S. Congress this past June, PM Modi laid out “the Modi Doctrine” - his vision of bilateral relations that “overcomes the hesitations of history” and embraces the convergence between our two countries and our shared interests. He put forward a bold vision of a U.S.-India partnership that can anchor peace, prosperity and stability from Asia to Africa, from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific, and help secure commerce and freedom of navigation.
Last year, our annual naval exercise with India, MALABAR, also included ships from Japan’s world-class navy, and maritime security was a central focus of our inaugural U.S.-India-Japan ministerial in New York in September 2015. And last summer, for the first time ever, Indian vessels joined the United States, China, and twenty other nations in the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise, the world’s largest international maritime exercise.
We have also seen more cooperation on counter-terrorism, climate change, global health, peacekeeping, and more, all of which contribute to greater regional stability. Our trade relationship has grown tremendously, as has US investment. And our people-to-people ties get stronger every day, with hundreds of thousands of Indian students, tourists, and business people visiting the U.S. yearly.
Sri Lanka deserves special attention as it continues to consolidate democratic gains and put the country on a path to reconciliation. The United States was among the first to welcome these moves and offer our support and assistance. Both Secretary Kerry and Ambassador Power visited Sri Lanka last year but also earlier this year to hold the inaugural U.S.-Sri Lanka Partnership Dialogue.
Bangladesh, while facing serious security challenges, has gone from a food importer to a food exporter, lifted tens of millions out of extreme poverty, and met several of its Millennium Development Goals, sharply reducing child mortality and improving maternal health. USAID played an important role in those achievements, and it’s another great example of what can be accomplished with U.S. partnership.
As Secretary Kerry noted two weeks ago in Dhaka, we’re not sure that anyone would have predicted a decade ago that the U.S. and Bangladesh would be consulting so closely on regional security, that Bangladesh would be using American cutters to patrol the Bay of Bengal, and that our shared agenda would include everything from counterterrorism to environmental health and sustainability of our oceans.
In Nepal, we will continue to support post-earthquake reconstruction and economic development. The U.S. is committed to a partnership with the Nepali people and government in order to enhance prosperity, encourage democracy, and ensure stability.
My office also covers our engagement in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where we work very hard to support security, stability and economic growth. The political and security transition in Afghanistan is at the forefront of many discussions about security and terrorism with our partners in South and Central Asia. We continuously engage with many in the region with interests in supporting economic stability and security in Afghanistan. In Pakistan, we also engage on the broadest range of bilateral issues to promote growth and stability, and welcome efforts by India and Pakistan to continue dialogue on issues of concern for both countries.
The strategic significance of this region will be unparalleled in this century. But Assistant Secretary Biswal recently posed the question: will it be a region of friendly cooperation and mutual benefit, or one of adversarial competition and unnecessary conflict? A region where many millions of people are lifted out of poverty, or one where millions are condemned to suffer the consequences of our collective inaction?
Each of the countries in the region has a unique set of challenges, but also presents tremendous opportunities. Above all, we share a commitment to stability, security, and economic growth that we can work to strengthen and support. We believe there is great promise in Indo-Pacific cooperation, and will continue to work towards that.