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US hails India's Look East policy

July 19, 2013 13:08 IST

US Vice President Joseph R Biden, Jr, on the eve of his visit to India and Singapore, in a major foreign policy address on The United States and the Asia-Pacific, said one of  the reasons President Obama had described America’s relations with India as a defining partnership in the 21st century, was because of New Delhi Look East policy.

Speaking at a standing room only event at George Washington University under the aegis of the Center for American Progress , a Washington, DC progressive think tank headed by Indian American Neera Tanden, Biden in his remarks focused on the Obama administration’s enduring commitment to the rebalance toward Asia, with India’s growing role in the Asia-Pacific region getting pride of place in his speech, even as he called for progress on economic reforms, agreement on a bilateral investment treaty, a consummation of the US-India civilian nuclear deal and other trade and commerce issues that have bedeviled US-India relations in the past two years.

Biden said, “The president is absolutely committed, and so am I, and so is our entire national security and economic teams,” to this rebalance toward Asia-Pacific, and added, “You don't need to look any further than my own recent engagement to understand the breadth and scope of the rebalance.”

“I'm traveling to India next week -- 20, even 10 years ago, some might have suggested that India be left out of the discussions about the Asia- Pacific.”

Biden said, “One of the reasons why President Obama called our relations with India, quote, “a defining partnership of the century ahead” is that India is increasingly looking east as a force for security and growth in Southeast Asia and beyond."

“To us, that's welcome news. We encourage it. We welcome India's engagement in the region, and we welcome its efforts to develop new trade and transportation links by land and by sea in the area. I will also visit Singapore, a country of five million people who has become the 17th largest economy in the world, a partner in the TPP and an important player in Southeast Asia and beyond,” he said.

Biden is scheduled to arrive in New Delhi on July 22, and will spend two days there and meet with President Pranab Mukherkjee, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and Vice President M Hamid Ansari, while External Affairs Minister Salman Khursheed will call on him.

He is also scheduled to then travel to Mumbai for a day-and-a-half where he will meet with leading Indian businesspeople and industrialists and also engage with educators along with his wife, an eminent educator and a professor at the NorthernVirginiaCommunity College and discuss US-India educational exchanges and cooperation among Indian and US universities and colleges, including community colleges.

In his remarks to the audience filled with foreign policy wonks and Asia specialists and several ambassadors including India’s envoy to the US, Nirupama Rao and Nisha Desai Biswal, Assistant Administrator for Asia at the US Agency for International Development, who later in the day was nominated by President Obama as the new Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Biden said, “The reasons President Obama has put particular focus on Southeast Asia -- ASEAN now represents $2 trillion economy of 600 million people. There's more American investment in Southeast Asia than in China. Southeast Asian nations, like Singapore and Indonesia, have become important partners in everything from counter-proliferation to counter-piracy. That's why I'm going to Singapore.”

The Vice President said, “Our goal is to help tie Asia- Pacific nations together, from India to the Americas, through strong alliances, institutions and partnerships. For the past 60 years, the security we provided has enabled the region's people to turn their talents and hard work into an economic miracle. And now we want to hasten the emergence of an Asian-Pacific order that delivers security and prosperity for all the nations involved.”

“In short, we want to help lead in creating the 21st century rules of the road that will benefit not only the United States and the region but the world as a whole,” he added.

Biden noted, “The lifeblood of the region, to state the obvious, is economic development, but growth has slowed in India, China, in many places in Asia, and each country faces distinct and different challenge. But from our perspective, the way forward is fairly clear. To spark new growth, there has to be fewer barriers at and behind our borders, protections for intellectual property to reward innovation, new commitments to make sure everyone plays by the same rules because that's what attracts investment and jobs, as well as greater economic integration.” 

Biden acknowledged, “We are addressing the challenges in our economic relationship with China as well. They are not at all inconsistent. We do not view our relationship and future relations with China in terms of conflict or the talk of inevitable conflict. We view it in terms of a healthy mix of competition and cooperation, a competition that we welcome. It's stamped into our DNA. We like to compete. Competition is good for both of us, as long as the game is fair.”

And returning to US relations with India, he said, ‘We're engaging directly with India… as it makes some fundamental choices that the ambassador could speak to more directly than I could about its own economic future.’

Biden pointed out that “in the last 13 years we've increased fivefold our bilateral trade, reaching nearly a $100 billion. But if you look at it from a distance, an uninformed person, looking at it from a distance, there is no reason that our -- if our countries make the right choices, trade cannot grow fivefold or more.”

He noted, “Just this week India announced that it will relax caps on foreign direct investment in certain sectors,” but added, “We still have a lot of work to do on a wide range of issues, including the civil-nuclear cooperation, bilateral investment treaty, policies protecting innovation. There's a lot of work to do. But we believe, going with an open mind and listening as well as making our case, we believe it can be done.”

Biden hinted that climate change would also be on his agenda in New Delhi, and said, “America now has the lowest level of carbon emission in two decades, and  we're determined to move further and, in the process, where we can, where our technological capability is available, also help other countries do the same.”

“And there's no reason we cannot do more with India as well,” he said, and noted, “That's why Secretary (of State John F) Kerry agreed to an enhanced dialogue with India on climate change just last month.

Biden concluded his remarks by invoking a line from Tanden’s welcoming remarks, saying that “as Neera said, this is not a zero-sum game. It's overwhelmingly in our interest that India continues to grow. It's overwhelmingly in our interest that China grows. It's overwhelmingly in our interest that the world economy grows because we believe Asia's success is fundamentally linked to ours.”

“So the president and I are going to continue to reach across the ocean, both east and west, particularly to the indispensable Pacific nations, to help us shape a prosperous future for America, for their people and, I would argue, for the world,” he said.

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC