By Richard Verma
One year ago this week, my family and I were excitedly packing for the 12,000-kilometre journey to the country my parents called home, to begin my assignment as ambassador to India. Meanwhile, New Delhi and Washington were preparing for President Barack Obama’s visit to India as chief guest on Republic Day — a first for a US president.
Setting an ambitious vision for what our countries could accomplish over the next year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Obama pledged to dramatically enhance cooperation across the spectrum of human endeavour. I’m proud to report our efforts in 2015 yielded extraordinary results, and that we have even greater ambitions for 2016.
This year, the United States and India took important steps to operationalise a historic strategic convergence. During the Republic Day visit, we crafted a common vision for the Indo-Pacific region based on our shared commitment to the rules-based international systems that have safeguarded peace and prosperity for seven decades. Our leaders are speaking regularly — three times in the last six weeks — often using a new secure line between South Block and the West Wing. By establishing a permanent US-India-Japan ministerial mechanism, we have institutionalised a conversation among the three pillars of the Indo-Pacific community of democracies.
This month, Manohar Parrikar became the first Indian defence minister to visit the US Pacific Command. In June, Ashton Carter was the first US defence secretary to visit an Indian military command. Our deepening partnership was evident during Malabar, our most complex naval exercise ever in the Indian Ocean, and we were pleased to welcome Japan as a regular participant. Under the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative, we launched joint working groups on aircraft carrier and jet engine technology. Our special operations forces will train together in January, and we look forward to India joining the 2016 Red Flag aerial exercise. Our historic collaboration after the Nepal earthquake demonstrated how our growing military interoperability contributes to our readiness for joint humanitarian and disaster-response missions.
This year, US and Indian researchers addressed some of the world’s most vexing public health and development challenges. In March, joint research helped launch the world’s most inexpensive rotavirus vaccine, potentially saving millions of lives. The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention signed 16 new agreements to partner with Indian health institutions to combat infectious disease threats. We also launched new efforts to fight TB, engaged in joint cancer research, and battled acute encephalitis together. And across Africa, our development experts are partnering to increase agricultural productivity and reduce malnutrition.
We need only to look back a few years to see the dramatic progress we have made. In 2005, two-way trade was around $30 billion. Today, it stands at $104bn, and our sights are set on increasing this figure to $500bn. In just the last three months, bilateral trade increased by well over $5bn, including a $2.6bn agreement for GE to provide India’s railway network with next-generation locomotives, many of which will be made in India. In 2005, there were approximately 200 US companies operating in India, today there are over 500.
At this year’s inaugural Strategic and Commercial Dialogue, we discussed ways to deepen and broaden our economic ties to help create opportunities for the people of both our countries. In 2005, there were around 30,000 Indian students studying in the US. This year, the number is more than 1,32,000. Ten years ago, close to 4,00,000 Indians visited the US. This past year, we processed over 1 million visa applications — the highest on record. In sum, our commercial and people-to-people ties are strong and growing.
In January, Obama and Modi acknowledged the profound threat climate change poses to humanity, and committed to work together and with others to conclude an ambitious climate agreement. We launched the Fulbright-India climate fellowship, expanded our Partnership to Advance Clean Energy (PACE) research, and established a new fund to hasten the commercialisation of innovative, off-grid clean-energy solutions. In multilateral fora, we successfully addressed climate change in the UN Sustainable Development Goals process, and agreed to work to adopt an amendment to the Montreal Protocol in 2016 to phase down the production and consumption of super greenhouse gases known as hydrofluorocarbons. These efforts facilitated the conclusion of this month’s Paris Agreement to combat climate change. It is an ambitious, transparent and accountable global framework providing a strong and irreversible market signal that the world is locking in a low-carbon future. While the journey to keeping the rise in global temperatures well below 2 degrees Celsius remains long and challenging, India and the US have never been in a better position to lead global efforts to address this imperative.
After this year of great consequence, the US-India relationship is poised to become a 21st-century alliance for global prosperity. Our partnership can protect the commons, empower the youth of our countries and the world, help maintain global peace, and further prosperity and development. While we may still have some differences — as close partners often do — never before in history have two such diverse and culturally distinct powers been united by a shared vision for the global good. In the coming year, I look forward with great excitement to even more ambitious developments in our nations’ walk with destiny.
Indian Experss, December 26, 2015