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Ambassador Mr. Ronen Sen's address at the CSIS - JIIA Conference"BUILDING STRATEGIC ASIA - The United States, Japan and India"

Washington, DC
June 28, 2007 

I greatly appreciate the initiative taken by the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), to hold a conference in collaboration with the Japan Institute of International Affairs (JIIA), on the role of India, Japan and the United States in the strategic architecture of Asia.

India has had historical connections with East Asia and with South-East Asia. A Portuguese observer once described South East Asia as the place where two monsoons meet. Ships from India would ride the south-west monsoon in April to South-East Asia and return to India on the north-east winds in October. These links were buttressed by the trade winds of the China Seas to East Asia. There were also the strong influences of Buddhism and the epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata that linked India with the Asia-Pacific region. These ties were weakened, initially by European colonialism, and later by cold war politics and our retreat into a protected economy.

These old links between India and the Asia-Pacific region are now being revived and revitalized due to a number of reasons. First, India’s economic reforms and integration into the global economy have made the restoration of our ties with the Asia-Pacific region an inevitable and natural consequence. Second, at the intellectual level, the Nalanda Initiative involves the reconnection of India with a number of East and South-East Asian countries in areas of historic relations. Third, at the strategic level, India’s Look East policy envisages Japan as a key partner in East Asia. Fourth, there are growing economic complementarities and political convergences between India and Japan, and this relationship between the two large Asian countries has a legacy of goodwill, unencumbered by any historical baggage. Finally, and I would like to stress this, we also recognize the United States as a major Pacific power. At a time when India-US relations are rapidly expanding in scope and content, it is only natural that this Pacific facet of the United States should correspondingly be factored into India’s Look East policy.

It is in this overall background that the idea of trilateral cooperation between India, the US and Japan has been gaining ground in recent times. I would, however, like to spell out in somewhat greater detail my perception of the rationale for such trilateral cooperation, flowing from which we can perhaps evaluate the future prospects of such cooperation.
India, the United States, and Japan have shared values and aspirations of democracies based on the rule of law. The US and India have taken initiatives to promote democracy, by taking the lead in setting up the UN Democracy Fund. India, Japan and the US cooperate closely in the Community of Democracies and in other forums.

All the three countries also recognize that democracy and development are not just compatible but are inextricably linked. India has demonstrated that, not just in developed but also developing countries, free markets work best and are most sustainable in free societies. India’s foreign trade is growing at more than double the rate of its high economic growth, but our growth will be propelled more by our domestic demand than by our exports. Democratic and free market economies also contribute to stability. Both the US and Japan are thus aware that India’s inevitable rise as a major world economy will be a factor of stability in Asia and globally. 

India-US bilateral merchandise trade is over $ 32 billion, and India-Japan merchandise trade has doubled from just about $ 4 billion in 2002 to $ 8.6 billion in 2006. While Indian exports to the US grew by 16% last year, US exports to India grew by 26%. Coincidentally, Japanese exports to India grew at an almost identical rate of 26.8% in 2006. A Japan-India CEOs Forum was established on the lines of the India-US CEOs Forum set up in 2005. All three countries realize that the potential for economic cooperation is just beginning to be tapped. Japan is playing an important role in upgrading of India’s infrastructure, particularly in urban transport and fast rail cargo corridors between major cities.

In harnessing high technologies for socio-economic development there are significant potential avenues of mutually beneficial cooperation between the USA, the world’s greatest center of innovation, Japan; with its centers of excellence in modern technologies, and India, which has a large and growing pool of talented scientific and technical manpower. The successful conclusion of a India-US agreement on civil nuclear energy cooperation would give additional momentum to cooperation in other areas of high technology, including biotechnology, nanotechnology and defence technologies. India has ongoing space collaboration with both the US and Japan, based on research and development in this field by all three countries.

Energy security is another key element of convergence of interests of India, Japan and the US. All three countries are highly dependent on imported hydrocarbons. All three have high stakes in diversifying their energy portfolios with new and clean sources of energy. All three are partners in the ITER fusion project, the FutureGen clean coal initiative, the Asia-Pacific Clean Development Partnership and similar projects. All three countries also have vital stakes in the security of sea lanes in the region.

India, the US and Japan attach the highest priority to preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction, especially nuclear weapons. The three countries also attach top priority to combating terrorism. India has joint working groups on counter-terrorism with the United States as well as Japan.

One of the visible instances of recent collaboration between India, Japan and the United States was the committing of their defence assets to managing the immediate aftermath of the tsunami disaster in the Indian Ocean for relief and rehabilitation. In June 2005, the Defence Ministers of India and the USA signed a Defence Framework Agreement setting out the common interests of both countries in maintaining security and stability, defeating terrorism, protecting the free flow of commerce and preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction and associated materials, data and technologies. In May 2006, the Defence Ministers of India and Japan issued a Joint Statement mapping out the common vision of both countries for enhanced security cooperation. The Navies of India, Japan and the US have held bilateral exercises. In April this year the first trilateral naval exercises between the three countries were conducted south of Japan.

The intersection of the shared interests of the three countries finds its reflection in multilateral institutions. India and Japan have staked their rightful claim to permanent membership of the UN Security Council. India, Japan and the US are all full Dialog Partners of ASEAN and members of the ASEAN Regional Forum. India and Japan also work together in forums like the East Asia Summit and Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM). Both Japan and the US were Observers at the Summit meeting of South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) in New Delhi in April this year.

During the visits of our Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, to the United States in July 2005, and his visit thereafter to Japan in December 2006, extraordinary decisions were taken to raise these relationships to unprecedented levels which underscored the strategic parameters of India’s bilateral and global partnership between these two countries.

It is thus evident that the trilateral interaction of India, the United States and Japan did not emerge from a decision to forge a new grouping or alliance. The trilateral cooperation is essentially evolving from the recognition of the growing convergence of ideals and interests of the three democracies and the desirability of channeling these in a constructive and cooperative direction. All the three countries have a tradition of contributing to the international system. Whether it is foreign aid, technical assistance or responding to global challenges, none of the three have pursued a mercantilist approach. This determines in many ways the agenda for a developing trilateral relationship. Issues ranging from countering terrorism, responding to pandemics, protecting the environment, addressing illegal trafficking in drugs, arms and people, promoting stability and prosperity, are thus among the many avenues of enhanced cooperation between India, Japan and the United States.