NEW DELHI: India and the United States stand together to uphold international law and a rules-based order and to deter “any bad actor”, US ambassador Eric Garcetti said on Friday against the backdrop of China’s assertive behaviour in territorial disputes across the region.
In a wide-ranging interview with HT, Garcetti, a close aide of US President Joe Biden, said it is time for India to “lower barriers and raise expectations and ambitions” in order to take bilateral trade to the next level. He also said the text used in the leaders’ declaration at last year’s G20 Summit in Bali to refer to the Ukraine crisis would continue to be the basic minimum for the upcoming summit of the world’s 20 largest economies.
If we could do a bit of stock-taking of the follow-ups to Prime Minister Modi’s visit to the US in June, what has been the progress in terms of defence cooperation, including the GE-414 engine, semiconductors or critical technologies?
Overall, the momentum has not let up. If anything, it’s accelerated. I thought this would be a moment in time and our leaders would turn their attention to other things. There isn’t a week that goes by where our leaders aren’t saying how is this going, do more. We thought the visit for the G20 Summit would really be about supporting G20, maybe a small bilateral, but there’s a huge agenda that we’re still working through to deliver during G20, later in the year and next year, and it’s in all categories. I’ll come back to the ones you asked about, but it’s on trade, culture, climate, transportation. I can go through seven or eight large areas.
In terms of the ones you brought up, the GE-414 engine deal – there are two days left for Congressional notification. Nobody’s objected so far. So, knock on wood. I don’t think anybody is going to. And it really reflects, as we saw with the Congressional delegation [that recently visited India], India unites Americans, it unites our Congress, which doesn’t agree on a lot these days. I have a high degree of confidence that that will move forward.
What you don’t see – because oftentimes what makes the headlines is the products that one country is selling or the other is buying or that we’re co-producing – but I think there’s been more and more integration of our people and our armed forces, to know how to operate together, how to reach out to each other in times of crisis. Of course, all the drills and stuff, that tempo has picked up ever since our president was with the prime minister.
I think on trade, there’s one dispute left and that I’m optimistic that can be resolved shortly. I would say also in the area of our people-to-people ties, whether it’s opening two new consulates, whether it’s the visa work that Indians have asked of us, that’s going full steam ahead. So, everything has not slowed down. If anything, it’s going faster.
Are you looking at the possibility of some agreements being signed during President Biden’s visit for the G20 Summit?
Sure. I mean, we don’t have anything to announce and it’s not that I have something secret, but absolutely, I think that our leaders will spend time together, obviously in the G20 context. But I would expect bilaterally too and that will allow them to formalise some things that they couldn’t finish two months ago.
I fully expect also that next year, during the Quad meeting here, which doesn’t have a date yet, there won’t be a moment when they see each other, moving forward, where I think something won’t be formalised, whether it’s the return of cultural property, whether it’s a railway MoU, whether it’s some of the work that we’re doing on climate and financing electric buses. We have so much good work to do, higher education is another area too. I think you will see those announcements be steady. It used to be the exception between the US and India and a once-in-a-while thing. Now it’s the rule and it’s all the time.
With about two weeks to go for the G20 Summit, how are India and the US working together on India’s priorities such as the concerns of the Global South and food and energy security? Linked to that, do you think the lack of consensus over the Ukraine crisis is going to detract from these issues?
First of all, India has been a flawless host. I mean, to pull off 60 cities and ministerials months ahead of time, makes it easier for our leaders when they come here. So much good work has been done that I’m of a very high level of confidence and I hope India has felt our President, this [US] administration and our country’s enthusiasm for its leadership in G20, whether that’s priorities around digital public infrastructure, the LiFE initiative, whether it’s looking at Indian medicines – we are here to help lift up India’s leadership in the world and to be a good friend and partner. Second, to be chair is [being] in the toughest seat of all. But India, I think, has done a very deft job of navigating a difficult moment globally.
We can’t back down, nor almost all the rest of the G20 community, from standing for principles, like you don’t invade countries in a war of aggression unprovoked. So, we can’t go any weaker on the language than what was in Bali, but I trust India, with its relationships and its diplomatic prowess, to land a vehicle for articulating that with others who can dissent. It shouldn’t, and I believe it won’t hold back, but that’s a question better articulated to the countries who have implied that it would. I hope no country will stand in the way of the fight against poverty, empowering women, making people healthier, addressing debt. If they do, that’s on them. That’s not on India, and it’s certainly not on us.
So as a basic minimum, the leaders’ declaration would have to have something akin to the Bali language on the Ukraine crisis?
Yes, we’ve been clear that that is a line – it’s not an American line by the way – it’s a line of international law, and I think India knows and respects that things like borders and sovereignty are important. We’ll continue standing up for them and that cannot be absent in any world gathering. You don’t have to be in Europe – this is not a European issue – to feel the impact on energy, on food prices, the disruption of this world because of an unprovoked war that can be solved tomorrow, if that provocation wouldn’t have happened or it is resolved.
Coming to trade, you have talked of the resolution of disputes which is a good indicator. But how do you take things to the next level? You have spoken about the high levels of taxation in India and at the same time, are decisions like the one to ban laptops imports seen as dampeners?
I think it’s time to lower barriers and raise expectations and ambitions. We think that trade prospers when it’s unburdened and when regulations are predictable. But I also have great respect for my Indian colleagues to listen. Where are you trying to go towards? Because America and India want to go to the same places, diversify our supply chains, see a vibrant manufacturing base here. Maybe it’s like the data law that first came out, once we listened and gave friendly feedback, it changed for the better and trusted geographies and other things allowed this to be something that achieved India’s good aims while also not deterring investment.
We’ll always be honest with our friends. This is what we’re hearing. Some people think that this is just an issue, for instance, about electronics manufacturers. It’s not. A company that wants to set up a 10,000-person office to work on semiconductors and invest in India needs to buy a lot of laptops and put those calculations in. Will they go here or [to] another country based on these sorts of laws? So, I’m glad that the government has said, let’s listen, let’s wait a little bit. We intend to give that honest feedback and hopefully, we can get to what I think is the same destination. But do it the right way.
China has displayed quite a bit of assertiveness on territorial disputes, whether it’s with the Philippines in the South China Sea or the Line of Actual Control. How can India and the US work together to ensure that the Indo-Pacific remains free and open?
First, I think the US and India, as two global powers standing together on the idea that international law matters, that a rules-based order matters, is an incredibly powerful thing. It’s not just the US plus India, it’s US times India. Second, I think we’re there as friends for each other, militarily, intelligence wise, and we can be a deterrent to any bad actor, not just about one country, but anybody who would break those rules, who would not keep the seas open, who would have ecological devastation. These things matter, and in the past, we might have been aligned, but we weren’t actually working together. Now we’re working hand in hand. So, whatever our friend India needs, I think whether it’s in technology, intelligence, drills and skills, we are showing ourselves to be a dependable partner, a willing partner. And vice versa, India too.
What doesn’t get reported as much is the way that our operational forces are integrating. So that’s what the point of these exercises are. But the visits between us, the memorandums of understanding between our militaries allow us to fight for peace and not for war.
In the context of the shared commitment to values such as human rights, how do you view the recent developments in Manipur and Haryana?
Separate from the official, we’re human beings and our hearts break whenever we see human suffering. Whether that happens in Los Angeles or whether that happens in some place in India. So, you know I think it’s important for all of us to recognise the difficulty. We have a very diverse society too. Democracy and diversity are difficult, but they’re much better than the alternative. So we stand ready, willing and able to have those conversations and to engage. But we pray for peace and our hearts go out.