February 21, 2012

India’s Ambassador to the U.S. Speaks at Wyant Lecture Series

Ambassador Nirupama Rao
Ambassador Nirupama Rao

Nirupama Rao, current ambassador of India to the United States, discussed "India's Role in the Changing Global Landscape in the 21st Century" at the February 15th Wyant Lecture held in the Janet M. Daley Library Lecture Hall. During her talk, Rao addressed the country's dramatic economic growth, new challenges and its place within the world order.

Rao defined India's core values as "the embrace of a diversity of opinions and outlook, the extraordinary mix of different religions and cultural practices, profusion of languages, variations of climate and topography, and differences in levels of economic development," while "our respect for democratic traditions and multi-party democracy makes us very much like the United States."

In a time of geopolitical, economic and demographic change in the world, due to the financial crisis that began in 2008 and the economic center of gravity shifting to the Indo-Pacific region, it is even more important for India to embrace these values, Rao said.

India's sustained economic growth in the last two decades has led to a transformation in the world's largest democracy. The country has been able to keep the adverse impacts of the global slowdown to the minimum and credits its resilience to the fact that the bulk of India's GDP is domestic-demand driven. The rise of a large middle class of around 300 million people is fueling this domestic consumption, which accounts for more than 60% of the GDP.

Another advantage is the country's population of young people. The median age in India is just over 25 and their pool of skilled workers continues to grow as more than three million graduates and 300,000 engineers join the workforce annually.

However, Rao noted that there are still several developmental challenges, such as the need to create modern infrastructure and manufacturing capacities, improve agricultural productivity, ensure health, education and the skill development of their population, and secure sustainable sources of energy to fuel growth. To address their shortfall in meeting energy requirements, India is working on a range of clean energy options, including solar energy, wind energy, nuclear energy and clean coal technology.

As India's economic growth boosts its influence in the international arena, the country remains conscious that with this comes ever-increasing responsibility and the realization that it will be called upon increasingly to deploy its potential in the interest of global peace and development, Rao said.

"One out of every six persons on our planet is Indian," Rao said. "If we are able to successfully tackle the developmental challenges and fulfill the priorities we have set, the beneficial impact of that would register globally.

"For the foreseeable future, our foremost national task is to ensure sustained economic growth so that we can provide opportunities to all our citizens to realize their full potential. Our primary concern is to ensure a peaceful periphery and good relations with our neighbors. Our geography as a subcontinent must be transformed, as it has been said recently, into a geography of hope."

Rao noted that the future of Afghanistan and Pakistan will have an effect on the future of South Asia's people and therefore, India has a stake in their stability and progress. India remains committed to Afghanistan's development through the India-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement of 2011 and their efforts to improve its connectivity with the world as they build a stable democratic country.

In regard to China, India's largest trading partner, Rao acknowledged challenges in their relationship as well as enormous opportunities for a mutually beneficial partnership at the bilateral and global levels.

India's destiny is defined by its maritime interests, Rao said, as there is increasing global attention on security in the Indian Ocean, which is central to India's economy, but vulnerable to both natural disasters and piracy.

"We in India want to see the Indian Ocean region develop into a zone of cooperation rather than of competition and domination," Rao said.

India also has stakes in the peace and stability of the Middle East. The area is home to more than six million Indians and accounts for more than two-thirds of their petroleum imports. Despite differences in tactical approaches, there is an agreement on the long-term objective that people's aspirations in these countries must be respected, Rao said. Specifically addressing Iran, which supplies India with approximately 10 percent of its oil, Rao said that the country has the right to utilize nuclear energy, but that it has certain international obligations it must comply with, "fully and transparently."

Lastly, Rao addressed India's relationship with the United States, which is built on shared values, converging interests and the fundamental belief that the countries have mutually beneficial stakes in each other's success.

"I have no doubt that our strategic partnership will intensify futher," she said.

Rao concluded that "India will continue to be a responsible member of the international community and will play its legitimate role on the global stage, a role that is commensurate with its size, its growing economic strength, its proven capacity to manage its enormous diversity within a democratic polity, and its lasting contributions to global peace and security."

Rao became ambassador of India to the United States in September 2011. In a diplomatic career spanning three decades, she has served in various world capitals, including Washington D.C., Beijing and Moscow. Rao joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1973 after completion of her university studies with an M.A. in English literature.

She acquired extensive experience in India-China relations, serving in the East Asia Division of the Ministry at policy-level capacities for several years. She later served as India's first woman ambassador to China from 2006 to 2009.

Previously, she served as ambassador to Peru, Bolivia and Sri Lanka, where she was India's first woman high commissioner. In 2001, she was designated as spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs, the first woman Indian Foreign Service officer to hold this post.
On completion of her ambassadorial tenures in Sri Lanka and China, she was appointed foreign secretary, the highest office in the Indian Foreign Service, where she served a two-year term ending in July 2011.

The Wyant Lecture Series features speakers in the humanities, history and the arts. This endowed professorship was established by the late Louise Doherty Wyant '63 and her husband, Dr. James Wyant, in honor of Sister Anne Cyril Delaney, SND. Sister Anne Cyril was a professor of English at Emmanuel for 26 years. Through her teaching and her intellectual breadth, Sister Anne Cyril exemplified the values and relevance of the humanities and had a profound influence on generations of students.