Marshall Bouton: Id like to welcome you to this luncheon with the Honorable Jaswant Singh, Minister for External Affairs for the Government of India. Mr. Minister, I believe this is your third visit to the Asia Society. We and the Council on Foreign Relations are deeply honored, again, to provide a forum for exchange between the Government of India and interested Americans. As you can see from the attendance here today, there is much interest in hearing from you.
After the Kargil conflict and with India's general elections now underway, Americans are looking to India and South Asia with a mixture of anxiety and anticipation. They are eager to learn how Indian leaders such as yourself look to the future.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Minister is accompanied on his visit to New York by a delegation of senior Indian officials and advisors. Now they are too numerous with us today for me to be able to recognize them all, but I would like to introduce three of them who are at the head table. They are His Excellency Naresh Chandra, Ambassador of India to the United States. His Excellency Kamalesh Sharma, India's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, and His Excellency Shankar Bajpai, Former Ambassador of India to the United States, and known to many, not only here in New York but around our country, for his long service to this relationship.
The Asia Society and the Council on Foreign Relations are also very pleased that Frank Wisner, former Ambassador of the United States to India and now Vice-Chairman of AIG, will preside today.
As many in this room are well aware, Frank completed a highly distinguished career in the foreign service of our country with his time in India. During that time and since, he has contributed immeasurably to creating an opportunity for lasting improvement in India-U.S. relations that we all must now seize. His imagination, his energy, and his personal warmth not only captivated Indians from all walks of life, it also engaged new constituencies in the United States in the task of strengthening India-U.S. relations.
Following lunch, Frank will introduce the Minister, and following the Minister's remarks, he has kindly agreed to take your questions, and Ambassador Wisner will moderate that Q&A session.
Before letting you proceed with your lunch and your conversation, I do want to draw to your attention the publication which is available to all of you on the table outside as you depart. It is in the Asia Society's Asian Update series. It is a discussion of the factors and forces shaping the current elections in India by Philip Oldenburg of Columbia University. We're delighted it was ready just in time for this event today, and that all of you today we be able to I hope take a look at it and learn something from it.
Thank you all, again, for being with us today. Enjoy your lunch.
AMBASSADOR WISNER: -- and I obviously am referring to the Foreign Minister of India, Shri Jaswant Singh, who has agreed to speak to us today. The Minister is well known. He is a man who has devoted his life to the service of India, her interests, sensitivity to her history, he served in her military forces, he's been part of her political life, and in recent years part of her governments.
The Minister, through his life, has defended India's frontiers, taken responsibility for shaping the Indian economy, and is now the steward of India's foreign relations. These three dimensions are extraordinarily important as we as Americans think about how to engage India at a time in which her economic fundamentals are increasingly sound and her place in the world is vitally important as the United States must make her way forward in the spirit of partnership.
Mr. Minister, I'm delighted the occasion is one in which two institutions in New York, the Council on Foreign Relations and the Asia Society, have come together. It is to pay tribute not only to you, sir, but to the importance of your great country and to be able to introduce you as well to a really remarkable outpouring of interest and sentiment as represented by those who gathered to hear your words today. Mr. Minister, a very warm welcome to you, sir, and I turn the floor over to you. Thank you.
MINISTER SHRI JASWANT SINGH: Mr. Chairman, sir, Your Excellency, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I'm both flattered and overwhelmed by the attendance that I have witnessed here today. It is not the first time that I've had the honor of addressing Asia Society, but I do believe that it's the first time ever that I have the distinction and honor of being able to speak to the combined assembly of Asia Society and Council together.
I do not believe that earlier this has happened, but, Mr. Chairman, you are entirely right, this is a great tribute that is paid by today's audience to my country, to India, and it's also a tribute that has in it the expectations that United States has from India as a sister democracy, perhaps the two largest democracies on earth.
As I deliberated what I should share thoughts with you on this afternoon, the choice that finally got narrowed and selected was naturally about India and about the challenge and response that India has had and ought to have. I will attempt to encapsulate this within about 20, 25 odd minutes, and then I would be happy to answer questions about what I have said or not said or any other aspect of the challenge and response that India faces today.
Earlier this morning, I had occasion to share a thought with another assembly that from today it's really 100 days away that the 21st century is. Almost exactly 100 days from today we would be entering a new century, and that cliche phrase by now, a new millennium.
Our principal challenge, therefore, that India faces is essentially to transcend its own history, the legacy of its history, and to be able to address itself as a modern nation of 1 billion human beings, how to steer the destiny of these 1 billion into the 21st century. Understandably, the first challenge is principally the internal challenge. The internal challenge within India is how to find an answer in the shortest possible time to the terrible affliction of wanton poverty and hunger it continues to be the stigmata of earlier years.
India, depending on how you look at it, might or might not be a poor country, but it is certainly a country in which a sizable population of my citizens, countrymen and women do not have sufficient purchasing power in their pockets. And that I believe, ladies and gentlemen, is part of the unfulfilled promise and challenge that India inherited and remains to my mind the principal challenge ahead.
Combined with that there are other aspects of it. How to find democratically, a democratic answer to the great challenge of orderly succession in democracies? Even as I speak to you now, ladies and gentlemen, we go through the exciting process of democratically electing the next government of India. Six hundred million is the size of the Indian electorate. The Indian electorate is larger than the combined population of the United States of America, Canada, and west Europe.
It's an enormous task the very fact that 600 million Indians, of which on an average up till now in the rounds of elections that have taken place, more than 50 percent have cast their votes, which is a higher percentage of participation than a great many other countries.
The challenge simply of organizing, physically of organizing such an election, of going through it -- of course, not faultlessly, of course, not in a manner in which fingers cannot be pointed, and, of course, not in a manner which I can call perfect. But I do believe that of all democracies in the world the Indian election in its impulse and in its persuasions and in what it wishes to achieve is really an awe-inspiring spectacle. And I'm proud that I'm part of that democratic process, and part of that democratic process which will on the 3rd of October complete the rounds of elections, and thereafter by about the middle of October, we will have the next government of India.
You could fault us for having gone to the elections too often in the last ten years or so, which is true. And I have heard descriptions to the effect that elections are like the heartbeat of a democracy. You can't play with heartbeat. You cannot advance the pulse of the beat or you cannot have it beating too rapidly, it causes one kind of disorder. And if you slow down the process, it causes another kind of result.
But what India has been attempting and it's been my privilege to have been part of this process, what we are experiencing now is the 13th general election, and it is my privilege to have participated in this process from the 4th general election. A number of these were compressed in the last three years. You could say that this is an aspect that is disturbing about India. I ask you to look at the fact that elections are being held even if three times in the last three years. And the fact that they are being held is principally because democratically India is attempting to find an answer to that most challenging of tasks which is orderly democratic succession.
Secondly, and it's to me very satisfying, that the frequency of elections, rather than being an indication of any kind of instability, is, in fact, an aspect of the very continuity, the vigor, and of the stability of the systems in India. Yes, governments have gone and come, and in the future also will be voted out of office, but the system has worked. The system has worked, and it is truly to me one of the most encouraging aspects of the Indian scene.
Because, after all, what is it that we are experimenting in India internally? And I urge to address yourselves to the enormity of the task that was undertaken 50 years back. We had a country officially recognize languages as per the Constitution of more than 18. The unofficial languages that the Constitution does not recognize are many more dialects. The sheer sweep of the diversity of the land, all this, the languages, the dress forms, subscriptions to faith, all these being strung together in a remarkable unity which is truly unique in the world today.
And I say to you, given what we have very recently experienced of the coming apart of states as experienced, for instance, in Russia or as experienced lately in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, or, as I hope, not to be experienced in the island country of Indonesia. In the face of all this that is happening here, to see the great continuity and dynamism of the internal processes of India is truly to my mind most encouraging.
Internationally, what is the principal challenge that we have faced in the last decade or so, what is the challenge that we face today, and what ought our response be? The first thought that I wish to leave with you is that just about the end of the decade of the 80's, when the globe was coming to conclusion of the third great war which was the Cold War, India typically and perhaps some would say even perversely went into a phase of finding an answer to our internal political problems.
In '89 when the Cold War ended, it was in '89 that India attempted to find answers to its internal problems. We have been preoccupied for the last decade or so to find answers to those internal problems. And in these last ten years, whereas the rest of the world moved and moved with a velocity, it was much faster, and it moved with a velocity when India ought really to have been fully seized and a partner in the global transformation that was taking place, was too preoccupied internally.
What was the challenge that India faced then? Conceptually, the challenge that India faced was to come to recognition of the demise of the Cold War. Had that recognition come about in a timely fashion soon after '89, India would not have lagged behind as a partner in the transformation that is taking place internationally.
Despite that and notwithstanding that preoccupation with the internal, the track record of India's management of its relationship with its neighborhood is really quite remarkable, barring the difficulties that we have faced and continue to face I hope for not too long with one of her neighbors. With Sri Lanka, the situation was managed despite Sri Lanka's own internal ethnic problems and managed in a fashion that we today have a free trade agreement with Sri Lanka, which is on the (inaudible).
The situation was managed with Bangladesh in a fashion that they, just as there was a bus journey undertaken from Delhi to Lahore, a bus journey also took place from Calcutta to Dhaka. And it went unremarked upon because the sheer drama of the Lahore bus journey overshadowed the Dhaka bus journey. And I was on that bus in the Lahore bus journey, was also on the Dhaka bus journey.
The agreement that was arrived at in Dhaka for a multi-modal expansion or transferred forms with Bangladesh with Bangladesh wanting to further enter into enhanced and open trade regime with India and to open the transportation systems both river, land, and rail with the rest of India as also the northeast is one of the truly most remarkable developments which has gone unremarked upon.
We have a relationship with Nepal and Bhutan which is really unique. Citizens of Nepal can move in and out of India without passports. They can take a job in India, go out. There have been some trade and transit treaty agreements that have been signed. All point to a direction in which SAARC is moving. SAARC no doubt is an organization that is yet to come to the full realization of its potential, but it is in the right direction.
And it is in that context that we were saddened and greatly disappointed by the developments in Kargil. The challenge in Kargil was principally of an aggression, a premeditated aggression, it was territorial in design. That aggression was vacated.
The casualty of Kargil which is much more difficult to correct and find an answer to is the casualty of trust. Lahore bus journey above all was an expression, an extension of a hand of friendship, was an expression of trust. To regain that territory of trust is the challenge that today confronts India, Indian political leadership is also I believe the leadership of Pakistan.
India in Asia I believe is a stabilizing factor. It is a stabilizing factor because India exports no destabilizing, disturbing, or even aggressive ideology. It is a factor of stability because it provides the kind of counterbalance to other forces within Asia. It is a factor of stability by the sheer size of its economy. It is a factor for stability for the great wealth of the human talent that India is scientific, technological. The reservoir of technology that today India is provides to it a stabilizing ability on all of Asia.
And I do believe that the Indian influence, and this I do not say in any aggressive nationalistic sense, I say it as recognition of reality, the stabilizing effect of India stretches really from what was earlier Indochina in the east, further south almost to the island of Bali. There was a feel that nobody is an extension cultural and otherwise. India, to the south, to the west, deep towards the gulf and Mediterranean, and further in the Central Asia as far afield as Kabul and Almaty. This is a fact of life. This is today the challenge that India faces, and it is in this kind of Asian framework that India has to upgrade.
As you look at Asia from the United States of America, your tendency is to look at Asia in the Pacific context. I appeal to you to look at Asia not simply in the Asia Pacific context but in the larger land mass of Asia and how Asia is not simply the home of the great villages that today dominate the earth but is also possibly the largest land mass combined with human power.
India and the United States of America, the challenge in the last 50 years was to find an answer, an answer that subserved the national interests of the United States of America and enabled India also to continue to look after its interests.
I do believe that the last 50 years of Indo-U.S. relations are the years that were wasted on account of some of the fallout effects of the Cold War. I do also believe that just as India toward '89 did not come to terms with the conceptual challenge of the end of the Cold War, the United States of America too in its preoccupations of arranging the new global order did not in the initial years pay the required degree of attention to the changes that were to come about or must come about in south Asia.
It is in this context that I place the rounds of talks that I've had the honor and distinction of having with the, I'm privileged to call him my friend, Strobe Talbott, I do believe that these eight rounds of talks that India has had with the United States of America have possibly been the most intensive, they've been the most purposeful, the most frank, and I've not doubt in my mind the most productive round of talks that India and the United States of America had in the last 50 years.
I do also believe that once these elections are over and a new government is in position that these talks must continue. They must continue no matter which government, what form of government comes into office. They must also continue because of one other additional aspect which is one of the consequences of this misadventure by our neighbor in Kargil, and I find this a very interesting development is the fact that there is today in India amongst the large mass of the Indian people a much greater appreciation and understanding of the position of the United States of America as I certainly have not experienced or witnessed ever since I entered public life.
I must also share with you a fact and a thought that I have shared with many others. It is only in India, notwithstanding the differences that might have been in our approach to issues, there has never been any incident of any violence against any U.S. citizen born or political personages.
It is a very telling comment, this is a very telling comment on the fundamentals of Indo-U.S. relations. And I do believe that during the last two years events and personalities have contributed a very great deal to placing Indo-U.S. relations on the basis of much greater maturity, of much greater understanding of each other's concerns and much greater potential stability and protectivity than ever before. And I do believe that this needs to be built upon in the coming years as both the challenge and the response of the future.
Economic. Despite all these difficulties, India has maintained a compound rate of 6 percent growth of GDP. Our inflation is the lowest that it has been in the last 30 years. It is at 1.8 percent, 1.7, something like that. The currency is stable. The exports are not what they ought to be. Industrial output is picking up. Both the Bombay Stock Exchange and the National Stock Exchange are exciting. They are going through the typical phases of a pre-government which is between the formation of a government and the conclusion of an election.
Here, again, I believe within the Indo-U.S. context it is somewhere between those two novels by Charles Dickens, "Great Expectations," "Hard Times." The potential for Indo-U.S. economic cooperation is always of great expectation and is always infected by this feeling of hard times.
I hold myself as an Indian and as having had something to do sometime or the other with the management of India's economic and financial matters, and it's not that policies are wanting. It's not that India does not have genius to think of the correct answers. The real reason for this is the mismatch between policy formulation and policy implementation. I'm not attempting to find an excuse for the gap between policy formulation and policy implementation. But as a political activist and a public servant, I have attempted to find why is that India takes so long between taking the decision and implementing the decision.
This is what most exasperates entrepreneurs from abroad. I assure you it exasperates Indians just as much. You only occasionally have to cope with it. We have to cope with it daily.
Why are we not able to find an answer to it? We're not able to find an answer to it because, as I shared a thought earlier this morning, your experience with the British is older, and you have had a longer time to correct the situation thereafter. We have only had 50 years.
The British left us many things. Amongst the things that they did leave us with was, begging the pardon of very distinguished civil servants and bureaucrats here, they left us with an impossible bureaucracy and a near impossible situation of hopelessly unnecessary laws. I like citing this example. We have a law for the sending of money orders. You could send money orders, and the form in which money orders are sent in India was first made in 1876, and it continues to be in the same format. If you wish to change it, you have to change so many laws that people just give it up in exasperation.
It's a giant battleship, India is a giant battleship. It's still changing course, it is moving in the direction of economic liberalization that is now irreversible. The sheer technological and the trained manpower and the facility of the language that we have, the legal systems, however slow, the legal systems, the benefit of that persuades me to share what I often share.
If you take the wise decision of investing in India as against investing in a project in India, only a project in India, you simply cannot lose. You simply cannot lose not only on account of the fact that language, law, trained manpower, all these are factors, democracy, but also because it is a nation of 1 billion. And this nation of 1 billion has a dynamic which will not be contained. That is both the challenge as also the response that we have to provide as an answer to what is really the future of India in the coming years, in the coming decades.
Ladies and gentlemen, I had promised I will not stand for too long. The final word that I have to say is about the process of elections that is currently on. It is extremely difficult for me to be objective about the election results. I pretend to no objectivity, and it's extremely difficult to hazard a guess about what the election results are going to throw up.
But if opinion polls and if exit polls and the combination of all these polls have to say anything, it is that they're all pointed in one direction. It's a very humbling thought. They are pointed in the direction of the team to which I belong.
And when the decision is taken -- it is an extremely hazardous exercise to guess election results before the last vote is counted -- when the decision is taken, we would have inherited from the people of India a trust and a tryst. It would not be a private political possession to be the trust of the Indian people that we simply cannot and will not betray, it is to keep India free, united, democratic, one of the open societies of the world, a prosperous India which is a factor of stability not simply in Asia but in the world, and it is an India which all my citizens will have sufficient in their pockets to spend.
It is not just a trust, ladies and gentlemen, that we will then be inheriting, it will be a political mandate. It is a very humbling thought that an electorate of 600 million is likely to have the responsibility in a very short while. Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.
AMBASSADOR WISNER: Ladies and gentlemen, the floor is now open for questions. I'd ask that as you ask a question please introduce yourself, keep your questions brief, if you would, and I will let them be fielded by the Foreign Minister. Mr. Minister. Go ahead, right in the center table, gentleman in the red tie.
MR. GLIGOR TASHKOVICH: Gligor Tashkovich, Trans-Balkan Oil Pipeline Project. Mr. Minister, I wanted to ask you if India had any position on the exploitation and division of the Caspian Sea resources in the same way that the U.S. does? In other words, you're not a (inaudible) state but you are in the region and how that might affect you and your interest in it.
MINISTER SINGH: I'm quite glad you ask that question. Yes, we have a position, and we have a position which is not simply borne of the fact that Central Asia and Central Asian countries and India have had a relationship which is historic and very long years. I believe that conceptually an error is being made somewhere in the, I don't much like the word exploitation in the proper utilization of the hydrocarbon resources of Central Asia.
I do believe that not sufficient attention is being given to a development that is now taking place already which is that effectively from Dagastan, Chechnya, to part of the Caspian, to Central Asia, to Afghanistan, parts of the Indian state of Kashmir, you currently have a sweep of medieval terrorism which is likely to result in the choking off of the exit that we also routinely think is conveniently available to us of the energy sources.
I say this on the basis of discussions that I've had with my counterparts and with the heads of governments of all the Central Asian republics in the recent past. Here, again, we have a situation of great promise but riddled with difficulties, and we are attempting to find an answer to this promise in somewhat fixed manners. We have to think afresh about the exit of these resources, and we have to think very seriously about the consequences of choking off these resources by the development of a kind of terrorism in these areas.
AMBASSADOR WISNER: Recognize the young lady in the back of the room.
FARIDA BURTIS: Yes, my name is Burtis, United Nations Press. Foreign Minister, you mentioned Kargil in your speech. Right at that podium where you are now, Inder Gujral last year said that India's willing to accept the U.N. resolutions even today, but he cited glitches in the troop withdrawal provisions which were not apparently being implemented. What is your assessment? First, cease-fire? What are the other provisions of the U.N. resolutions?
MINISTER SINGH: Well, I do not know what my distinguished colleague Inder Gujral said from here, and I do not wish to comment on it. My position is very clear, the position of the government of India is very clear. Unless you understand the essence of the position, one would continue to make these errors.
The Indian state of Kashmir is not the so-called issue. Kashmir is at the core of Indian nationhood. It goes beyond the question of how this is to be determined. It is an issue that is bilateral. We will find an answer to it. And I do believe that the passage of time and the experience of Kargil now have brought to it a dimension which is when Inder last spoke from here was not there.
AMBASSADOR WISNER: Excuse me, the lady to my left.
MS. CORINNE SHANE: Corinne Shane, Investinart. We're corporate art consultants. Much has been written as of late with regard to the overpopulation in India and the poverty in India, especially in contrast to China and China's regulation of one child family. The comparisons that I have read is that China economically is advancing better than India because of this poverty problem. Are you in any way addressing that problem?
MINISTER SINGH: I did, madame, suggest at the very opening sentences of the thoughts that I shared with you that the principal challenge that Indian leadership faces is how to address ourselves to this issue. But because you have taken the trouble to compare or draw a comparison between our great neighbor, The People's Republic of China, let me share one or two thoughts with you in that regard.
I do not know on what statistics you base your conclusions. If I go by purchasing power index, India is today either the fourth and sometimes we are told the third nation in the world. If I go by industrial production, I'm not too much worried. If I go by the arable land that is available to me, India has almost twice the arable land that is available to The People's Republic of China.
Why has People's Republic of China caught your attention and India not to your fancy? Because we are a democratic society, we are open. Everything that we do is so transparently open that at times it is embarrassingly so. But we are not inhibited by that. We will continue to move democratically on our chosen path. We might not win the 100 yard dash against The People's Republic of China. We will certainly win the marathon, I assure you.
AMBASSADOR WISNER: Marshall Bouton.
MR. MARSHALL BOUTON: Mr. Minister, New Delhi has said that it does not want the United States or others from outside, excuse me, New Delhi has said that it does not want the United States or other countries to seek to mediate in your dispute with Pakistan, and the United States administration has said that it does not seek to mediate. But is there any role that you can describe that the United States or for that matter others in the international community might play in facilitating reduction -- [tape off/on]
MINISTER SINGH: -- aspects that suggest of mediation or intermediaries or even the new formulation of it, facilitators or reconcilers, because, firstly, and I repeat it despite what my friends from Pakistan have found necessary to rebut, India and Pakistan actually do speak the same language, and we don't need interpreters when it comes to talking to each other. Secondly, India and Pakistan know the issues between them as no one else can know. You simply cannot. It is not a value judgment. It's a reflection upon the objective reailty of the situation. Why do we feel that whatever category -- mediation, facilitators, etc. -- should be avoided is because I feel that, and it's my experience that persuades me to this conclusion, that whichever guise you permit this kind of activity, there is always an unstated agenda with which that mediator or facilitator, reconciler arrives on the scene. And any unstated or additional agenda items on what is rather a full agenda between India and Pakistan is really quite unnecessary at the moment.
What can the United States of America do? I think the United States of America is to principally and to start with today begin to understand, it's a phrase that I've used earlier, that the problem is not in the valley of the Kashmir because it is roughly 76 miles by 24 miles. The problem is not so much in the valley of Kashmir as it is in what has become of the State of Pakistan. Unless that central fact is not addressed, the other aspects of it shall always go overboard or lose. And what is the other thing that I believe the United States of America ought to or can do. For a great many years the United States of America has invested in Pakistan. It's invested in money, it's invested in manpower, it's invested in its resources of its diplomacy, and quite rightly invested because Pakistan subserved a role in furtherance of U.S. national interests.
Even if you were to do that, I think it is necessary for the United States of America to now start informing Pakistan candidly of which we have seen demonstrations recently. This is the reality. And if once United States of America begins to candidly inform a country that is after all been a very close ally of the United States of America, I think the correction will begin to take place. It will facilitate matters.
AMBASSADOR WISNER: The lady to my right.
MS. TRUDY RUBIN: Trudy Rubin from The Philadelphia Inquirer and a Council member. Along the lines of your previous answer, if there should be a military change of government in Pakistan, how do you think that would affect the development of relations? And assuming that things do not change drastically there, after there's a new government in India, do you think that there is any possibility that diplomacy can resume?
MINISTER SINGH: I really would not wish to comment on the first part because that is something that I would much rather not reflect upon. As to when and how, I did attempt to answer the question, that after the new government has got elected, then we will have to address ourselves to this issue. How do you reengage despite what has happened? And after all, a great deal of the trust has got eroded. How do you reengage will be, I believe, one of the principal challenges to the management of the situation in our neighborhood. We will have to engage. How do you do it most effectively so that it doesn't get faulted again, that would be the challenge.
AMBASSADOR WISNER: The table just to the left of the door, behind the door, the gentleman with a pink shirt on.
MR. AMIT SARKAR: The man in the pink shirt's name is Amit Sarkar. You had commented on the U.S.-India relationship. A comparison with China is almost inevitable because these are only two countries that have more than 1 billion people. We have a trade imbalance with China of a billion dollars a week. We also seem to take a position that what's some nuclear secrets between friends. We can still get them into WTO. Could you contrast this relationship, China relationship with India relationship? And you mentioned that you had very fruitful talks with the State Department. Have you made any progress in closing the gap, even narrowing the gap slightly?
MINISTER SINGH: Narrowing which gap?
MR. SARKAR: The relationship between China and India.
MINISTER SINGH: Oh, I had talks with my counterpart in Beijing.
MINISTER SINGH: The American view of China, U.S. relationship with China.
MR. SARKAR: How do you contrast?
MINISTER SINGH: It's really a function of the United States of America to decide what relationship it has with which country and in what form. Although I do at times reflect on the fact because it's perplexing that the American position on China seems to be born of many factors, and amongst which factors are the early Jesuit influences, also figures like Commodore Perry, Chang Kai Shek, all these have contributed to the creation of somewhat of I believe uniquely American approach to China. And I say uniquely on purpose. But it's a choice that the United States of America has to make.
It would be difficult for me because in international relations, the relations between India and the United States of America stand on their own. I don't judge the relationship with a great country like the United States of America in comparison to the favors that they might be conferring on some other country. India is not in the competition of winning favors. India is certainly very much attempting to establish a relationship, a mature relationship, a lasting relationship, and a relationship with the United States of America which takes note of the last 50 years, years that really [inaudible].
AMBASSADOR WISNER: To the left, gentleman in the front of the table.
MR. ROBERT KLEIMAN: Robert Kleiman. Mr. Minister, I wonder if you could illuminate for us a bit the Indian objective in the nuclear field. Is it to become a major nuclear power? Is it simply to keep pace with the Chinese? And what is your reflection now on the effect on Indian security of the nuclear arms race that has been set off with Pakistan?
MINISTER SINGH: The last part of it first, sir, there has not been any arms race set off with Pakistan, nuclear or otherwise. I admit and I accept that Pakistan's response in the nuclear program is entirely Indocentric. But I have made clear on numerous earlier occasions that India's nuclear program is not country specific.
The totality of our program is best described by leaving the thought with you that we needed the additional strategic space and autonomy we had all these years for the past decades. And I need to share with you that the Indian nuclear program really started in 1956. The first nuclear reactor in Asia outside of Russia was in India. The first nuclear test in India was in 1974. The total nuclear program of India is entirely indigenous.
For that additional strategic space and autonomy, what is the enunciation of the outlines of that policy? Minimal credible deterrence. No first use. No use against non-nuclear weapon states. And a commitment to nuclear safety and mistaken use which I would be in my intervention this afternoon in the U.N. General Assembly, I'll be again repeating there is no arms race. We are not in competition. We are not either reliving or reinventing the Cold War.
AMBASSADOR WISNER: Mr. Minister, I think we have time for one more question. If I could ask the gentleman to my left.
MR. PAUL HEER: My name is Paul Heer. I'm also with the Council on Foreign Relations. If you could graciously return briefly again to the subject of China. You mentioned in your remarks that India perceives itself as a source of stability in the region. I wonder how you see China in that context in light of the recent twists and turns in China's relationship with India over the past two or three years and recent suggestions that there are some in India who see China as a threat to India's interests.
MINISTER SINGH: I'm sorry that an impression has been created that there are twists and turns. They are really born of some factually incorrect newspaper reporting. My colleague and friend George Fernandes is Defense Minister with me. The newspaper headlines said George calls China enemy number one which is not what George had said.
If you thereafter reflect on the differences of approach between, for example, the State Department and the Pentagon, they would be looking at the same issue differently. One looks at it purely as Pentagon. The other looks at as State Department. The approach is different which is precisely what had happened with India. That's one part of it.
How do I see China? I do believe and I believe this sincerely that India is a factor of stability in Asia, and I appeal to this particularly distinguished audience to recognize this aspect as an additional aspect of the basis and foundations of future Indo-U.S. relations. India is a factor of stability.
Is People's Republic of China a factor of stability? People's Republic of China leaves a sense of unease, disquiet. That's in the nature of the -- if you examine the historical evolution of China, it has always been like that.
Where do India and China meet? Of course, we meet along the border along the Himalayas in Tibet. But we also meet historically. We also meet in that region which is now no longer called Indochina. It's called Southeast Asia. Why was it earlier called Indochina? That is where two great civilizations met, and you find that there in that region you actually do see the influence of India and the influence of China. The influence of China is largely in mercantilism. The influence of India has largely been cultural. Whether it is [inaudible], deep into Laos, it is still today.
So I'll share a phrase with you which I shared with some others earlier this morning, what is the future of Sino-Indian relations? I think the Sino-Indian border we will find an answer to. We have our mutual concerns. It's a great neighbor, it's an ancient civilization. We will find an answer to that. But where the tectonic plates of the two civilizations meet, which is in Southeast Asia, there they will always rub against each other. It's a very long subject which you asked, a very short answer. That's the best I can do.
AMBASSADOR WISNER: Mr. Minister, as you can see, the room continues to be filled with questions. I fear our respect for you and the demanding schedule you have before you this afternoon forces me to bring this to a close. I do so with a word of thanks to you for the time you've taken for your answers, for your remarks that began the day, and I ask all of your guests today to join me in a round of applause. (applause)
AMBASSADOR WISNER: Would everyone keep their seats for just a minute so the Minister and his delegation can depart? (end of session)