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Commentary | PERSPECTIVE ON SOUTH ASIA

Regional Partnerships Are Key for 21st Century America

'It is the weakness of great nations, not their strength, that threatens our vision for the future.'

March 20, 2000|BILL CLINTON | Bill Clinton is president of the United States. This article was distributed by Global Viewpoint

This week, I am traveling to South Asia to visit Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. In this article, I want to discuss the reasons for my visit and what I hope to accomplish.

With one-fifth of the world's people, with its traditions of democracy, with its embrace of economic openness and scientific progress, South Asia has the potential to be one of the world's biggest success stories in the next half-century. Yet it still faces enormous challenges--and dangers. In no other region do so many critical issues converge so dramatically: promoting economic growth, expanding trade and easing poverty; averting regional conflict and preventing nuclear proliferation; defeating terrorism and fighting drugs; averting climate change and conquering infectious disease. I am convinced that strengthening peace, prosperity and freedom in the 21st century will depend in good measure on America's ability to forge partnerships with South Asian nations, by advancing the interests we share and resolving the differences that remain.

America has learned in recent years, especially from Russia's troubles and Japan's economic difficulties, that it is the weakness of great nations, not their strength, that threatens our vision for the future. We are safer when other great nations are at peace with their neighbors and with themselves. We do better when other countries rise from poverty to become our partners in trade and investment. Our freedom is more secure when others have a chance to shape their destiny.

That will be my message in all three countries, particularly in India. We want India to be strong, secure, united--a force for a safer, more prosperous, more democratic world.

In its 52 years since independence, India has brought about a remarkable political, social and economic transformation. With 17 officially recognized languages and 22,000 dialects, it is a place of extraordinary diversity that is teaching the world how to live with difference.

Hundreds of millions of Indians choose their leaders in free elections and determine their affairs through local governing councils. India's economy is one of the 10 fastest-growing in the world, its thriving high-technology sector one of the brightest spots in the new global economy, expanding 25-fold in the past decade. There now are more television channels available in Mumbai [Bombay] than in most U.S. cities. Meanwhile, Indians are pioneering innovative new sources of clean energy and new ways to combat epidemics of disease.

The United States and India share common values and common goals. More than 1.5 million of our citizens were born in, or trace their ancestry to, India, and they are an extraordinary success, ranking at the top in education and income among all of America's ethnic groups. After 50 years of missed opportunities, it is time that America and India became better friends and stronger partners.

America and India should work more closely together to advance political freedoms and protections against persecution. We should find common ground in opening the global trading system in a way that lifts the lives of rich and poor alike. And we should be able to agree that prosperity and growth in the new economy depend on keeping children in school and protecting the environment. As the largest emitter and one of the fastest-growing emitters of the greenhouse gases that propel global warming, we can improve cooperation for clean energy, so we do not leave a planet in peril. We also can intensify together the struggle against deadly diseases like tuberculosis, malaria and HIV/AIDS.

I also seek a deeper partnership between the United States and Bangladesh, a Muslim nation of 120 million. It, too, is making great strides, lifting citizens out of poverty, raising the status of women, strengthening democracy and standing against terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

Pakistan is also important to the United States. The Pakistani people are our longtime friends. We want them to enjoy the benefits of democracy, to build a strong economy, to be free of terrorism and live in peace. Some say I should not go to Pakistan because of the military coup that overthrew the democratically elected prime minister, Nawaz Sharif. Yet engagement with Pakistan does not represent endorsement. Staying away only would strengthen hard-liners in Pakistan who want their country to turn away from the world.

In my meetings with Pakistani leaders, as well as with Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and other Indian leaders, I will address directly our serious concerns.

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