Observing that “headwinds” against democratic rule are “strong” across the world, USAID Administrator Samantha Power said on Wednesday that there are forces in India and the United States “who seek to sow division… pit ethnicities and religions against one another… bend laws and abuse institutions”.
Addressing an event at IIT-Delhi. Power mentioned the Capitol Building attack by rioters on January 6 last year, following the defeat of former US President Donald Trump. “…The headwinds against democratic rule are strong the world over. Within the United States and India, there are forces who seek to sow division, who seek to pit ethnicities and religions against one another, who wish to bend laws, abuse institutions and wield violence against those who stand in their way; we saw this, of course, on January 6 in the United States last year… How the United States and India rise to meet these injustices, how fiercely we protect our hard-won pluralism, how insistently we defend our democracy and individual rights will determine not just our own trajectory, but that of the world that we inhabit,” she said.
“To be clear, now and in the years ahead, the US sees India not just as a leader in the Indo-Pacific but a leader throughout the world,” Power said. “Together, we can offer the emerging countries, the emerging economies of the future a new development model, one rooted not in debt traps and dependence but in economic trade and integration, one that supports and celebrates individual and national agency, and one that aspires to see all countries move beyond the need for assistance,” she said, in an apparent reference to China’s policy.
Elaborating, Power said, “A model predicated on engaging with a country’s citizens and civil society, just as willingly as it does with its government. A model that treats others as equals and collaborates on solutions without preconceptions or stereotypes. A model that recognises that democracy, inclusivity and pluralism offer the surest path to sustainable progress, where dignity is not reserved for the few but endowed to us all. A model that is rooted in cooperation, not small-minded but big-hearted. A model that, at its core, believes that we are all one family.”
Power said that India, with its talent, resources and technological expertise, can contribute massively to the development trajectory of many countries. “But ultimately, what has positioned India as a future development leader has not been its assets but its values… It has been India’s multi-ethnic, multi-party democracy that has allowed it to withstand the challenges it has faced and come out ahead stronger and more resilient. It has been its support for free expression over decades that has allowed injustices to come to light. It has been its tolerance for diversity and dissent that has allowed reforms to take hold and institutions to progress. India’s trajectory has been so strong because – not in spite of – its democracy,” she said.
Power also lauded India’s help to Sri Lanka, and contrasted it with China. She mentioned how India wrote off debts of poor countries like Ghana, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia in 2003. “Perhaps nowhere is India’s commitment to those in peril more on display than right now in Sri Lanka… India has reacted really swiftly with an absolutely critical set of measures… And it has supplied $3.5 billion in lines of credit to the government of Sri Lanka,” she said.
“Contrast this with the People’s Republic of China which has been an increasingly eager creditor of the Sri Lankan government since the mid-2000s. Indeed over the past two decades, China became one of Sri Lanka’s biggest creditors, offering often opaque loan deals at higher interest rates than other lenders and financing a raft of headline-grabbing infrastructure projects with often questionable practical use for Sri Lankans, including a massive port that generated little income and was barely used by ships, and an equally massive airport, dubbed the emptiest in the world because it attracted so few passengers, and the country’s tallest tower that was built as a tourist attraction, yet has never, unfortunately opened to the public,” Power said.
“Now that conditions have soured, Beijing has promised lines of credit and emergency loans. This is critical since Beijing is estimated to hold at least 15% of Sri Lanka’s foreign debt. But calls to provide more significant relief have so far gone unanswered. And the biggest question of all is whether Beijing will restructure debt to the same extent as other bilateral creditors,” Power said.
“I’ve had many conversations here in India and with other partners, this challenge is not unique to Sri Lanka. Many debt distress countries in Africa and Asia are hoping that their calls will be answered. It is really essential that Beijing participate in debt relief transparently and on equitable terms with all other creditors,” Power said, adding that if ever there were a time to choose cooperation, that time is now.