I arrived in India on Monday for the first time in seven years for what I’m sure will be an exhilarating and eye-opening visit... For most of the past half century we, in the West, have assumed that we set the pace and we set the global agenda. Well, now we must wake up to a new reality. We have to share global leadership with India, and with China. And we must recognise that India has established beyond argument, through its economic and political success, its right to a seat at the top table. India, one of the great civilisations of the world, is truly great again....
The links between our two economies are strengthening fast. A few years ago India was the 10th largest investor in Britain; now it is the third largest. Five hundred Indian companies are based in London, and more are opening all the time.
So our relationship goes deep. But I think it can and should go deeper. For Britain, there’s a precedent. Our special relationship with America has been forged through a shared past and a shared understanding of the world. And now, in the 21st century, as the world’s centre of gravity moves from Europe and the Atlantic to the South and the East, I believe it is time for Britain and India to forge a new special relationship, to meet our shared challenges in this new era of international affairs. Three challenges in particular stand out: fighting terrorism, protecting the environment and globalisation.
Britain and India do not have to explain terrorism to each other... We know that terrorism cannot be appeased: it must be defeated. Of course, this requires tougher security measures, including armed force. But we shouldn’t downplay the importance of international cooperation and thoughtful efforts to strengthen our societies at home....
The second challenge our countries face together is that of protecting the environment... As I have repeatedly argued, the threat of climate change is real and the costs of failing to act are vast. Those costs are financial and social, as well as environmental — and while they will fall on all countries, they will hurt poorer countries the most... We must find solutions to climate change that support, rather than obstruct the aspirations of India and others for faster economic growth and rising prosperity.
When it comes to the challenge of globalisation, India has taken the right steps to achieve the economic growth that is essential for tackling poverty. And India’s global competitiveness is steadily growing. Today, India produces a million engineering graduates each year, compared with fewer than 100,000 in the US and Europe.
But much more needs to be done to create more trade and investment opportunities for both our countries. For example, steps to open up markets in banking, insurance and retailing would be good for India and good for Britain.
I attach the highest priority to Britain’s relationship with India. For too long, politics in this country has been obsessed with Europe and America. Of course, these relationships are, and will continue to be, vital. But serious and responsible leadership in the 21st century means engaging with far greater energy in the parts of the world where Britain’s strategic interests will increasingly lie.
The writer is the leader of the Conservative Party, UK