Nirupama Rao defines the future of Indo-Pacific relations
A Q&A with former Indian Ambassador to the United States during her Pacific Leadership Fellowship
Nov. 22, 2019 | By Rachel Hommel | GPS News
High above the 15th floor, with the sunset illuminating the room, the Pacific Ocean offered the perfect backdrop for Nirupama Rao to deliver her public lecture on “India in the Indo-Pacific World.” She painted a picture for staff, faculty and community supporters at the UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy (GPS) the current state of Indo-Pacific strategy in the 21st century.
“We hear ‘from the sea to the mountains’ - these seas are human seas, seas that were navigated and crisscrossed by human encounter,” said Rao. “Each wave of contact is refreshing and rejuvenating.”
With most of her life spent in the trenches dealing with difficult relationships with borders, Rao retired as Foreign Secretary to the Government of India, the senior most position in the Foreign Service. Rao was only the second woman to occupy the post. She was also the first woman spokesperson of the Indian foreign office and she served as India's first female ambassador to Sri Lanka and to the People's Republic of China.
“Ms. Rao is a person who has embodied transformation in her career, thinking thoughtfully about building the future of the region,” addressed Dean Peter Cowhey. “She is truly an example of how notions of the Pacific have, and will change, in our lifetime.”
Embracing our terrestrial world, Rao explained how her country has been equally defined by the oceans that surround India, particularly with regards to strategic partnerships and border relations. Exploring the patterns of India’s strategic, economic and people-centered outreach, her talk dove into the complex relationship with China, their largest neighbor, and what has been termed an indispensable partnership with the U.S.
“You have to talk to your neighbors…you cannot turn your back on them,” warned Rao. “Redrawing borders and changing maps is out of the question in democracies such as ours.”
Read below as Rao shares her impressions about her Pacific Leadership Fellowship (PLF) residency, including whether the U.S. has the long-term vision and resources to build on Indo-Pacific strategy.
Q: What led you to GPS as a PLF Fellow and what has been your overall impression so far?
NR: It was an invitation to be a fellow extended to me by Dean Peter Cowhey at a dinner meeting in Washington, D.C. last year that led me to GPS. I have been here now for close to a fortnight and it has been an intellectually enriching experience. My interactions with students and faculty here have been most interesting and fulfilling. It is a privilege to be here.
Q: During your residency, you will share your perspectives on Indian foreign policy. What do you hope to glean at GPS and across campus?
NR: The work being done at GPS and UC San Diego on the role of technology in determining the contours of global power and influence is fascinating, and I have greatly benefited from my meetings with faculty on the subject. I’ve also been able to engage with students about India’s neighborhood policy and our economic and commercial diplomacy interests.
Q: For your talk, you will discuss issues confronting the world’s largest democracy, India. As the former Foreign Secretary to the Government of India, what are some of the most salient policy issues to address?
NR: India encapsulates so much diversity, and its pluralistic society is what makes the country so unique. Our democracy is stable, it is enduring and resilient. Rapid, inclusive and accelerated economic development is the chief priority of the government. In foreign policy, the government is committed to promoting India’s access to technology, foreign investment and capital for the country’s integration with global markets.
With our neighbors, we wish to promote closer connectivity and integration so that the full potential and talents of the people of South Asia can be fulfilled. We live today in a world that has moved beyond unipolarity. Multi-alignments define the structure of global affairs today. India is in many ways a balancing power, and our relations with countries like the U.S. and China and indeed, in the Indo-Pacific reflect this stabilizing influence.
Q: When looking at 21st Century Asia, what do you believe has spawned India’s emergence as an Indo-Pacific Power?
NR: I believe this trend is marked by our strong democratic credentials, our conduct as a responsible and mature power, our contributions to international peace and stability and the re-emergence of India as a front runner among global economies.
Q: What’s been the most surprising visit or activity on the agenda so far during your stay?
I have been uniformly impressed by all the meetings I’ve had during my stay. In terms of the ideas articulated, the topics addressed and the stress on innovation and expanding knowledge frontiers has been a highlight. I particularly enjoyed my visits to meet Professor Ramesh Rao of the Qualcomm Institute and the World Trade Center’s Executive Director Nikia Clarke. It was also a treat to visit the San Diego Museum of Art and see some of the exquisite Indian miniature paintings from the world-renowned Binney collection.
Q: Serving as India's first female ambassador to Sri Lanka and to the People's Republic of China, what advice would you give to other females, as well as students in general, hoping to serve in foreign policy?
NR: A career in the foreign service is an excellent option for all those who are curious about and committed to understanding the world around us. The field is complex and increasingly specialized but the combination of public service, with the vast range of situations and environments you operate within, make this one of the most compelling and challenging careers you can have.
View a photo gallery of Rao’s visit.
Additional PLF stories:
- Alumni-nominated spotlight: Alisha Tomita-Yu ’16 of Oracle
- Student group puts focus on China
- Decoding the Hong Kong protests – and more
- Is the MPP the right degree for me?
- Through knowledge we gain understanding
- Mapping a cleaner San Diego
- A day in the life of a NCAA Woman of the Year Honoree
- Nirupama Rao defines the future of Indo-Pacific relations
- Winter reading for the bibliophile
- Alumni-nominated spotlight: Booz Allen Hamilton consultant Maura Deignan
- Leading from the front
- Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies expands research on drug war and migrant crisis
- A marriage of policy and advocacy
- Decarbonizing the grid
- Sylff Fellows translate vision into reality
- Stanford study finds poor air quality responsible for one in five infant deaths in sub‑Saharan Africa
- Office hours: Associate Professor Jennifer Burney
- Class of 2018 graduates embody global citizenry and leadership
- Science Policy Fellows program nurtures effective interdisciplinary scholars
- Building cross-border relationships
- Geoengineering a greener future
- Sponsored Student Spotlight: Adnan Saygili
- Celebrating academic excellence
- Painting the picture of an MPP student’s day
- Gregory Lee looks at the future of digital health and technology
- A sustainable seafood hero
- Pass the pen: Alumnae nominated spotlight
- Campus recognizes alumni as leaders and changemakers
- Innovation in mobile technology
- Ian Johnson chronicles the rise of religion in China
- Writing the book on China’s economic policy
- Broadening horizons through international experience at BCG
- Office hours: Professor Gordon McCord
- New evening option for working professionals
- China's infrastructure investment as a development strategy
- Rethinking the war on drugs in Mexico
- Creating theoretical frameworks
- Nurturing future leaders at TechPolis
- The future is female
- Jamal Russell Black on Veridian Analytics' entrepreneurial spirit
- Love is in the air
- A day in the life of an MCEPA student
- Health and human capital
- Eduardo Porter finds journalistic inspiration at GPS
- Technology assessment at the nexus of STEM and policy
- IGCC receives coveted UC research grant
- Battery storage at the center of energy policy
- Researching how humans and the environment interact
- Office hours: Professor Ulrike Schaede
- Fighting wildfires with web based imagery
- United we dream
- Our 2017-2018 Boren Fellows
- Applying game theory to study behaviors
- Students craft views on climate change at COP23
- Molding future technical experts
- Why GPS: A niche in life
- The art of entrepreneurship
- Solar energy and pursuing the policy dream
- Social entrepreneur and first time author Ken Davenport ’90 of “The Two Gates”
- Why GPS: Discovering a passion for all things math
- Our 2017-18 Dean’s Fellows
- A Living, Learning Laboratory
- A ‘Prep Program’ for success, before day one
- Office hours: Professor Gordon Hanson
- Adding to a truly interdisciplinary academic environment
- Why GPS: Apply now and figure it out later
- Sponsored Student Spotlight: Noritoshi Kurokawa
- West Coast-Trained for a Washington, D.C. Think Tank
- Linked in Latin America
- Facilitating a ‘family affair’
- Nico Ravanilla retreats to Oxford for research
- 2016 alumni remember their first year in the real world
- Pioneering international excellence
- Research at the border: A living laboratory of transformation