William Hague: Our bond with India is built on common values

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TWO months ago, the whole world watched as India undertook the largest election in the history of mankind. It is staggering to think that there were as many votes cast in that contest as there were people in the world when the UK sent its first diplomatic envoy to the Mughal court 400 years ago.

The Indian people have given their new government a mandate for change and reform that has transformative potential for India and we believe it opens up bright new prospects for the relationship between our two countries.

Our countries are committed to the values of democracy and freedom of expression, we are fellow members of the Commonwealth, and our societies are deeply linked.

Mumbai was the birthplace of Dadabhai Naoroji, Britain’s first MP of Indian origin, and a powerful advocate for India and an example of currents of ideas and influence that have long flowed between us.

This year, the centenary of the start of World War One, we will be honouring the 1.2 million Indians who served to defend Europe’s freedom.

And this autumn, we will celebrate the huge contribution made to our national life by the 1.5m British Indians, at the first ever Pravasi Bharatiya Divas event in the UK.

It is because we recognise the immense value of these links that the Government has been steadily investing in our relationship with India over the past four years.

We have made over 50 Ministerial visits – one of the fundamental tenets of our government’s foreign policy 
has been that we should set 
our country firmly on the 
path to far closer ties with countries across Asia, Africa 
and Latin America over the 
next 20 years; and on a completely new footing from 
the past.

We have shifted our global diplomatic network, opened 10 new embassies and sent hundreds more diplomats, with stronger language skills, towards the South and the East.

We do this because we have put Britain’s prosperity at the heart of our foreign policy and want to strengthen our ties to the world’s most dynamic economies; and because we want to work more closely with a growing circle of nations to tackle the global issues that affect us all.

Our relationship with India stands out for its depth and its future prospects.

As David Cameron said on his third trip to India last year – this can be a special partnership, one that connects our dynamic economies to create jobs, growth and prosperity but that also reaches much further, that builds even stronger ties between our societies.

We want to be a leading partner as Prime Minister Modi presses ahead with his plans for development and growth benefitting all Indians.

We have our own experience of turning around our economy and we want to work with India to accomplish its goals.

We want to connect India with leading British companies that have the skills, expertise and experience to help achieve the infrastructure projects, the investments in science and innovation, and the improved healthcare that are being planned.

We want to strengthen our educational links because both countries benefit hugely from the flow of students, researchers, ideas and expertise.

That is why the UK has welcomed almost 100,000 students from India over the past five years; why we have set aside £50m under our Newton fund for new joint research to tackle global development challenges; and why we have developed a new programme to send 25,000 young British people to study, volunteer and gain work experience in India over the 
next five years.

Let me be clear: there is no limit to the number of qualified Indian students who can study at British universities and no limit to the number that can work in graduate employment.

We want to work more closely together in foreign policy to advance our shared interests and values.

We have strengthened our counter-terrorism cooperation to tackle the scourge which took such a terrible toll on Mumbai six years ago. We both share a vital interest in stability in Afghanistan and the wider region.

Of course, we have different traditions and approaches in foreign policy.

But I firmly believe there is more the UK and India can and should do together in the years ahead not just to advance our shared interests in this region but to tackle global issues that affect us all.

Our two countries’ prosperity depends on global stability, founded in a rules-based international order, and I believe we should use the coming years to build as strong a partnership in foreign policy as we have in other areas.

William Hague is the Richmond MP and Foreign Secretary. This is an edited version of a speech that he delivered in Mumbai.