New Delhi: US President Barack Obama’s statement that he would withdraw tax breaks to American firms that move jobs abroad came out of the “natural tendency” to defend “one’s economic interest” in difficult times, says Judith A. McHale, under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs. McHale, who is on a week-long visit to India, also said in an interview that the US was exploring new ways to enhance people-to-people contact between the two countries. Edited excerpts:
What brings you to India at this point of time?
President Obama and secretary (of state Hillary) Clinton believe very much in the importance of people-to-people connections. I have been charged with straightening and expanding the relationship between the people of the United States, the government of the US and people in the rest of the world. What I want to do is to come and we are talking about new ways to expand connection and engagements with the people of India.
Diplomatic overture: Judith McHale is on a week-long visit to India. Pradeep Gaur / Mint
What are the new ways you are looking to do that in India?
In many ways. We just had a meeting with (human resource development) minister (Kapil) Sibal. We are looking to ways of engagement at the level of secondary schools and of elementary schools. How can we use new technology to facilitate conversations between students in India and in the US. There are ways to do that even in rural areas and at the levels of elementary schools and middle schools. The other thing we talked about is to increase the number of voices and faces that are available to people across India. So we are going to be increasing our outreach.
Among Asian countries, President Obama is most popular in India, according to a recent survey. Does it augur well ahead of the President’s proposed visit to India?
I hope that his visit to India, when it happens, will augur well. I know he has enormous respect for India, people of India and I think you will see that when he comes.
President Obama is increasingly being viewed as a man of words. His Cairo speech had set off hopes, but nothing seems to have happened since then.
Let me assure you that he is a man of action. Obviously, this is a very complex and complicated time. First, the country is grappling with the economic recovery, a lot of his efforts were focused on that. But we began to take many steps and all of us in the government are focused on many promises that he made and the ideas that he gave in Cairo. So there are many programmes that we have begun to launch.
Increasingly a North-South divide is emerging at various multilateral forums. Does that complicate your mission?
I think policy issues are going to be complicated. That’s not going to go away. The more connections between people you have, the better you would be able to do that.
President Obama’s recent statements on taxing companies that outsource suggest protectionism.
It is difficult because the natural tendency is to defend your own economic interest. But I think President Obama is maintaining a balance. He understands the dynamics of global economy and importance of global collaboration.