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July 5, 2000

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US should have a China-India policy: Pressler

Former US senator Larry Pressler is best known for the Pressler Amendment of 1985 that tied US military assistance to Pakistan with the latter's weapons policy. For long, Pressler has strongly espoused India's cause in the United States and come to be known as a friend of India.

Business and trade ties between India and the US are a subject close to his heart. He first visited the subcontinent in 1965. Now he is in India again, midway through his 31st trip, pushing a company that has launched a financial Web portal called

Prior to the launch, Pressler visited the famous Mahalaxmi temple in south Bombay and prayed for the company's well-being.

Is he a religious person?


Pressler's familiarity with and insights into India, and his wide network of contacts in Europe and South Asia, are well known. He is now on the company's board in an advisory capacity and will "advise, listen and help" it in its operations in India "whenever necessary".

He is also set to write a book on India-US relations, with focus on Indian-Americans who, he says, are enormously successful. His book will try to figure out what makes this breed click.

Pressler interacted with a group of mediapersons in Bombay that included's Y Siva Sankar. Excerpts from the conversation:

On whether he is a religious person:

I did go the Mahalaxmi temple. I saw the three goddesses: one to drive off the demons, one for knowledge and one to make money.

Yes, I am a religious person. I am a Christian. I wouldn't say one religion is necessarily better than the other. I believe in God very deeply.

On whether religion helps Indian-American managers to succeed:

I think one of the reasons that Indians who come to America do so well sometimes is that they have this Hindu background... that they have a multiplicity of religious backgrounds here... There are Muslims and Christians here [in India]. And they are more tolerant maybe... and they are able to manage people with tolerance and understanding.

I am going to visit some more temples. We were down in Chennai [Madras] recently and visited one of the Hanuman temples there... Very tall Hanuman... so who knows, maybe when we get on the other side, we will find that not only Christ and Mohammed but also Laxmi and Hanuman and lots of others.... I wouldn't claim to have exclusive knowledge on that. Maybe we will find out.

On his planned book and Indian-Americans:

I am trying to write a little book on.... the wonderful mystery of why Indians who come to America do so well and vice-versa...

It's only an outline now. There is no money in writing a book. So I am going to every publisher... But I have to do it as a volunteer -- obviously. But I am working on it. It's a labour of love. I had a book in me about US-India relations for a long time. Our country [the US] has benefited a great deal from the fact that in Silicon Valley and in Dallas Corridor by Washington DC, which is another Silicon Valley, 40 per cent of the CEOs are of Indian descent.

This is a kind of mystery of modern times. What is it that Indian-Americans have that the rest of us don't? Is it the fact that they think in English plus they are very talented? Or is it the fact that they are good mathematicians or is it imaginative stories of the Gita and the other great books?

What is the reason that Indian-Americans are better managers sometimes than regular Americans, whatever that means? Now, the heads of American Airlines, United Airlines and McKinsey & Co [are Indians] and are we [Americans] being taken over? Is it good? I think it is fine. Anyway, I'm trying to include a chapter or two on why this is, what is going on.

I don't even have a publisher yet. How long will it take me? Well, I'm working in George D Bush's [presidential] campaign as a volunteer. So I spend about two days a week doing that. So maybe November...

On his "love affair" with India:

I wouldn't say it is a love affair. I have a love affair with US foreign policy. And I think that while dealing with China, we should put India on a much higher scale. I think that we shouldn't get frustrated with India and so forth but yes, I am one of those Americans who does have a love affair with India, I suppose.

But I want India to do well; it would also help the United States. It seems to me that we have a national interest in letting India into the Security Council and letting India be a member of the London Club to offset China.

We [the US] are so obsessed with the China policy and China trade. You know, Hans Morgenthau wrote that famous book in the early Sixties about Politics Among Nations, (New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1948/60. A 20th century realist classic) in which he said if you have a rival, another country you are trying to influence, the best way to do it is to become friends with somebody on their border, influence somebody on the borders. So we should have a China-India policy, not an India-Pakistan policy.

And that is how has been my thesis. I am trying to write this up in a kind of a book after all these years of working on not just India policy but Asian policy. I was on the Senate foreign relations committee for 18 years, but when I first got really interested in India, I was going to do a doctoral thesis -- I never did it -- in developmental economics. I came to India in 1965.

I had known Montek Singh Ahluwalia at Oxford. I had also known Ashok Sinha who is now president of Applied Systems in California and I also knew Sajam Wasid who is president of the Pakistani Senate who was a Rhodes scholar from Pakistan. So through the Rhodes scholarship connection, I got to know a lot of people.

Then I was drafted into the US Army and went to Vietnam instead and served with the 25th Infantry Division in Vietnam for 1965, '66 and part of '67. But anyway, that was a long, long time ago.

But I did a lot of work in telecommunications in the US. I am known for the Telecommunications Act of 1996. That is what I am known for in the US mostly. So I am writing this little book.

On whether India's increased interest in the European Union would put off US investors:

No. India's tilt towards Europe does not cause concern in the US. I hope Indian does more business with Europe. I hope India does more business everywhere. I hope the US expands our H1B visas.

I don't see any threat from Europe. I think we all know remote business employment [brings] more prosperity.

On whether the New Economy will help remove unnecessary governmental controls:

I would hope that controls would be lifted faster in the New Economy. I think it may be tougher going than we anticipated. I think the dotcom thing and so forth is going to slow down now for a couple of years.... [But it] does not mean good companies won't do well but the frothiness, I think, is off.

We are in for hard times. Companies are going to have to earn their valuation. I think we would have about a two-year period where good companies would do well. After two years, things may take off again. But I don't think we are going to see what we have been seeing for the last four-five years in all sectors. But I am an optimist.

I hope... I think the reforms will go further. I hope the time comes when India's currency is fully convertible, but I know it is hard for a developing country. I hope that the time will come soon when India liberalises more.

On the US economic slowdown and implications for India:

The slowdown has begun already. But it would be wrong to say that the NASDAQ has fallen. Only it has fallen from a height. But it is still higher. It is still a good solid market. But it's going to be.... nothing is going to come for free in life.

The US is not the most liberalised country in the world. I guess in some ways England and Chile are ahead of us... Chile's anti-trust laws are not very good. But we in the US have a long way to go. We don't practise what we preach all the time.

But I don't think the US economic slowdown is a problem, it is a reality. I think we are going to see a good, solid economy, but we are not going to see the kind of big gains in the stock market that we have seen in recent times, which is sort of unexplained.

I think we [the US] will keep growing. Just because the stock market slows down, it does not mean the economy will slow down. In the past, we had strong economies with a weak stock market. It depends on how you define, it depends on where you are.

On what emerging markets like India should do in the New Millennium:

I think that India is a developing country. It has got a billion people, it is a democracy, and it is struggling along. So I am not going to make any critical comment or things like that. We all countries need, in the New Era, to move to GAAP accounting numbers that are universal, we need corporate cultures that are honest everywhere, we need currencies that are convertible. That takes some doing but, if we can do that, we can have the whole world more prosperous.

We are having a blessed sort of time in history. If we can keep from fighting with each other and if we can take advantage of these times, I think it is going to be one of the great centuries.

In the last century, we had a Cold War. And India and the US were at odds. Now this century we have a chance to begin without a Cold War.

Next: Seeking retribution

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