Your Excellencies, distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

South Asia is winning.

It stands poised to win its future.

While it is true that our region faces difficulties…
… it is also true that South Asia has never stood more powerful or so well equipped to meet its challenges.

For the first time in centuries, this region has the power to influence the economics, politics and future development of the entire planet.

No longer an oppressed, economic backwater; South Asia is rising to become the world’s engine of economic growth, prosperity and development.

I feel it is important to be honest about the cause of our region’s rise.
Much of our success over the past decade is credited to the remarkable rise of India as a Great Power.

The economic reforms and steady statesmanship of Prime Minister Singh, has placed India on an irreversible path to super-power status, in a new multi-polar world order.

For so long, our region has yearned to sit at the table as equal partners with our former colonial masters.

Surely, there can be few among us who dreamt that during the first half of the 21st Century, a South Asian nation would have the power, not only to share a table with their Western counterparts, but to occupy the head seat, direct the course of discussions - and even insist on chapattis rather than bread rolls.

With power comes enormous influence… but also tremendous responsibility.

I am so pleased to be attending this conference, where we can talk candidly and openly about the sort of South Asia, and the sort of World, we want to shape.

I believe that much of India’s success is down to the country’s fundamental strengths: firstly, it is democratic; secondly, it has opened itself up to the world socially and economically; and thirdly, it has not forgotten its poor.

I think these core values are the secret not just to India’s success, but the prosperity of our entire region.

In short, I think many South Asian nations, including my own, have a lot to learn from our larger neighbour.

Liberal democracy, economic freedom, with a strong social safety net: these three fundamentals are the prerequisites, in my view, of a country’s success.

This is certainly the formula that we are following in the Maldives.

But while we seek to shape our societies based on the core values of democracy and liberty at home…
… I also believe we have an obligation to promote these values abroad.

All too often, we are tempted by lazy rhetoric and false arguments, that claim people in other lands should not live in free societies.

I find it quite remarkable, that even as the good people of the Middle East rise up against tyranny and oppression…
… there are still self-appointed wise men who claim that the Arabs are not ready for democracy.

These neo-Orientalists say that if you give the vote to Arabs, or indeed Muslims, chaos will ensue and extremists rise to power.

Coming from a 100% Muslim nation, that has made a peaceful, stable and successful transition to democracy, I totally reject this line of thinking.

In fact, I would contend, from my own experience, that democracy is the only long-term guarantor of peace, stability and prosperity in any country.

I believe that South Asia will benefit from the spread of democracy across the world.

And so I believe it is in our interests to support the cause of democracy, whether it is in the streets of the Middle East or closer to home, in Burma.

Authoritarian regimes may appear to have short-term attractions, such as providing stability or being a dependable ally.

But in the long run, these regimes invariably collapse under the weight of their own contradictions.

The peace, stability and prosperity that these regimes purport to herald are, by and large an illusion; held together by brute force, coercion, and patronage.

We need only look at recent events in Cairo to see how brittle, thuggish regimes really are…
… how quickly and unexpectedly they can unravel…
… and how rapidly the mirage of stability can vanish, and be replaced by the stark reality of chaos and uncertainty.

And those nations who propped up ailing dictators are often left without influence, in the post-authoritarian, democratic order.

But even when we understand the inherent weaknesses of authoritarian regimes, we are often tempted to support them, because they claim to be a bulwark against religious extremism.

Yet in my experience, dictatorial systems rarely tackle the root cause of extremism – they simply suppress the symptoms.

A democracy, on the other hand, seeks to manage such tensions, through being open about their presence, and through encouraging dialogue and a shared stake in the future of the country.

In this sense, a democratic system is often compared to the valve of a pressure cooker, releasing pressure in a controlled manner, rather than allowing it to build up and explode.

In the Maldives, there are extremist elements that want to replace democracy with theocracy.

Some of my critics claim that extremism was better controlled under the former dictatorship.

That regime arrested, imprisoned and tortured people with extremist, but nonetheless non-violent, views.

But such brutal tactics did not suppress extremism; they made it stronger and more radical.

Extremism was simply pushed underground, where it grew in strength away from public view.

Moreover, the former regime brutally quashed anyone who called for democracy or respect for human rights.

And so for many years, the only opposition to the authoritarian order came from religious extremists, rather than liberal democrats.

In the absence of free flowing ideas and debate, fundamentalism was left to fester.
The new Government’s approach is not to go for a brutal crack-down.

In my view, violence only begets violence.

Instead, we will defeat extremism by bringing it out into the open, in the full glare of public opinion, and defeating it in the battle for ideas.

In the short-term, this may seem more messy or haphazard than a more repressive approach.

But in the long-run, I am convinced it is the only way to build a strong, stable society based on mutual tolerance and respect.

In the case of the Maldives, it is notable that for all the fear and worry over the rise of extremists…
…the religiously conservative party polled less than 2% of the vote in recent local elections.

Another argument put forward in favour of authoritarian regimes is that they are able to take quick, decisive decisions in pursuit of socio-economic development.

But this argument fails to convey two important truths:

Firstly, while the economy may well grow, the benefits tend to be concentrated in the hands of a few.

In this sense, the centralization of economic power mirrors and supports the concentration of political power.

Secondly, the economic edifice built by autocratic regimes rest upon systems of patronage, corruption, and cronyism.

These patronage systems are, by their very nature, unsustainable because they build resentment both inside and outside the favored circle of beneficiaries.

It is only a democracy, and a liberal capitalist system, which can deliver broad-based sustainable growth and development.

I believe it is not in our interests to prop up ailing dictatorships.

And I have outlined a robust defense of democracy.

But I would to make an important distinction: successful democracies are more than just the separation of powers or the right to vote.

Successful democracies must protect the freedoms that allow people to thrive.

To protect these core freedoms, democracies need strong political parties, a flourishing civil society and a fearless press.

One only needs look at Iraq, to see how meaningless democracy, without liberty, really is.

And so, as we ponder what sort of intervention to make in countries that have recently freed themselves from the shackles of dictatorship, I believe it is just as important to support the development of political parties, as it is to conduct free and fair elections.

In the Maldives, for the first time in our history, we have a democratically elected president, parliament, local councils and a strong separation of powers.

But equally important: we have strong political parties.

According to Reporters Without Borders, our media is almost as free as in France and Italy.

And we have dozens of independent NGOs and civil society groups.

I don’t want to be complacent: democracy is a journey, not an end goal.

Freedoms are always threatened in some way or another and citizens and institutions must remain vigilant in protecting their liberty.

But after two and half years of democratic government, the Maldives is strong, stable and successful: just as I am sure many Arab countries will become, if only we give them a chance.

Liberal democracy, to my mind, is the only way to successfully govern a society in the long term.

To play a full and active role in society, the people must be freed from the brutality of dictatorship or the tyranny of the majority.

And just as people need liberty to progress, I believe business also needs freedom to prosper.

We shouldn’t fear the market or foreign investors.

The market, of course, has its problems.

And it is important that any government creates strong rules and regulations to curb market excesses.

But once those rules are in place, the business of government should be to stay out of business.

I do not believe that the state can, or should, play the role of private enterprise.

This is why, in the Maldives, we have opened our economy and invited private enterprises to run our airports, ferry services and telecommunications.

It is only free market enterprise, that creates the opportunities and dynamism necessary for people’s ambitions to be met.

But I want to add a caveat here.

I believe that government also needs to ensure that people have basic requirements.

There is little point having a dynamic free market, if many people are excluded from engaging with it.

And so, a strong social safety net is required…
… a net through which none may fall, but all are free to rise above.

We must protect people when they fall on hard times, and help them get on their feet.

And citizens need a degree of basic support, so they have the freedom to take advantage of the opportunities created by the market.

In the Maldives, we hope to strike the right balance between regulation and free enterprise…
… and we want to provide a social safety net without creating a Nanny State.

We’ve introduced an old age pension for over 65s, to free elderly citizens from the bondage of begging for basic needs.

We’ve started universal health insurance, so every Maldivian can live freely without having to fear the cost of falling sick.

And we’re developing a national ferry network, so people, goods and services can move around the country cheaply and quickly.

I have advocated for political systems that embrace democracy, political freedoms and economic liberties, while also providing a strong social safety net.

Before I end, I wanted to touch on a subject that can be viewed as an existential, asymmetric threat to the type of societies, progress and prosperity we are trying to build in South Asia.

I have spoken many times about the dangers of climate change and the moral imperative of taking quick and decisive action.

We cannot blindly continue business as usual, knowing that our failure to act leaves our world in peril.

Ignoring climate change is morally wrong.

We have obligations to future generations as well as the present set of voters.

I can never understand the rationale of building coal-fired power stations for economic development…
…when the emissions these power stations produce, will destroy all our development a few decades down the line.

But the solution to climate change is not cutting back.

Rather, the solution involves moving forward faster, modernizing our economies and embracing the future.

There are no contradictions between long-term and short-term imperatives: solutions to the climate problem are in our immediate economic and security interests.

The current instability in the Middle East reminds us not only how fragile authoritarian regimes are; but also how delicate our economic system has become.

Let me give you one example: in the past six months, the increase in oil prices is costing my country $230,000 per day in extra fuel bills.

We are not using any more oil than we did six months ago. But recent price rises are costing us nearly a quarter of a million dollars extra per day.

With our small population, that works out to 70 US cents per person per day.

Many pundits believe oil will rise to $150 per barrel in two years.

If there is political instability in Saudi Arabia, who knows where oil prices might go.

If we do not get off the fossil fuel treadmill, my country will have to spend $1bn per year on oil imports by 2020 - and we simply can’t afford it.

Our fossil fuel addiction is a huge constrain on economic growth and development.

We must find an alternative path.

This is why the Maldives aims to become carbon neutral and energy independent by 2020.

We are shifting to renewables because we need to save the climate…
…but we are also making this change because we need to safeguard our economic development.

Making the transition towards a carbon neutral economy poses huge challenges.

There are major technical, engineering and bureaucratic hurdles to jump.

But I believe we can succeed.

And I am convinced it is in our economic and security interests to do so.

The most reckless course of action would be to continue blindly stumbling down the road of higher and higher oil bills and deeper fossil fuel addiction.

If we can make this transformation in the Maldives, I believe we can make this change in India.

If India took the lead in building in a carbon neutral economy, it would create so much momentum that other major economies would start to follow suit.

India now has the political and economic power to take the world over a tipping point where the transition to clean energy sources would be unstoppable.

That way, the climate crisis – which threatens the Indian monsoon as well as the Maldives – would likely be averted.

India would not only receive a climate dividend - but also an economic windfall.

Renewable energy and green technologies are creating the greatest industrial revolution since the Industrial Revolution.

If India leads the world in this arena, India will lead the world economy for 100 years.

That is why I was so encouraged to see the Government of India commit to a 20 gigawatt solar power target by 2022.

That is why I am happy to see India leading the field with the deployment of large-scale wind and safe, fourth-generation nuclear power.

And that is why Jairam Ramesh’s leadership at the Cancun climate negotiations was so notable and so welcome.

In 1947, Jawaharlal Nehru spoke about how India, on freeing itself from colonial rule, would be redeeming a pledge – a tryst with destiny.

He also said, with great foresight, that “freedom and power bring responsibility”.

As India joins the club of the world’s most powerful nations, I believe it has a special responsibility as the world’s largest democracy.

This responsibility means ending poverty and fulfilling the aspirations of India’s poor.

But it also means fuelling this development in a way which protects not only the interests of the planet, but the interests of India itself, as the clean economic powerhouse of the future.

I believe this is how India’s tryst with destiny can be truly fulfilled.

The greatest responsibility of all is the responsibility of leadership.

And I am asking India to lead.

To lead in showing that democracy works.

To lead in showing that freedom brings the richest rewards.

And to lead in showing that there is no conflict, between development and my country’s survival.

In this regard, I pledge the Maldives not only as your partner, but also as your friend.

The Maldives is just a few small islands.

But when India speaks, the world will listen.

Only a superpower can save us now.

Thank you.