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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Remarks At Dhaka University

Judith A. McHale
Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs 
Dhaka, Bangladesh
February 7, 2010


Good afternoon. I am honored to visit Dhaka University and have this opportunity to speak to you, the future leaders of Bangladesh. I would like to thank the Vice Chancellor for inviting me here.

I cannot think of a better venue to talk about building bonds between our two countries than this distinguished university. For almost 90 years, Dhaka University has been educating Bangladesh’s leaders.

It is not just the many famous alumni that make this university great. It is also the energy of all the students and faculty who through the years have worked tirelessly for Bangladesh. Your predecessors on this campus raised their voices during the Language Movement in 1952 and led this country towards independence in 1971. Many of them made the ultimate sacrifice to help create this country. Now, you lead Bangladesh’s march toward the future.

While you can be justly proud of the role of Dhaka University in Bangladesh’s achievements, it is clear that a nation's success—whether in reducing poverty, improving health care, or responding to natural disasters—no longer depends solely on what happens within its borders. We live in an interdependent world – a global village. Fewer and fewer issues are purely local, national, or even regional.

The recent global economic crisis demonstrated that we are all connected as never before. Problems can no longer be confined to – or solved by – one country alone.

That means that now, more than ever, we require open-mindedness and mutual understanding to work together toward solutions.

The process of opening minds and engendering mutual understanding does not and cannot be sparked only through high-level diplomatic meetings or negotiations between great corporations. The foundations for mutual understanding begin at the people-to-people level, and require years, even decades, to be built. And the work is never done. We must engage in a long-term effort, across generations, to expand and strengthen relationships between the citizens of our two countries in all sectors and at all levels of society.

The U.S. and Bangladesh, I am proud to report, have a long history of working together in a spirit of cooperation. Thousands of Bangladeshis are alumni of U.S. Government exchange programs. Some of you in this room may also be alumni of our programs. I am sure that some of you will be in the future.

The enduring ties of understanding forged by these and other exchanges underlie the increasingly close and fruitful cooperation between our governments on important bilateral and multilateral issues. We need and benefit from closer cooperation between governments. But governments come and go and policies can change. It is cooperation between people that is our true hope for building a better world for future generations.

This is especially true in the case of countries as large, diverse, and energetic as the United States and Bangladesh.

I salute Dhaka University’s commitment to international exchange and collaboration. This university has done much to increase the level of communication between the students and scholars of our two nations. Dhaka University has strong partnerships with many U.S. universities and participates in numerous academic exchange programs.

The United States welcomes Bangladeshi students from this campus and dozens of other academic institutions across the country. There are now more than 2,700 Bangladeshi students studying in the U.S. And Ambassador Moriarty , and others at our Embassy tell me that there is more interest than ever in studying in the United States.

Still, we must do better. Ambassador Moriarty wants 20,000 students from Bangladesh to study in the U.S. each year. I completely agree. U.S. universities are among the best in the world. But the quality of our educational system is only enhanced by its diversity.

Last year, in the speech that he gave at Cairo University, President Obama pledged to, “expand exchange programs, and increase scholarships, like the one that brought (his) father to America, while encouraging more Americans to study in Muslim communities.”

We are doing all we can to fulfill the commitments President Obama made in Cairo. We hope that more Bangladeshis will participate in U.S. exchange programs in the coming months and years as our programs expand and we hope that all of you will help lead the way. At the same time, we are also encouraging more American students and scholars to study in Bangladesh. Together we will strengthen and expand the bonds of friendship and mutual understanding between the people of our two countries.

There is no question in my mind that, given the talent, energy, and ingenuity of Bangladeshi and American young people, and the tools technology has made available to them, our people can seize the opportunity to take our engagement and communication to new levels in the years ahead.

Let me offer just one example of the tools that I am talking about. Today, connective technologies such as mobile phones and the Internet allow us to harness the democratic values and energies of our societies for good, in new and exciting ways.

More than 45 million Bangladeshis now have mobile phones, and one out of every three households will have Internet access by the end of this decade. As more and more Bangladeshis adopt these tools, they will provide a powerful force for creativity and change. Each of you here in this room has the ability - and, I would say, the responsibility - to ensure that these changes are for the better and not for the worse. You have the education and promise to actively lead this process, not passively watch it happen.

Thanks to the spread of connective technology, the experience of directly engaging with people in other countries that was once the preserve of a small number of elite scholarship-winners is now available – in virtual form--to anyone who has an Internet connection – or who walks into an Internet café.

Thus, what was once available to only a tiny minority of Americans or Bangladeshis is now potentially available to all. What a remarkable development this is! What an opportunity this opens to each and every one of us to use these tools to ask one another, “How can we think together about solving our common problems?” And what potential these technologies offer us to find answers and join hands to bring about positive change.

Old hierarchies and barriers to communication are melting away. No one holds a monopoly on information. Those who try to control it can never be successful in the long run, as young people in country after country have so powerfully demonstrated.

People across the world in all cultures—particularly students—are no longer willing to be passive consumers of information. They are seeking out the information they want, when and how they want it, and they expect to participate actively in shaping their information environment.

What does this mean for you? I believe that Bangladesh and Bangladeshis are extremely well positioned to flourish in this new global communications environment. You know from your own history and struggle for independence the power of an engaged citizenry to transform the lives of individuals, and of nations. And as an imaginative people with a fast-growing rate of connectivity, you are placed to help lead the globe toward solutions to our most vexing problems.

The biggest challenges we face today will be solved by the 60 percent of the world's population under the age of 30.

That is why I wanted to come here today. I see before me a group of people who will define the fate of their country, the fate of Asia, and the fate of the world in the century to come. But ultimately it will be up to you to interpret, influence, and experience this rapidly changing world. I am confident that you are up to the challenge.

As you pursue your education and rise to leadership roles in your society, I hope that many of you will seek to study in the U.S. and encourage your friends and family members to do the same.

When understanding grows between cultures and nations, so too, do the possibilities for common action to solve common problems. Increasing mutual understanding is the ultimate win-win proposition.

Thank you again for welcoming me to Dhaka University. Thank you all very much for listening.

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