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Diplomacy in Action

Remarks at the East-West Center's 50th Anniversary Celebration


Remarks
Judith A. McHale
Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs 
Capital Hilton Hotel
Washington, DC
May 6, 2010

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Thank you Dr. Morrison for your kind introduction.

I am delighted to be here tonight with all of you, and it is a particular pleasure to be here with Senator Inouye who has been such a staunch supporter of the East-West Center.

On behalf of the State Department, I am honored to congratulate the East-West Center on your golden anniversary!

Fifty years of distinguished service – and success – building collaboration, expertise, and leadership throughout the Asia-Pacific region is indeed something to celebrate.

I had the pleasure of visiting the Center last October. After meeting with Dr. Morrison and touring the beautiful campus, I was able to meet with a number of current students and was impressed by their dedication and commitment to enhancing U.S. – Asia Pacific relations.

2010 is an auspicious milestone for the Center and our nation. America is led by our first President born and raised in the Pacific. Like the Center, President Obama’s roots are planted deeply in the volcanic soil of Hawaii. And, as you all know, his life story is intimately tied with the Center and its work.

I believe the Center’s mission embodies the President’s vision for how America should – and must – engage with the world in the 21st Century.

In his September 2009 address to the U.N. General Assembly, the President articulated the need to, in his words, “embrace a new era of engagement, based on mutual interests and mutual respect. . . .” And as he told students in Shanghai last November: “. . . cooperation must go beyond our governments. It must be rooted in our people—in the studies we share, the business that we do, the knowledge that we gain, and even in the sports that we play.”

This is precisely the kind of people-to-people engagement and cooperation that the East-West Center has so successfully pursued for half a century. You have been, and remain, ahead of the arc of history.

Your work has anticipated and hastened this new era, in which America has realized its destiny as a Pacific nation. Our future and, I believe, our identity are bound up as never before with the Asia-Pacific region.

The region is home to almost one-third of the world’s population and a rising share of global gross domestic product. U.S. trade with Asia is increasing faster than any other region of the world, and four Asian economies are among our top twelve trading partners. It has become the engine of global innovation and growth, as well as cultural creativity.

In a single generation, tens of millions have been lifted from poverty, and the spread of democracy and technology, while uneven and incomplete, has brought to individuals across the region freedoms, connectivity, and the power to affect their own societies unimaginable just a decade ago and much less than when Congress founded the East-West Center in 1960.

But, as you know, this region of progress and promise is also beset by difficult challenges, including unresolved cross-border tensions, unbalanced growth, and environmental degradation. Any of these, unchecked, could lead to instability, conflict, and damage on a global scale.

In the 21st century, as Asia-Pacific goes, so, too, will the world.

It is therefore fitting that as President Obama has worked to reengage America with the world, the Asia-Pacific region has taken center stage.

Secretary Clinton made her first overseas trip as Secretary of State to the region. This sent a powerful signal to the world as a whole that America would henceforth look west as well as east as we embrace the promise of the future.

And just as important as the Secretary’s choice of itinerary, was how she chose to spend her time. She devoted most of her schedule not to official meetings, but to meeting people in all sectors of society. She answered tough questions from students at town hall meetings in Tokyo and Seoul, hosted civil society activists for dinner in Jakarta, and participated in an online chat for Chinese “netizens.”

In short, the Secretary worked to widen the circle of personal engagement and two-way communication between Americans and Asians. She sought to expand the sense of shared interests and common destiny across the Pacific.

It is almost as if she went to Asia on a fellowship from the East-West Center.

That’s how closely your work is aligned with the objectives of American diplomacy in this new century. That’s how closely it supports the needs of all the people of the region to find new and better ways to collaborate, as we embrace the opportunities, and resolve the challenges, that characterize our common future.

The President and Secretary Clinton understand that partnership-building is inseparable from achieving America’s central crucial foreign policy objectives. To this end, the Department of State’s public diplomacy is committed to fostering bilateral and global networks of communication and cooperation as a fundamental part of what Secretary Clinton calls “smart power.”

To do so in today’s world means expanding the international exchange of people beyond the traditional audiences of government officials, business people, academics, and other elites. This means weaving webs of people-to-people ties that extend beyond Washington and New York, or Shanghai and Jakarta. This means bringing all sectors of societies into the equation, across social and economic boundaries within countries.

There is no better way to build collaborative networks that can withstand the inevitable ups and downs in official government-to-government relations among nations. We must ensure that when international disagreements arise—as they inevitably will— human and institutional relationships are deeply rooted enough for dialogue and cooperation in other areas to continue.

The State Department’s public diplomacy programs manifest the importance we place on strengthening our nation by enhancing the capacity of America and Americans to thrive in the interconnected world of the 21st century. But the time when we could leave the practice of foreign relations to the diplomats is long past. While we in government can lead, and convene, and even cajole, we can’t do it all.

This was the inspiration that animated the far-sighted men and women who built the East-West Center. Back in the day when Americans and Asians hardly knew one another, the Center’s role as a neutral, apolitical forum for trans-Pacific discussion and debate was crucial.

Today, though we are separated by but the click of a mouse, and when a proliferation of programs send Americans and Asians across the sea, the Center’s unique experience and strength in building collaborative networks at the person-to-person level, is more important than ever, for our nation, and for all the nations whose people your work enriches.

The East-West Center remains an indispensible partner of the Department of State. It embodies the President’s vision of how in this new era we must interact with people from other countries, on the basis of respect and dialogue, seeking to listen and understand before we speak and would be understood. The rest of us have finally caught up to you, 50 years later.

This evening, we celebrate. But tomorrow, the work begins anew.

We need your continuing dedication to your founding ideals, and enduring commitment of energy and ideas, to build the new bridges we need across the Pacific -- if the United States, the Asia-Pacific, and the world are to prosper in peace in the years to come.

Thank you and congratulations again on 50 years of remarkable achievements.



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