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Diplomacy in Action

Remarks at U.S. Center for Citizen Diplomacy

Tara Sonenshine
Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs 
U.S.-Japan Center "J-Conference" (As Prepared for Delivery)
Des Moines, IA
September 10, 2012


Thank you for that introduction.

I want to thank Ann Olsen Schodde for inviting me here this evening. Ann’s contribution to American engagement in the world is so vital and essential. She has worked tirelessly to build an infrastructure of citizen involvement in international relations.

I’d also thank Deirdre White, Drake University, and my special colleague and friend, President David Maxwell. It is an honor to be here tonight with, the Hon. Norman Mineta, and Robert Karr, Jr. who do such important international work.

Engaging our fellow Americans from every state city and town to join with all global citizens, so we can expand the web of mutual understanding, is central to Secretary Clinton’s vision of “21st Century Statecraft.”

I am delighted to speak before so many people dedicated to the business of building bridges between the United States and Japan.

I don’t know if you saw the incredible footage last week of a NASA and a Japanese astronaut, working together to fix a power problem on the International Space Station.

It was a compelling symbol of the powerful friendship and connections between our countries. Our ties run deep. We are Pacific neighbors and committed allies. We are global partners in so many endeavors, whether it’s countering nuclear proliferation in North Korea and Iran, pushing the frontiers of green technology or promoting democracy and human rights in Burma.

With the Asia-Pacific region emerging as one of the global economy’s biggest engines, those ties grow ever more important. Much of the history still to be written about the new century will depend on the relationship between our two dynamic societies.

If ever there was a moment to illustrate our close connections as people, it was the mobilization of support for Japan that followed the Great East Japan Earthquake last year.

Help came from around the world, of course. But from the United States, our response was immediate and robust. It started with our military’s humanitarian rescue and relief operation – called Operation TOMODACHI, which is Japanese for “friend.”

Some 24,000 servicemen and women, almost 200 aircraft and scores of naval vessels were mobilized.

They worked shoulder-to-shoulder with their Japan Self Defense Force counterparts to save lives, repair infrastructure, bring in supplies and help the people impacted by the triple disaster of earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear accident.

But help came from ordinary citizens too, from across our nation. At the high profile end, there was Lady Gaga with her relief wristband campaign to help victims. At the very private end, there was someone called “Norman,” who posted this message on the website of a disaster-response organization.

He said: “Bags packed and waiting. Just let me know when the international general volunteers are needed.”

Lady Gaga and Norman did not know each other. But they were both global citizens – coming forward to help because it was the right thing to do.

Between these two ends of the human spectrum, from famous to obscure, there were thousands of scientists, students, engineers, diplomats, civil society activists, doctors and nurses – and ordinary Americans. Each brought their individual skills and assets. Some could dress wounds, others could operate forklifts. Some could raise thousands of dollars, others dug into their own bank accounts. Some came simply because they could speak Japanese. Each global citizen became one more set of hands to help lift a nation.

Today, I’d like to take a few minutes to explain why global citizens are so important – as a strategic resource and a moral imperative for the 21st century. And how our government is working to empower them – and animate and deepen the partnership that links our two nations.

At this still early point in the 21st century, we face a seemingly perfect storm of global challenges. Those challenges include the worst economic downturn since the Depression, climate change and natural disasters, religious animosity, a youth bulge in some parts of the world and a dropping birth rate in others. These and many more challenges are diverse, interconnected, and complex.

But as governments continue to struggle with dwindling budgets and resources, they do not have the capacity to address these problems alone.

To meet these crosscutting challenges, we need citizens who can respond in innovative and impactful ways. We need citizens prepared to react when catastrophe strikes – as so many did after Japan’s triple disaster. But even more importantly, we need ordinary people empowered and motivated to proactively engage on the global stage.

In the globalized world of today, we must create opportunities and incentives for citizens from all walks of life – in our country and around the world – to leverage their own ingenuity and resources.

We need to empower people who can make a difference for good in their communities, economies, and countries. Who can influence their governments in democratic directions, and reach out to support others around the world who are doing the same. Who work to support and guarantee freedom of religion and expression. And who demand political and economic transparency and equal opportunity for all – not just in their own countries but everywhere.

The more we can do this, the more we can engender a global generation of problem solvers.

As Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, my job is to advance public diplomacy to support our foreign policy. We seek to understand, engage, inform, and influence global publics in ways favoring America’s national interests. Our exchanges and visitor programs are central to that end.

Why? Because a two-way flow of students, emerging political leaders, business entrepreneurs, artists, and athletes creates enduring networks or cooperation and lifelong ties of affection transcending national borders.

From that personal scaffolding, entire architectures of mutual understanding can be built.

Over the years, our exchange programs with Japan have been among the most successful anywhere. Our Fulbright program has brought American and Japanese students into meaningful engagement with both our cultures for 60 years.

Today, the program counts among its alumni no fewer than six Nobel laureates, eight Pulitzer Prize recipients, and a wealth of renowned scientists, journalists, policy makers, and scholars in both countries.

Our International Visitor Program, or IVLP, in Japan just celebrated its 60th birthday. The IVLP brings emerging leaders, including ones from Japan, into contact with Americans from all walks of life. Four of those Japanese visitors went on to become prime ministers of their country.

Through our Citizen and Youth Exchange programs, we’ve sent thousands of American students, young political leaders, artists, and journalists to Japan. Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripkin, Jr., figure skater Johnny Weir, and, just last week, the Under-20 Women’s World Cup soccer team have come to Japan to engage and inspire young Japanese .

And as a manifestation of the flowering of our people-to-people friendship, and in gratitude for Japan’s gift of cherry trees to us a century ago, we’ll be sending 3,000 flowering American dogwood trees to the people of Japan, to be planted throughout the country.

The Japanese Government is also doing its part. Their generous investment in Fulbright and the new Kizuna exchange program has made a real difference in bringing our young people together. But their most impactful public diplomacy program is the JET Program.

Every year, JET brings thousands of young people from around the world to teach in Japanese classrooms and work in local government offices. More than half of these young people are Americans. In the past 20 years, they have touched the lives of millions – and better equipped them to become global citizens.

Our bilateral relationship, within a century, from war, to peace, to deep friendship, is remarkable. All of us in this room, who are dedicated to international exchange, can claim some share of the credit.

But let me be frank: More needs to be done. Even as we continue to build connections, we are facing challenges.

One challenge is this: While the numbers of Americans in Japanese universities continue to grow every year, the number of Japanese students in U.S. degree programs has fallen more than 50 percent in the past 12 years ago to about 21,000 today.

There are several factors contributing to that, including the effects of the recession, lack of English language proficiency, and the shrinking of Japan’s college age population. More colleges are available to fewer students in Japan, so fewer have incentives to seek opportunities abroad. Also, the Japanese academic calendar, which begins in April, does not match our September to May one.

Surveys indicate that Japanese employers need to recognize and reward the value of global experience.

They must support U.S. study for their employees – and to value our college degrees as favorably as they do Japanese university degrees.

This is not only in our interest. As Japan adjusts to economic and political change in Asia, and throughout the world, the benefits of growing a continuing generation of internationally aware, English-speaking leaders in all fields are clear and obvious.

To address these problems, we are working to provide more incentives and opportunities for young Japanese to study in the United States. And I am pleased that Secretary Mineta has agreed to co-chair a binational Task Force supported by the State Department and the Government of Japan that will look at these factors and more.

In Japan, our Embassy in Tokyo and our five consulates are implementing a comprehensive youth engagement strategy, employing both tried-and-true programs and innovative digital platforms, overwhelmingly in Japanese.

I’m pleased that Mark Davidson, our Minister Counselor for Public Affairs at the Embassy in Tokyo, is with us here this evening. I hope you’ll have a chance to hear from him about the exciting and innovative public diplomacy programs we’re pioneering in Japan.

Let me give you a few examples. Ambassador Roos has the most Twitter followers of any U.S. Ambassador overseas. And online, we have broken new ground with Connect USA, a new Japanese-language website and social media platform that is reaching out. We are creating social media discussions on higher education.

We are disseminating online videos promoting study in the U.S. Tens of thousands of Japanese students have tuned in to the Embassy’s new for live-streaming channels for panel discussions, lectures, concerts, and more. And our Embassy Public Affairs Section used all these digital platforms to promote a major U.S. college fair we are sponsoring next Saturday in Akihabara in Tokyo, a center of Japanese youth culture, with nearly 70 U.S. universities represented.

But one of the biggest ways we are working to address some of these issues is through an initiative called the “TOMODACHI Initiative,” which leverages private sector support to invest in the next generation of young people in Japan, through educational, academic, sports, music, arts, entrepreneurship, and leadership programs.

Inspired by the U.S. rescue operation of the same name, it’s led by the United States Government and the U.S.-Japan Council and supported by the Japanese Government, it’s not just a partnership between governments. It’s people-to-people diplomacy writ large.

Through TOMODACHI and other programs, we’re bringing ten times as many Japanese students to the U.S. than we did last year. We are also creating continuing opportunities for Japanese young people, especially in the Tohoku region, to visit the U.S. for short-term stays. That allows them to become familiar with our country, including the Midwest…to get a sense of the American college or university experience…to build connections with young Americans.

When Secretary Clinton visited Japan in July, she met with 20 Japanese and American students who have participated in TOMODACHI programs.

A Japanese high school student, who lost her father in the tsunami, spoke about the opportunity she got to study leadership skills this summer at the University of California, Berkeley.

A Japanese graduate student spoke about the need for her Japanese friends at home to connect with young people in America and other countries. By sharing ideas and learning new ones, she said, more young people could “make our dreams real.”

As Secretary Clinton has observed – and I quote: “The same interconnectedness that amplifies these global challenges also makes it possible for us to solve them, and for you to help lead us to the solutions.”

The fact is, studying abroad is one of the best ways that we can help people join this interconnected circle of aspiring global citizens– and in doing so, realize their potential.

It’s also one of the best ways to ensure future generations of Japanese and Americans can stay close together.

Let us not downplay the challenges we face in international exchange and education. But let us move forward with confidence that our work is more important today than ever.

What you are working to do at this conference is exactly what we need, if we want to build a world of more understanding, connectivity and communication. I salute your endeavors and your commitment; and I look forward to working with you to strengthen America, and empower more citizens here and in Japan to make that bright and shared future a reality for us all.

Thank you.

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