Secretary’s Remarks: U.S. Vision for Asia-Pacific Engagement
MR. MORRISON: Well, thank you. Aloha. I want to welcome everyone. And for our online audience, and also for the Secretary, I’d like to describe who is here in our audience. We have the mayor of Honolulu, Mayor Caldwell. We have our senator, Mazie Hirono. We have our former governor, George Ariyoshi, and our other former governor, John Waihee. We have many members of the business and intellectual and public affairs community here in Honolulu. We have members of the diplomatic corps. We have members of our men and women in uniform. We have the members of the board of governors of the East-West Center. We have the staff of the East-West Center. We have friends of the East-West Center. And most importantly, we have future leaders of the Asia Pacific region. And I was just telling the Secretary, I think yesterday we welcomed 130 new participants from the United States and 40 other countries. They’re here on a unique program to prepare them for being future regional and global leaders.
Now, how do you introduce a man who is so well-known for his own leadership and —
SECRETARY KERRY: First thing, you can just tell everybody to sit down.
MR. MORRISON: Oh. (Laughter.) Please sit down, yes. (Laughter.) Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Anyway, as you know, he has served in war and peace. He was a senator for 28 years; 59 million Americans voted for him for president, including 54 percent of the voters of Hawaii. (Laughter and applause.) But as a former senate staff person, I thought the way to really check him out was to see how his confirmation hearing went. Now, the issues were controversial but the nominee was not controversial, and what his former colleagues said about him, Republicans and Democrats, I think give the essence of the man: extremely well prepared, born in a Foreign Service family, served all 28 years on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, four years as the chairman of that committee. He knows the languages – several foreign languages, countries, leaders, and issues. He is a man of incredible moral and intellectual integrity. He brings conviction and compassion to his job and great energy. He has been, I think, on his seventh trip to Asia, coming back and so we want to welcome him back to the United States. We want to welcome him to our most Asia Pacific state, and we want to welcome him to the East-West Center, an institution that’s building community with this vast region which is so systemically important to the future of the United States.
Mr. Secretary of State. (Applause.)
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you. Well, good afternoon, everybody. Aloha. It’s wonderful to be here in Hawaii, and man, I can’t tell you how I wish I was as relaxed as some of you in your beautiful shirts. (Laughter.) Here I am in my – whatever you call it – uniform. Uniform, some would say. But it is such a pleasure to be here. Mr. Mayor, it’s great to be here with you. And Mazie, thank you. It’s wonderful to see you, Senator. I’m very happy to see you. Thanks for being here. And governors, thank you for being here very much.
Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests all, it’s a great, great pleasure for me to be able to be here. And President Morrison, thank you very much for that generous introduction. I appreciate it very much.
Charles was way ahead of the curve, folks, in seeing the trend towards regionalism in the Asia Pacific in the early 1990s. And he was calling for community-building within East Asia well before it became a standard topic of discussion on the think tank circuit. So clearly, and to everyone’s benefit, he’s had an ability to focus on the long game. And that is a talent that he actually shares with one of the founding fathers of this institution, a former colleague, beloved to all of you, who became a great friend to me, and that’s Senator Dan Inouye. During my sort of latter years, I actually moved up to about seventh in seniority or something in the United States Senate, and had I not been appointed to this job, with all of the retirements that are taking place, I don’t know, I might have been third or fourth or something, which is kind of intimidating. But as a result of that, I got to sit beside the great Dan Inouye for four or five years in the Senate. Our desks were beside each other, and we became very good friends. He was one of the early supporters of mine when I decided to run for President in ’04, ’03. But most importantly, Dan Inouye, as all of you know, was a patriot above all who commanded remarkable respect and affection of all of his colleagues. And Hawaii was so wise to keep him in office for so many years.
Having just visited yesterday Guadalcanal, having stood up on what was called Bloody Ridge, Edson’s Ridge, and walked into one of the still remaining bunkers that Marines were dug in on against 3,000-plus Japanese who kept coming at them wave after wave in the evening, it’s – it was a remarkable sense of the battle that turned the war. And no place knows the meaning of all of that better than here in Hawaii.
Yesterday commemorated really one of the great battles of the Second World War, and so it gave me a chance to reflect with special pride and with humility about Dan’s service to our country. He was a hero in the war, against difficult circumstances which we all understand too well. But he became the first Japanese American to serve in the House of Representatives and the United States Senate, against all the odds of what was still a prevailing sense in our country of misunderstanding between people. And he just never let that get in the way. He shared a very personal commitment to strengthening ties between the United States and the Asia Pacific. And that’s why he championed the East-West Center for decades, and I want you to know that President Obama and I strongly support your mission of bringing people together to think creatively about the future of our role in the region and how we overcome the kinds of inherent, visceral differences that sometimes are allowed to get in the way of relationships, and frankly, in the way of common sense.
We remember too well in America that slavery was written into our Constitution long before it was written out of it. And we all know the struggle that it took – excuse me – to write it out. So as we look at the world today – complicated, difficult, tumultuous, volatile – for so many of us who have spent decades working on issues central to the Asia Pacific, there’s actually something particularly exciting about this moment. It’s almost exhilarating when you look at Asia’s transformation. And like Dan Inouye, I have had the privilege, as many of you have here I can see, you’ve lived a lot of that transformation firsthand.
A number of my – (coughing) – excuse me, it’s the virtue of many hours in an airplane. A number of my ancestors from Boston and from Massachusetts were merchants whose ships dropped anchor in Hong Kong as they plied the lonely trade routes to China. My grandfather, actually, was born in Shanghai and was a businessman who had a partnership with a Chinese businessman. So in our family and in Massachusetts, we’ve had a long sense of the possibilities and of this relationship. Today, East Asia is one of the largest, fastest growing, most dynamic regions in the entire world. And when the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations are complete, about 40 percent of global GDP will be linked by a high-standard trade agreement, a trade agreement that creates a race to the top, not a race to the bottom, where people understand the rules of engagement and there’s accountability and transparency, and business and capital know exactly what the rules of the road will be so they’re attracted to invest each in each other’s countries.
After college, I had the privilege of serving in the United States Navy. And I went through Pearl Harbor. I had a remarkable several days here as a young officer on a frigate before we set sail to cross the Pacific. And I drove all over the island everywhere, in places I probably wasn’t supposed to. But I loved it and then spent a second tour in the rivers of Vietnam. And back then, the word Vietnam – just saying Vietnam – carried with it an ominous meaning. It meant war. It meant huge dissent in America, families torn apart. But today, Vietnam, when you say it, has a whole different meaning to most people. It’s now a dynamic country filled with economic opportunity. It’s a market for our businesses and our investors. It’s a classroom for our children. It has one of the largest Fulbright programs in the world. And it’s a partner in tackling regional economic and security challenges.
Such extraordinary transformations have actually become almost the norm in this region. I’ll never forget, 15 years ago, I visited in then Burma – no confusion with Myanmar but now people choose what they want to call it. But I visited with Daw Aung Sung Sui Kyi in the very home in which she was imprisoned for nearly two decades. And this week, I had the privilege of again going back to the very same house – it hadn’t changed, looked the same. She, by the way, 20 years later looks the same. And she is now free to speak her mind as a member of parliament.
It’s remarkable. It doesn’t mean all the president are solved. But these transformations are just some of what makes Asia the most exciting and promising places on the planet.
I am returning, as President Morrison has said, from actually my sixth trip to the Asia Pacific in 18 months as Secretary of State. And later today, I’ll be meeting with our outstanding Commander of United States Forces in the Pacific to review a range of America’s formidable military presence issues. I have returned again and again to this region – I can’t tell you how many times I went, Mazie, as a senator to the region. And we are now – we take our enduring interests there, obviously, very, very seriously.
We know that America’s security and prosperity are closely and increasingly linked to the Asia Pacific. And that’s why President Obama began what is known as the rebalance to Asia in 2009. That’s why he’s asked me to redouble my own efforts in the region over the next two and half years. And that’s why I want to talk to you today about four specific opportunities: creating sustainable economic growth, powering a clean energy revolution, promoting regional cooperation, and empowering people.
Now, these important opportunities can and should be realized through a rules-based regional order, a stable regional order on common rules and norms of behavior that are reinforced by institutions. And that’s what holds the greatest potential for all of us for making progress. We support this approach, frankly, because it encourages cooperative behavior. It fosters regional integration. It ensures that all countries, big and small – and the small part is really important – that they have a say in how we work together on shared challenges. I want you to know that the United States is deeply committed to realizing this vision. President Obama is excited about it. He wants us all to be committed to fostering it and also to understanding why we’re doing it. And frankly, it is this vision that is the underlying reason that so many countries in Asia choose to work with the United States.
You hear some people today talking about the United States retrenching or disengaging. Nothing could be further from the truth. I think we’re more engaged and more active in more countries and more parts of the world than any time in American history. And I can tell you that because just driving over here I was on the phone to people in the Middle East, talking about a ceasefire which is now going to be in place in the next days; talking about the road ahead. Just came back from Afghanistan, where we’re working on the transition to the people of Afghanistan, to their future. We’re engaged with Iran, working on the nuclear program; with the DPRK, with China, and Sudan, and Central Africa. We just had 50-plus African leaders to Washington to talk about the future of American engagement there. We are deeply engaged in a very, very complex world.
But this speech and this moment here at the university and at the center, and the trip that I just made to Asia, are meant to underscore that even as we focus on those crises that I’ve just listed and on conflicts that dominate the headlines on a daily basis and demand our leadership – even as we do that, we will never forget the long-term strategic imperatives for American interests. As Secretary of State, my job isn’t just to respond to crises. It’s also about defining and seizing the long-term opportunities for the United States. And having just traveled to Burma, Australia, and the Solomon Islands, I can tell you that nowhere are those strategic opportunities clearer or more compelling than in the Asia Pacific.
That’s why we are currently negotiating a comprehensive and ambitious Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement that will create thousands of new jobs here in America as well as in other countries, and it will spur this race to the top, not to the bottom. It raises the standards by which we do business. That’s why we’re elevating our engagement in multilateral institutions, from the ASEAN Regional Forum to the East Asia Summit. And that’s why we are revitalizing our security partnerships with our treaty allies: Japan, Australia, South Korea, and the Philippines. And that’s why we are standing up for the human rights and the fundamental freedoms that people in Asia cherish as much as any people in the world.
I have no illusions about the challenges, and nor does President Obama. They are complex in this 21st century, in many ways far more complex than the bipolar, East-West, Soviet Union-versus-West world – the Cold War that many of us grew up in. This is far more complicated. It’s far more, in many ways, like 19th century and 18th century diplomacy, with states asserting their interests in different ways and with more economic players in the planet than we had in the 20th century with power and with a sense of independence. But what I want to emphasize to you all today is there is a way forward. This is not so daunting that it’s indescribable as to what we can do.
So how do we make our shared vision a reality for the region and ensure that Asia contributes to global peace and prosperity? First, we need to turn today’s economic nationalism and fragmentation into tomorrow’s sustainable growth. I say it all the time: Foreign Policy is economic policy, and economic policy is foreign policy. They are one and the same. There’s no denying that particularly in Asia Pacific. Asia Pacific is an engine of global economic growth, but we can’t take that growth for granted.
Because what we face something that is really a common challenge. Across the world, we have seen a staggering growth in youth populations. At the Africa summit it was just underscored to us there are 700 million people under the age of 30. We’ve seen staggering growth in these youth populations. And guess what. In the 21st century, in 2014 when everybody’s running around with a mobile device and everybody’s in touch with everybody every day all the time, all of these people are demanding an opportunity. They’re demanding dignity. And juxtaposed to their hopes, a cadre of extremists, of resisters, of naysayers are waiting to seduce many of those young people into accepting a dead end. And let me tell you, when people don’t have a job, when they can’t get an education, when they can’t aspire to a better future for themselves and for their families, when their voices are silenced by draconian laws or violence and oppression, we have all witnessed the instability that follows.
Now happily, many, if not most governments, in Asia are working to present booming youth populations with an alternative, with a quality education, with skills for the modern world, with jobs that allow them to build a life and a confidence in their countries. That is part of the reason why the young people in Asia are joining the ranks of the middle class, not the ranks of violent extremists. And the fact is that too many countries around the world are struggling to provide those opportunities. There’s a lack of governance, and we ignore the importance of this collective challenge to address the question of failed and failing states in other parts of the world.
In the 21st century, a nation’s interests and the well-being of its people are advanced not just by troops or diplomats, but they’re advanced by entrepreneurs, by chief executives of companies, by the businesses that are good corporate citizens, by the workers that they employ, by the students that they train, and the shared prosperity that they create. That is why we are working with partners across the Asia Pacific to maintain and raise standards as we expand trade and investment by pursuing a comprehensive Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.
Now, the TPP represents really an exciting new chapter in the long history of America’s mutually beneficial trade partnerships with the countries of the Asia Pacific. It is a state-of-the-art, 21st century trade agreement, and it is consistent not just with our shared economic interests, but also with our shared values. It’s about generating growth for our economies and jobs for our people by unleashing a wave of trade, investment, and entrepreneurship. It’s about standing up for our workers, or protecting the environment, and promoting innovation. And it’s about reaching for high standards to guide the growth of this dynamic regional economy. And all of that is just plain good for businesses, it’s good for workers, it’s good for our economies. And that’s why we must get this done.
Now, every time I travel to Asia, I have the privilege of meeting with young entrepreneurs and business leaders. In fact, at the Africa summit the other day we had this wonderful group of young African leaders – all entrepreneurs, all these young kids in their 20s doing extraordinary things. It’s call the Young African Leaders Initiative, which President Obama started.
In Hanoi last December, I launched the Governance for Inclusive Growth Program to support Vietnam’s transition to a market-based economy. I’ve met with entrepreneurs in Seoul and Manila to talk about how we can drive innovation. On Saturday, I discussed with my ASEAN counterparts the framework for creating business opportunities and jobs that we call Expanded Economic Engagement, or E3. And just yesterday, I met with business leaders in Sydney, Australia to explore ways to reduce the barriers to trade and investment.
To broaden the base of support for this strategy, we need to focus not only on rapid growth, but we also need to focus on sustainability. And that means making the best use of regional institutions. President Obama will join APEC economic leaders in Beijing this fall to focus on promoting clean and renewable fuels and supporting small businesses and women’s participation in the economy and expanding educational exchanges. And just a few days ago, I met with ministers from the Lower Mekong Initiative countries to deepen our partnership and help them wrestle with the challenges of food and water and energy security on the Mekong River.
Ultimately, the true measure of our success will not be just whether our economies continue to grow, but how they continue to grow. And that brings me to our second challenge: We need to turn today’s climate crisis into tomorrow’s clean energy revolution. Now, all of this – all of us in this room understand climate change is not a crisis of the future. Climate change is here now. It’s happening, happening all over the world. It’s not a challenge that’s somehow remote and that people can’t grab onto.
But here’s the key: It’s happening at a rate that should be alarming to all of us because everything the scientists predicted – and I’ll tell you a little addendum. Al Gore – I had the privilege of working with Al Gore and Tim Worth and a group of senators – Jack Heinz – back in the 1980s when we held the first hearing on climate change in 1988. That’s when Jim Hansen from NASA came forward and said it’s happening. It’s happening now in 1988. In 1992 we had a forum down in Brazil, Rio, the Earth Summit. George Herbert Walker Bush participated. We came up with a voluntary framework to deal with climate change, but voluntary didn’t work. And for 20 years nothing much happened. Then we went to Kyoto. We went to all these places to try to do something, and here we are in 2014 with a chance next year in 2015 to do it.
And what’s happening is the science is screaming at us. Ask any kid in school. They understand what a greenhouse is, how it works, why we call it the greenhouse effect. They get it. And here’s what – if you accept the science, if you accept that the science is causing climate to change, you have to heed what those same scientists are telling us about how you prevent the inevitable consequences and impacts. You can’t – that’s why President Obama has made climate change a top priority. He’s doing by executive authority what we’re not able to get the Congress to do. And we’re working very hard to implement the Climate Action Plan and lead by example. We’re doubling the fuel efficiency of cars and trucks on America’s roads. We’ve developed new standards that ensure that existing power plants are as clean as possible and as efficient as possible. And we’re committed to reducing greenhouse gases and emissions in the range of about 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.
So we’re heading in the right direction. But make no mistake about it: Our response has to be all hands on deck. By definition, rescuing the planet’s climate is a global challenge that requires a global solution. And nowhere is all of this more evident than in the Asia Pacific. And no two nations can have a greater impact or influence on this debate or this challenge than China and the United States.
During the Strategic and Economic Dialogue last month, Secretary of Treasury Jack Lew and I were in Beijing for two days. And we and China together sent a clear message: The world’s two largest greenhouse gas emitters, the United States and China, are committed to advancing a low-carbon economic growth pattern and significantly reduce our countries’ greenhouse gases. And we’re working together to launch demonstration projects on carbon capture, utilization, and storage. We’re adopting stronger fuel efficiency standards for heavy- and light-duty vehicles. We’re advancing a new initiative on climate change and forests, because we know that the threat of deforestation and its implications of a changing climate are real and they’re grave and they’re growing. And I’ll just say to you this is not an issue on which you can be half pregnant. No such issue. If you accept the science, you have to accept that you have to do these things about it.
Now, the United States and China have a special role to play in reducing emissions and developing a clean energy future. But everybody – every nation – has a stake in getting it right. I just came from the Solomon Islands yesterday, a thousand islands, some of which could be wiped out if we don’t make the right choices. The Pacific Islands across the entire Pacific are vulnerable to climate change. And just yesterday, I saw with my own eyes what sea level rise would do to parts of it: It would be devastating – entire habitats destroyed, entire populations displaced from their homes, in some cases entire cultures wiped out. They just had flash flooding in Guadalcanal – unprecedented amounts of rainfall. And that’s what’s happened with climate change – unprecedented storms, unprecedented typhoons, unprecedented hurricanes, unprecedented droughts, unprecedented fires, major damage, billions and billions of dollars of damage being done that we’re paying for instead of investing those billions of dollars in avoiding this in the first place.
That’s why we are deepening our partnerships with the Pacific Island nations and others to meet immediate threats and long-term development challenges. And we’re working through USAID and other multilateral institutions to increase the resilience of communities. And we’re elevating our engagement through the Pacific Islands Forum. And we’ve signed maritime boundaries, new maritime boundaries with Kiribati and the Federated States of Micronesia in order to promote good governance of the Pacific Ocean and peaceful relations among island nations. And we’re also working on a Pacific Pathway of marine protected areas that includes President Obama’s commitment to explore a protected area of more than a million square miles in size in the U.S. remote Pacific.
We just held a conference on the oceans in Washington the other day with nations all over the world came to it – unbelievably productive. We produced $1.8 billion of commitments to help with fisheries enforcement, anti-pollution, dealing with acidification, and to protect these areas as marine sanctuaries.
The good news is in the end – and this really – it really is good news. Sometimes you have an issue – Mr. Mayor, I know you know this. Governors, you know this. You’re looking at an issue and, man, you scratch your head and you’re not quite sure what the solution is, right? And you work through it. Well, the good news is the biggest challenge of all that we face right now, which is climate change in terms of international global effect, is an opportunity. It’s actually an extraordinary opportunity because it’s not a problem without a solution. The solution to climate change is simple. It’s called energy policy. Energy policy. Make the right choices about how you produce your energy – without emissions, without coal-fired power plants that don’t have carbon capture and storage or aren’t burning clean – then you can begin to produce clean energy.
And the new energy market that we’re looking at is the biggest market the world has ever seen. Think about that for a moment. The wealth that was generated in the 1990s – I don’t know if you know this, but most people think that America got the richest during the 1920s when you had the so-called, even in the late 1800s, robber baron years, and then you had the great names of wealth – Carnegie, Mellon, Frick, Rockefeller, and so forth. And no income tax – wow, gonna make a lot of money.
Guess what. America made more wealth and more money for more people in the 1990s than at any other time in our history. And what it came from, the wealth that was generated then, was the high-tech computer revolution of the 1990s, and guess what. It came from a $1 trillion market with 1 billion users, 1 for 1. The energy market that we’re looking at in the world today is six times bigger, by far more important. It’s a $6 trillion market today with 4 to 5 billion users today, and it will go up to 7 to 9 billion users in the next 30 years. The fastest segment by far of growth in that market is clean energy.
We need to build a grid in America. We need to – we could use solar thermal to produce heat in Massachusetts, in Minnesota, take wind power from our states, sell it somewhere else. We can’t even do that because we don’t have that grid in place.
So I want to emphasize to all of you: We’re not going to find a sustainable energy mix in the 19th century or 20th century solutions. Those are the problems. We need a formula for 21st century that will sustainably power us into the 22nd century. And I believe that, working together, the United States and countries across the Asia Pacific can make this leap. That’s an exciting opportunity and that’s what we’re working on with China today.
The bottom line is we don’t have time to waste. If we’re going to power a clean energy revolution, we have to work together to dampen security competition and rivalry in the Asia Pacific and focus on these other constructive efforts. And so our third challenge is clear: We need to turn maritime conflicts into regional cooperation.
All of us in this room understand that these disputes in the South China Sea and elsewhere, they’re really about more than claims to islands and reefs and rocks and the economic interests that flow from them. They’re about whether might makes right or whether global rules and norms and rule of law and international law will prevail. I want to be absolutely clear: The United States of America takes no position on questions of sovereignty in the South and East China Sea, but we do care about how those questions are resolved. We care about behavior. We firmly oppose the use of intimidation and coercion or force to assert a territorial claim by anyone in the region. And we firmly oppose any suggestion that freedom of navigation and overflight and other lawful uses of the sea and airspace are privileges granted by a big state to a small one. All claimants must work together to solve the claims through peaceful means, big or small. And these principles bind all nations equally, and all nations have a responsibility to uphold them.
Now, I just participated in the ASEAN Regional Forum, and we were encouraged there to – we encouraged the claimants there to defuse these tensions and to create the political space for resolution. We urged the claimants to voluntarily freeze steps that threatened to escalate the disputes and to cause instability. And frankly, I think that’s common sense and I suspect you share that. I’m pleased to say that ASEAN agreed that the time has come to seek consensus on what some of those actions to be avoided might be, based on the commitments that they’ve already made in the 2002 Declaration on Conduct.
Now, we cannot impose solutions on the claimants in the region, and we’re not seeking to do that. But the recent settlement between Indonesia and the Philippines is an example of how these disputes could be resolved through good-faith negotiations. Japan and Taiwan, likewise, showed last year that it’s possible to promote regional stability despite conflicting claims. And we support the Philippines’ taking steps to resolve its maritime dispute with China peacefully, including through the right to pursue arbitration under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. And while we already live by its principles, the United States needs to finish the job and pass that Treaty once and for all.
Now, one thing that I know will contribute to maintaining regional peace and stability is a constructive relationship between the United States and China. President Obama has made it clear that the United States welcomes the rise of a peaceful, prosperous, and stable China – one that plays a responsible role in Asia and the world and supports rules and norms on economic and security issues. The President has been clear, as have I, that we are committed to avoiding the trap of strategic rivalry and intent on forging a relationship in which we can broaden our cooperation on common interests and constructively manage our differences and disagreements.
But make no mistake: This constructive relationship, this “new model” relationship of great powers, is not going to happen simply by talking about it. It’s not going to happen by engaging in a slogan or pursuing a sphere of influence. It will be defined by more and better cooperation on shared challenges. And it will be defined by a mutual embrace of the rules, the norms, and institutions that have served both of our nations and the region so well. I am very pleased that China and the United States are cooperating effectively on the Iran nuclear talks and we’ve increased our dialogue on the DPRK. We’re also cooperating significantly on climate change possibilities, counter-piracy operations, and South Sudan.
So we are busy trying to define a great power relationship by the places where we can find mutual agreement and cooperation. We’ve seen the benefits of partnerships based on common values and common approaches to regional and global security. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and I met with our Australian counterparts in Sydney earlier this week and we reviewed the U.S.-Australian alliance from all sides. And though we live in very different hemispheres, obviously, and at opposite ends of the globe, the United States and Australia are today as close as nations can get. Our time-honored alliance has helped both of our countries to achieve important goals: standing with the people of Ukraine, supporting long-term progress in Afghanistan, promoting shared prosperity in the Asia Pacific, and collaborating on the United Nations Security Council. And we also agreed to expand our trilateral cooperation with Japan, and that will allow us to further modernize the U.S.-Japan alliance as we address a broader array of security challenges. Similarly, with our ally South Korea, our partnership on a growing range of regional and global challenges has brought much greater security to Asia and beyond.
History shows us that countries whose policies respect and reflect universal human rights and fundamental freedoms are likely to be peaceful and prosperous, far more effective at tapping the talents of their people, and far better partners in the long term.
That is why our fourth and final challenge is so important: We need to turn human rights problems into opportunities for human empowerment. Across the region, there are bright spots. But we also see backsliding, such as the setback to democracy in Thailand.
We all know that some countries in the region hold different views on democratic governance and the protection of human rights. But though we may sometimes disagree on these issues with the governments, I don’t think we have any fundamental disagreement with their people.
Given a choice, I don’t think too many young people in China would choose to have less access to uncensored information, rather than more. I don’t think too many people in Vietnam would say: “I’d rather not be allowed to organize and speak out for better working conditions or a healthy environment.” And I can’t imagine that anyone in Asia would watch more than a 130 million people go to the polls in Indonesia to choose a president after a healthy, vigorous, and peaceful debate and then say: “I don’t want that right for myself.” I also think most people would agree that freedom of speech and the press is essential to checking corruption, and it is essential that rule of law is needed to protect innovation and to enable businesses to thrive. That’s why support for these values is both universal and pragmatic.
I visited Indonesia in February, and I saw the promise of a democratic future. The world’s third largest democracy sets a terrific example for the world. And the United States is deeply committed to our comprehensive partnership. Indonesia is not just an expression of different cultures and languages and faiths. By deepening its democracy, and preserving its traditions of tolerance, it can be a model for how Asian values and democratic principles inform and strengthen one another.
In Thailand, a close friend and ally, we’re very disturbed by the setback to democracy and we hope it is a temporary bump in the road. We call on the Thai authorities to lift restrictions on political activity and speech, to return – to restore civilian rule, and return quickly to democracy through free and fair elections.
In Burma last week, I saw firsthand the initial progress the people and the government have made. And I’m proud of the role – and you should be too – that the United States has played for a quarter of a century in encouraging that progress.
But Burma still has a long way to go, and those leading its democratic transformation are only now addressing the deepest challenges: Defining a new role for the military; reforming the constitution and supporting free and fair elections; ending a decades-long civil war; and guaranteeing in law the human rights that Burma’s people have been promised in name. All of this while trying to attract more investment, combating corruption, protecting the country’s forests and other resources. These are the great tests of Burma’s transition. And we intend to try to help, but in the end the leadership will have to make the critical choices.
The United States is going to do everything we can to help the reformers in Burma, especially by supporting nationwide elections next year. And we will keep urging the government – as I did last week – to take steps to ease the humanitarian crisis in Rakhine state, and push back against hate speech and religious violence, implement constitutional reform, and protect freedom of assembly and expression. The government owes it to the people of those – of that movement to do those things.
And so, my friends, in the great tradition of our country, we will continue to promote human rights and democracy in Asia, without arrogance but also without apology.
Elsewhere in Asia, North Korea’s proliferation activities pose a very serious threat to the United States, the region, and the world. And we are taking steps to deter and defend against North Korea’s pursuit of a nuclear-armed ballistic missile capability. But make no mistake: We are also speaking out about the horrific human rights situation. We strongly supported the extraordinary United Nations investigation this year that revealed the utter, grotesque cruelty of North Korea’s system of labor camps and executions. Such deprivation of human dignity just has no place in the 21st century. North Korea’s gulags should be shut down – not tomorrow, not next week, but now. And we will continue to speak out on this topic.
So you’ve heard me for longer than you might have wanted to – (laughter) – describing a pretty ambitious agenda. And you’re right; it’s a big deal. We are super engaged. We are ambitious for this process: completing the TPP negotiations, creating sustainable growth, powering a clean energy revolution, managing regional rivalries by promoting cooperation, and empowering people from all walks of life – that’s how we’re going to realize the promise of the Asia Pacific. And this is a region whose countries can and should come together, because there is much more that unites us than divides us. This is a region that can and should meet danger and difficulty with courage and collaboration. And we are determined to deliver on the strategic and historic opportunities that we can create together.
That’s why, together with our Asian partners, we’re developing modern rules for a changing world – rules that help economies grow strong and fair and just, with protections for the environment, safeguards for the people who have both too often been left behind.
That’s why we’re building a region where Asia’s major cities are no longer clouded with smog and smoke, and where people can depend on safe food and water, and clean oceans, clean air, and shared resources from its rivers and its oceans, and with a sense of responsibility one generation passes on to the next to preserve all of that for the future.
That’s why we’re building a region where countries peacefully resolve their differences over islands, reefs, rocks by finding the common ground on the basis of international law.
And that’s why we’re building a region that protects the universal human rights and fundamental freedoms that make all nations stronger.
There is still a long road ahead. But nothing gives me more hope in the next miles of the journey than the courage of those who have reached a different and more hopeful kind of future. And that is the story that I want to leave you with today.
When I became a senator, getting increasingly more and more involved in the region as a young member of the committee and then later as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs, the first trip I took in 1986 was to the Philippines. Strongman Ferdinand Marcos had called a sham “snap” election to fake everybody to prove how in charge he was, to preserve his grasp on power. President Reagan asked Senator Richard Lugar and me to be part of a delegation to observe those elections.
And I will never forget arriving in Manila and seeing this unbelievable flood of people in the streets all decked out in their canary yellow shirts and banners of pro-democracy protest. Some of us knew at that time there were allegations of fraud. I was sent down initially to Mindanao to observe the morning votes and then came back to Manila, and was sitting in the hotel there when a woman came up to me crying and said, “Senator, you must come with me to the cathedral. There are women there who fear for their lives.”
And I left my dinner and I ran down to the cathedral. I came in to the Sacristi of the cathedral and talked with these 13 women who were crying and huddled together, intimidated for their lives. And I listened to their story about how they were counting the raw tally of the votes that was coming in from all across the nation, but the raw tally of votes they were counting was not showing up on the computer tote board recording the votes. They blew the whistle on a dictator. We held an international press conference right there in the cathedral right in front of the alter, and they spoke out, and that was the signal to Marcos it was over. Their courage and the courage of the Filipino people lit a spark that traveled throughout the world, inspiring not just a freshman senator from Massachusetts, but popular movements from Eastern Europe to Burma.
Now, I think about that moment even today, about the power of people to make their voices felt. I think about how Cory Aquino rose to the presidency atop a wave of people power when few believed that she could. I think about how her husband fought for democracy, even at the cost of his own life. And I think about how, decades later, their son would rise to the presidency in democratic elections. In his inaugural address, President Benigno Aquino said: “My parents sought nothing less, died for nothing less, than democracy and peace. I am blessed by this legacy. I shall carry the torch forward.”
My friends, today we must all summon up some of that courage, we must all carry that torch forward. The cause of democracy and peace, and the prosperity that they bring, can bring our legacy in the Asian Pacific, it can define it. Our commitment to that future, believe me it is strong. Our principles are just. And we are in this for the long haul – clear-eyed about the challenges ahead.
Thank you. (Applause.)