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Challenges In Engaging Asia in the 21st Century


Engaging Asia in the 21st Century: Transnational Challenges

Paula J. Dobriansky, Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs
Remarks at Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace
Yorba Linda, California
October 5, 2004

Thank you, John, for that introduction. Having served on The Nixon Center's Advisory Council in Washington before accepting my current position, I'm delighted to have the opportunity to speak at the Library.

Richard Nixon was one of the first American leaders to recognize the growing role that Asia would play in world affairs and in U.S. foreign policy. And in his last book, Beyond Peace, he made a strong case for Asia's importance in the 21st century as well, writing that "the twenty-first can be a second American century--but only if we understand that that we must be as intimately involved politically, economically, diplomatically, and culturally in the Asia-Pacific region as we have been in Europe."

Security issues like North Korea's pursuit of nuclear weapons--or China's delicate relationship with Taiwan--and economic issues like our important trading relationships with Japan, China, and other Asian countries underscore the region's strategic significance. But in today's increasingly complex and interconnected world, many other developments in Asia and elsewhere can have a powerful impact on stability and security in the region--and on the United States and our interests.

"Global Trends 2015," an unclassified National Intelligence Council report released by the Central Intelligence Agency in December 2000, highlights the rapid growth in the number and power of new transnational issues that can cross borders to affect entire regions or even the world. The report identifies population changes, the environment, science and technology, globalization, governance, and conflict as key drivers that will have a powerful role in shaping the 21st century.

My position at the Department of State--Under Secretary for Global Affairs--was established to manage American engagement on these transnational challenges. These issues directly impact people's lives. Global issues are concrete and personal. People understand and identify with global issues: problems like drug trafficking can affect them first-hand while the plight of refugees or victims of repression evokes sympathy and a desire to help. Global issues are also tightly linked to American values. I will try to illustrate their importance by talking briefly about Afghanistan, health issues, and sustainable development.

We are committed for the long term to helping Afghanistan to achieve peace, stability, and democracy after over two decades of tyranny and violence that have had a terrible impact far beyond the country's borders. What unfolds there has national security ramifications not only for Afghanistan, but for its neighbors and the United States. The presidential elections scheduled for this Saturday are an important step forward, especially for Afghan women, who suffered shocking and brutal treatment under the country's Taliban regime. Today, while many battles lie ahead, Afghan women have new freedoms and new opportunities, including the opportunity to vote. And they are seizing these opportunities; more than 40% of the 10 million Afghans registered to vote on Saturday are women. During my last visit there, earlier this year, I met women, numbering over 200, who had walked miles to register.

We are working hard to help Afghan women through a variety of projects, including a $5 million program to train women as mid-wives and a $2.5 million program to build 17 Women's Resource Centers throughout Afghanistan. We are also building public-private partnerships to help Afghan women through the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council, which I co-chair with Afghanistan's Foreign Minister and Women's Affairs Minister. We have collaborated closely with businesses, educational institutions and other groups eager to make a difference, such as the women executives of AOL/Time Warner, who raised $60,000 for the Council's Gift Fund to support a provincial women's resource center in Afghanistan.

Although some international organizations expected a massive outward flow of refugees from Afghanistan in the late fall of 2001 during the military operation, 3.6 million Afghans have instead, strikingly, "voted with their feet" by returning to the country. The State Department has spent some $300 million in the last three years to help these refugees--who are predominantly women and children--through contributions to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Committee of the Red Cross and through direct U.S. programs to build shelter, provide income, and deliver education, health care, and other services. Because these efforts are so important to our overall goals in Afghanistan, I monitor all of our humanitarian efforts closely by chairing a monthly conference call with Afghan government ministers, UN agencies, NGOs, and American and other foreign officials. This discussion allows us to identify and resolve potential problems swiftly. We address issues such as security, maintaining a food pipeline, especially during winter, repatriation, shelter and employment trends.

One of our most creative programs to help Afghan refugees is the Afghan Conservation Corps. Modeled on America's depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps, the ACC creates employment for refugees and other vulnerable groups in public works projects that benefit Afghanistan's environment, such as planting trees and building irrigation ditches.

Though Afghanistan is making considerable progress, it faces a substantial challenge in the form of poppy cultivation and drug trafficking. Afghanistan produces 75% of the world's opium, and the resulting opium trade undermines governments and societies from Central Asia to Europe. Our British allies have the lead role in counter-narcotics; we have supported their effort with $50 million for eradication, enforcement, capacity-building, and alternative development programs. Working with Germany, which has the lead in police training, we have trained some 25,000 new police officers this year as well. These officers and their counterparts in other Afghan security forces should contribute considerably to stabilizing Afghanistan.

Health is of tremendous importance within countries--Afghanistan's maternal mortality rate is the second-highest in the world--but it can also have a powerful impact across borders. As demonstrated in the National Intelligence Council report that I cited, health has become a significant international security issue that can affect the stability of countries or regions. Secretary Powell has created a health office--something many are surprised to learn that we have--that has played an essential role in helping the State Department to understand and manage international health crises.

In Asia, infectious diseases like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, and highly pathogenic avian influenza have claimed dozens of lives and imposed significant economic costs, especially in the agricultural and tourism sectors. SARS in particular spread quite rapidly overseas, forcing our neighbor Canada to quarantine affected individuals and raising considerable public health concerns there and elsewhere.

When SARS first emerged in 2003, the State Department convened and led a working group that brought together relevant government agencies such as the Department of Health and Human Services and the Center for Disease Control. We were also the principal communication channel to other governments and to international bodies like the World Health Organization. This experience demonstrated to us and to others the need for closer domestic and international cooperation in dealing with dangerous diseases--lessons that would serve us well when avian influenza later confronted the global health community.

Today, we are working to develop that cooperation and to establish mechanisms inside the U.S. government to trace arriving international travelers exposed to SARS or other diseases. These steps, and other improvements, will help to deal with future outbreaks.

While the spread of SARS was very serious, especially for China, HIV/AIDS has had an even more profound impact in Asia; 7.4 million people there are living with HIV/AIDS and last year alone over 500,000 people died from the disease. Yet, even this dire situation does not match what has already happened in Africa; in Botswana--the most heavily affected country in the world--the CIA estimates the life expectancy of a child born today at less than 31 years.

We are working to ensure that no other country is affected to this degree and to rally others to work with us to turn the tide against HIV/AIDS through President Bush's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, an unprecedented 5-year, $15 billion effort at prevention, care, and treatment managed by Ambassador Randall Tobias, the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator. The United States is also the largest donor to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, providing one-third of all contributions. In Asia, Vietnam has been identified as a special focus of the Emergency Plan; the Vietnamese Government has made a serious commitment to fighting HIV/AIDS and can benefit from substantial American assistance. Stopping the epidemic in Vietnam will help millions of people there and in neighboring countries.

America also strives to help in Asia and around the world through our focus on sustainable economic development. As President Bush has said, there is "a growing divide between wealth and poverty, between opportunity and misery that is both a challenge to our compassion and a source of instability." We strive to narrow this divide through our ongoing efforts to implement the commitments we made at the World Summit on Sustainable Development.

What was groundbreaking about the World Summit on Sustainable Development 2 years ago in Johannesburg, South Africa was its new focus on the centrality of economic reform, investment in people, and good governance to positive development outcomes. Participants also recognized the growing role of public-private partnerships as opposed to traditional government-to-government development programs.

Sustainable economic development is vital to Asia's future--and to the rest of the world. China and India alone account for some 40% of the Earth's population. Further population growth and economic growth in those two countries could contribute notably to an increase in global demand for water and energy during the 21st century. At the same time, the consumption of that water and energy could significantly affect the global environment.

Already, nearly two-thirds of the people in the world who do not have enough water are in Asia, as are 80% of those who lack access to clean water. China has the second-lowest per capita water availability in the world--and some regions of the country are expected to use up all of their groundwater resources within 20 years. Likewise, projections suggest that per capita water availability--the amount of renewable water resources per person--will decrease almost 30% in India between 2000 and 2025, while per capita demand will increase almost 30%. Serious water shortages in China and India could have a real impact on health, development, and the environment.

Similar increases are likely in energy consumption. According to the Energy Information Administration, a part of the Department of Energy, energy consumption in China and India could roughly double between 2000 and 2020. Emissions of carbon dioxide, the most common greenhouse gas, could similarly double during this time frame.

The Clean Water for People Initiative, announced jointly by the United States and Japan, is one of our key development efforts. Through this initiative, America will contribute $970 million over 3 years to improve access to water and sanitation; strengthen watershed management; and increase water productivity in industry and agriculture worldwide. In the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, we used a partial loan guarantee of $400,000 to leverage $6.4 million in bonds for local infrastructure improvements. In just one township, local leaders used the funds available through this innovative approach to increase the water supply from 2 liters to 3.5 liters per person per day. Projects like this make a real difference.

We are also working with Asian countries in a variety of multilateral energy partnerships. For example, the United States is cooperating with Australia, China, Japan, South Korea--and 10 countries outside Asia and the European Commission--in the International Partnership for the Hydrogen Economy, a public-private partnership to promote research and programs that advance the transition to a hydrogen economy. I tried out this technology myself on a previous visit to California, when I toured the California Fuel Cell Partnership and had a chance to test-drive hydrogen-powered vehicles. Hydrogen-powered cars could dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Asia's rapidly growing transportation sector--not to mention our own.

All of these strands--water and energy, health, governance, and other global issues--tie together in our engagement with major developing countries like India, the world's largest democracy. We have created a U.S.-India Global Issues Forum, which I co-chair with India's Foreign Secretary, the number two official in the country's Foreign Ministry, to discuss the full spectrum of global issues at stake in this key relationship. We have had two sessions of this Global Issues Forum in the last two years, in addition to numerous other meetings and discussions.

In today's world, the United States can no longer view global issues as being strictly someone else's problem that Americans can afford to push aside. Such issues can destabilize societies, and even regions, with terrible consequences for their citizens, their neighbors, and the United States. These pragmatic interests are among the reasons why we engage energetically in addressing these challenges in Asia and around the world.

But there are also other reasons. One of the most important forces behind America's global engagement is that we have a strong and genuine desire to help others, in dealing with crises and challenges, in developing their own full potential, and in enjoying the freedom that we ourselves enjoy. This final idea--sharing our love of freedom--was perhaps best explained by former President Nixon, who wrote:

"We must never forget why America has a special meaning in the world. We are respected because we are the strongest and richest nation in the world. But even when it was weak and poor two hundred years ago, America represented a great idea, more important than military might or economic wealth--the idea of freedom in all its aspects. Millions came to our shores because America stood for free nations, free people, free markets, free elections, freedom of expression, freedom of religion. Never has it been more important for us to demonstrate to the rest of the world the power of this idea." We are committed to doing just that. Thank you.

[End]

Released on October 14, 2004


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