Interview With Berita Harian Newspaper
Interview With Berita Harian Newspaper
Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy
Interview by Khaidir Majid
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
October 23, 2005
KHAIDIR: How was Indonesia?
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: Very good, very good. I, it was - we had a lot of really interesting events, it was of course very moving to visit Aceh after having seen, having seen the devastation on television for so long, you know, it was very interesting to see it in person. And we had a very interesting event, had a buka puasa in a neighborhood -
KHAIDIR: Ah, in Aceh?
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: No, not in Aceh but actually outside of Jakarta. In a small little low-income community neighborhood that used to be overrun by gangs, and the community has gone in and sort of worked together to reclaim the community, and they have this wonderful little group of children who played in a band to welcome me and the, Indonesian rock group "Day Wei"? Donnie, is the lead singer have you ever heard Donnie? Ok well, Donnie came, and he actually sang with this little kids' band, which was [laughter] which was really great! So, I'd wanted to meet with him because his group, does some songs promoting tolerance and love as a counter to terrorism and so, I thought that was a really good message for young people so, I'd asked to meet with him, so that was fun. Yeah, it was great. And I'm enjoying Malaysia, it's a beautiful country.
KHAIDIR: So, let's start with, what have you learned so far, you know, from your visit?
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: Well, I had - I attended a buka puasa last night at the home of the Ambassador, and one of the things people really underlined was the importance of exchanges. And not only the importance of having more Malaysians come to the United States, but also having more Americans come to Malaysia - to, to learn more about Malaysia. You know, the best way for people to understand each other is to see each other face to face, and we really want to particularly rebuild our student exchange programs here in Malaysia. In 1998, 12,000 Malaysians came to the United States to study, and that number unfortunately is down to about 6,000 now. And we want to build it back up, and I know that there have been - there were some problems with visas after September 11th, - but that has, we've worked to improve that significantly, so I think the perception is still that it's hard to get a visa, but it's much easier now to get a visa, in fact the Embassy has done a great job of getting in down to about, I think a day to get an appointment, and then a day to get the visa, so it's very quick now. And we really want to encourage, young people in Malaysia to come to the United States and study, and the Embassy wants to help them do that.
INTERVIEWER: You your mission is to visit Islamic countries, right?
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: My mission, it's called Public Diplomacy, and that really, what that really is, is America's conversation with the world. It's not just the Islamic World, although the Islamic World is an important part of that. But it's communicating with people in countries throughout the world and trying to foster a sense of common interests and common values.
KHAIDIR: Why does a super power like America, you know, make people feel what they think - why do you care about what people think about you?
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: Well, because we know that in today's world it's a very complex world, and we need to work in partnership with our friends, with friends like Malaysia, on our common challenges, on things like, to improve both of our economies. Malaysia's very important to America. You are our tenth largest trading partner. We're your number one customer, and so what that means is jobs - jobs for people in Malaysia, and jobs for people in America, and that's very important. Our economic cooperation, our security cooperation, is important to peace and stability in this region. Our counterterrorism efforts - it's a, in today's very interconnected global world, and facing the threats of terror that we face, America needs to work with, in partnership with our friends.
KHAIDIR: You not only see government people, you also see the grassroots. Why is that?
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: Because I think it's important that American policymakers, when they make policy, think about how that policy affects people and their lives. I started my career as a reporter, and what first drew me to politics in the first place was the recognition that the decisions made in politics affect people. They affect, you know, how your children get educated, they affect your economic environment, they affect what kind of job you're able to get, they affect how much taxes you pay, and, you know, what kind of services you have from your government. And so I think it's very important that as we make policy, we recognize its impact on people. And so, I view my job as being about people and about policy and in today's communications environment, it's very important that governments communicate with people, with the public, because, you know, with the Internet, you have the satellite television, people get a - there's a whole lot of information out there - and it's important that people understand and relate to what governments and political leaders are trying to achieve.
INTERVIEWER: You've been to Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Egypt, and now Indonesia and Malaysia, and all these Muslim countries and what is their perception of America?
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: Well, a couple - I think it's, you know it's complex, and it's a little different, in different places. There are some things in common, I think generally, people admire America, they want to travel to America, they're concerned about whether they're able to travel freely to America and work, trying to work to show people that they're welcome and we want them to come to America and we're trying to improve the visa process so people can come to America and so people feel more welcome when they get there. There is concern about the situation in Iraq, which I understand. No one likes war, and the people in Malaysia are concerned about war, people in America are concerned about war. We went into Iraq because we felt it was important for our security and for the security of the Middle East, and one of the points I've tried to make is, I think it's important for people to focus on what next, steps ahead, and what's happening in Iraq today and what we can do together to help the Iraqi people. And I think Malaysia can play a very important role in that, because you have here in Malaysia a society that - of people of many different faiths and different cultures who've managed to work together and live together in peace. And I think that's an important, because of your leadership role in organizations like ASEAN and OIC, that, that you can help to serve as a model and inspiration for the Iraqi people as they work to try to try to bridge their differences and learn to live together in peace.
KHAIDIR: Is there an anti-American feeling that you can see from when you visit these countries?
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: Well, among some people. There's also a lot of interest in America. So, I think it's hard to define as one thing for example, I've had people tell me I really like Americans, but I'm concerned about policies, some of the policies; or there's some misunderstanding. In a lot of the countries I've been asked about the Palestinian situation, and I think that it's important that for people to know how hard America is working to help the Palestinian people develop a state of their own. That's our policy, and that's what we want. President Bush just met again with President Abbas, the second time in the White House this week, and I was there a couple of weeks ago when he met with a group of young Palestinians who were working with President Abbas to try to help develop the institutions that can begin to provide services in Gaza as first step toward what we all want, which is a stable Palestinian state living side by side in peace with Israel, and I think in a lot of - particularly in the Middle East and to some extent in Indonesia and Malaysia, as I was asked about the Palestinian issue, I think there's, the perception lags behind the reality that the President is working very hard and wants very much to help bring about the creation of a Palestinian state.
KHAIDIR: Why did you include Malaysia in your itinerary?
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: Because Malaysia is such an important friend, and we have so much in common. We work as I said, we're economic partners, trade in commerce between our two countries is very important to people in both our countries. Our cooperation on security, on counterterrorism is very important. The Malaysian people, also I think, set a great example of how to - how people of different faiths and backgrounds can live together in a cooperative spirit, and I wanted to learn more about that. And so, that's why. And I'm very glad that I came, I've enjoyed it very much. I attended, as I've said, a buka puasa at the Ambassador's last night. Tonight I will go to a Malaysian home to attend a buka puasa, which I think is - which I'm really looking forward to. I've actually had a very unique opportunity this week, I've been to five buka puasas. The first one was at the White House, in Washington. President and Mrs. Bush hosted one on Monday night and I was there, and it was thrilling to hear the call to prayer and to - in that historic residence - and to help Muslim Americans and some of our foreign visitors celebrate the buka puasa. And then I attended two dinners in Indonesia, one in our Ambassador's home and one in a neighborhood there, and I'll be attending two here in Malaysia, one in our Ambassador's home last night and one at an individual home tonight, so -
KHAIDIR: Whose home is that?
THIRD PERSON: It's the home of one of the alumni of our exchange programs to the United States.
FOURTH PERSON: It's Shakila Yacob, she's a professor at the University Malaya.
KHAIDIR: Oh, ok.
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: By the way, I don't want to miss the opportunity on behalf of President and Mrs. Bush and the American people to extend our sympathies to your Prime Minister, and our thoughts and prayers are with him and with your country. I know that his wife was much loved here, and we're very - we extend our thoughts and prayers to the people of Malaysia.
KHAIDIR: You have met people in Malaysia already?
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: I did. Last night, we had a very diverse group. We had a professor, a businesswoman, a religious scholar, a number of young students, a journalist. We were a very diverse group for dinner last night.
KHAIDIR: Yeah, what's your perception of their thoughts, their thinking?
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: Well, we had a very interesting conversation. We talked about ways to improve, to strengthen the friendship that already exists between the United States and Malaysia. And then I'll be going from here over to open the Lincoln Corner at the library here, and I'm a big believer in those Lincoln Corners because it's a program that brings a little piece of America, in partnership with the host country - makes it available to young people and all people who want to come to the library and come use the computer and access American reading collection and books, and I think it's a wonderful way to help the Malaysian people learn a little bit more about America. And we are also going to tour the Islamic Arts Museum, which I'm looking forward to very much. I did a television show this morning, "Hot On Two," and they had call-ins and interviews, so I got to hear feedback from people on the street, and - not call ins, but they had text messages, SMS-ins [laughter], I'm behind the times. They didn't actually call, they text messaged in. And then I'll end up with the buka puasa, and then tomorrow morning I'm meeting with the Deputy Prime Minister, which I'm also looking very much forward to. So, it's a quick visit, but I think a very good one. The Ambassador and the Embassy put together a great program for me.
KHAIDIR: Talking about books, President Bush in the Iftar in the White House the White House finally has a Koran in the library .
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: That's right, he's put a Koran in the library for the first time.
KHAIDIR: Has he started reading it yet?
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: I don't know! I know a lot of us - I know my husband and I started reading the Koran in the aftermath - I think after September 11th and after some of the discussions of, you know, after hearing some of what the terrorists were saying, and then hearing other Muslims saying that what the terrorists did, did not represent the Islamic faith, that a lot of Americans became very interested in learning more about Islam. And so I know I've read some of the Koran, and I'm sure the President has as well since he got the copy of the Koran to place in the White House library, so.
KHAIDIR: It's good for him, because we have been misunderstood.
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: Well, and I agree, I think as I travel, one of the things I hear is that there are some misunderstandings about America. But many people are also worried that America misunderstands them, and their faith, and I heard that in the Middle East and I've heard that here as well. And so, that's my job, is to try to work on, on those misunderstandings on both sides. As I go back to America, I give speeches there and I will try to discuss my experience here. I'll talk about what I heard in Malaysia, and about the good people I met with in Malaysia and about how people here are - how important their faith is to their lives and how they view it as a faith that is very peaceful and very tolerant, and I think that that's an important message for me to share with the people of America.
KHAIDIR: Thank you.
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: Thank you so much. Very much, I appreciate it. Thank you, nice to meet you.
KHAIDIR: Nice having you here in Malaysia.
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: Thank you, it's wonderful to be here. I think it's a beautiful country.
Released on November 2, 2005