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Remarks by McHale at Bali Democracy Forum in Indonesia

Remarks by McHale at Bali Democracy Forum in Indonesia

U.S. Department of State
Remarks by Judith A. McHale
Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs
Bali, Indonesia
December 9, 2010

Remarks at the Bali Democracy Forum

Thank you. I am honored to represent the United States at this important forum for advancing democracy in Asia. I commend President Yudhoyono, the Foreign Minister, and the Indonesian Government for having the leadership and vision to create this significant initiative, and President Lee Myung-Bak of the Republic of Korea for co-chairing this innovative and unique event.

As President Obama noted in his recent visit to Indonesia, the world has watched with admiration as Indonesians embraced the peaceful transfer of power and the direct election of its leaders. And just as your democracy is symbolized by your elected President and legislature, your democracy is sustained and fortified by its checks and balances: a dynamic civil society; political parties and labor unions; and engaged citizens who have ensured that there will be no turning back.

Indonesia has charted its own course through an extraordinary democratic transformation in only 12 years - from military-dominated authoritarianism to a vibrant, stable democracy, the third largest in the world. As it takes its place among the G-20 and as a leader within ASEAN, Indonesia's strong economic progress also demonstrates that democracy and development can reinforce one another.

The Bali Democracy Forum provides a unique, welcome opportunity for representatives of countries at different points in their democratic evolution to share experiences and learn from one another. Despite reaching democracy at different points in time, the United States and Indonesia are bound together by shared interests and shared values, as vast and diverse countries; as neighbors on either side of the Pacific; and as countries that conduct free and fair elections and guarantee other democratic freedoms.

America's Founding Fathers recognized that democracy was a continuing process. We have had our fair share of challenges, from a civil war fought to free part of our population from slavery to a long political struggle to give women the right to vote. Even today, our government and civil society strive to meet the expectations of all of our citizens. So, we are here to listen and learn from the experiences of other countries.

We recognize and respect that there are many different ways to build a democracy and that change occurs from within a society. But we believe there are values which are shared by all democracies: that all people are created equal and should be guaranteed basic human rights; that the rule of law must prevail for societies and businesses to thrive; that governments must respect, represent and respond to the will of the people.

These are not values unique to the United States. Respect for civil society and freedom of expression are values Indonesians and Americans and many other countries hold dear. More countries are building systems based on these core democratic principles; the number of established democracies has grown from 30 countries in 1974 to over 100 today. More Asian citizens have been given a voice to choose their leaders and exercise basic human rights while respecting their own local traditions and culture, showing us that democracy is not just a Western concept, it is a universal one.

Both President Obama and Secretary Clinton highlighted Asia's remarkable progress toward democracy during their recent visits to this region. But in all democracies, including our own, there is always more that can be done to fully unleash their full democratic potential.

As President Obama said: "It takes strong institutions to check the concentration of power. Democracy is messy, but the journey is worthwhile, and it goes beyond casting a ballot. It takes open markets that allow individuals to succeed. It takes a free press and an independent justice system to root out abuse and excess, and to insist upon accountability. It takes open society and active citizens to reject inequality and injustice." The United States is committed to working with all of our partners to build these institutions to promote stability and prosperity, and to tackle corruption -- from which no country, including the United States, is immune.

That is why it is important to have strong civil societies. Many NGOs in Indonesia and throughout the region have done valuable work in building greater civic participation. We are pleased that we will deepen our civil society partnership with Indonesia and the region through our recently launched Southeast Asia-U.S. Partnership: "Civil Societies Innovating Together." We are working with Congress to provide $15 million over three years for Indonesian, U.S. and Asian civil society organizations to cooperate on joint projects to promote democracy and good governance in the region.

The Bali Democracy Forum promotes peaceful transitions to democracy while respecting varied processes of democratization. By giving a voice to Asian citizens and observers to talk honestly and respectfully about democracy's challenges and success stories, it increases the likelihood of real progress.

For example, the Forum can be instrumental in encouraging democratic reform in places like Burma. The United States, along with billions of people around the world, welcomed Burma's long-overdue release of Burmese democracy leader and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi from unjustified house arrest on November 13. We call on Burma's leaders to ensure that Aung San Suu Kyi's release is unconditional; to release all of Burma's political prisoners; and to begin national reconciliation.

We know that change will not come easily. Nevertheless, we hope that our direct bilateral dialogue with Burmese authorities, Burma's desire for the removal of sanctions, and the engagement of Burma's neighbors through this Forum will encourage Burma to create a more peaceful, prosperous, democratic future.

This Forum can also help Asia promote reform from within, by supporting people-to-people partnerships with the private sector and civil society. During my visit to Jakarta last week, I met with a group of young Indonesians who are using social media to improve their communities and advance social causes. I was impressed by their passion and energy to create change, instead of waiting for someone else to do it. After a bombing at a local mall, one participant told me he felt it was time for the citizens of Jakarta to react and make a collective stand against such violence. He launched a social media movement to condemn violent radicalism. His efforts demonstrate the power of one individual to create change in their community and the world.

The U.S. Government will energetically support the Bali Democracy Forum because we know that our collective future depends on Asia's success in consolidating democratic gains, protecting human rights, and generating new economic opportunities. We have before us a historic opportunity to learn from one another and build for our children a future of hope and promise. Under the leadership of President Obama, America will do all it can to help turn our opportunity into a reality, and I wish you great success in this conference and in the years ahead. Thank you.


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