Remarks at the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council Annual Gala
Remarks at the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council Annual Gala
Antony J. Blinken
Deputy Secretary of State
Four Seasons Hotel
June 15, 2015
DEPUTY SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, thank you all very, very much, and good evening. Yancy, thank you for a very generous introduction and for all the extraordinary work you do, including your support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which we’ll come to in a little while, and for your work with governments around the world to advance the interests of our businesses.
You mentioned the plight of the speechwriter, and it is something I’m very, very sympathetic to. And I have an extraordinary woman who is working with me, but it reminded me of a time in the 1990s when I was working for President Clinton, and he had just delivered a very successful State of the Union address. And we were back at the White House, gathering for a party. And I was there with his top domestic policy speechwriter, Michael Waldman, and the two of us were happily soaking in the very positive vibrations for the evening; the speech had gone down well. And the president came by and introduced us to a couple of prominent people whose names I won’t mention, and he looked at us, and looked at his friends, and he said, “Now, these are the guys who transcribe my speech.” (Laughter.) So it’s a – (applause) – it’s a tough job, and I’m glad you recognize. (Laughter.)
Let me say also I know that Congressman Matt Salmon is here tonight, and he has been an extraordinary leader in strengthening the relationship between the United States and Southeast Asia. We were – I was fortunate enough to speak to him shortly before the trip that you referenced to Vietnam and Indonesia and Myanmar, and we greatly, greatly appreciate his extraordinary leadership in building the relationships and also the leadership and support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. So thank you very, very much, Congressman. (Applause.)
To everyone here tonight – ambassadors, distinguished guests – thank you for the opportunity to join you this evening. It’s a great pleasure to be among so many business pioneers. For over three decades now, the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council has expanded economic ties, accelerated growth, and opened new doors of opportunity for both American and ASEAN citizens.
You are not only leaders in commerce, but quite literally ambassadors for our shared interests in a global economy that’s anchored by high standards and common values. Your efforts to push for reforms in ASEAN markets have helped level playing fields for every member business. And your strong voice on TPP will help promote prosperity and stability on both sides of the Pacific for decades to come. Today, US-ABC is at the center of our engagement with ASEAN, with the entire community – a key partner in our nation’s rebalance toward Asia.
When I was moving over from the White House, where I spent six and a half years, to the State Department at the beginning of the year, I asked President Obama what he most wanted me to focus on in this new job, and his answer was immediate and straightforward: Asia. And then when I got over to State, I asked Secretary Kerry exactly the same question and he gave me the same answer, which is always a very good sign. But it’s a clear reflection of the importance that both the President and the Secretary attach to the region, and it is a charge that I’ve been determined to fill.
In fact, the very first trip I took in this new job was to Asia, to the north – I went to Japan, Korea, and China. And then, as you said, I traveled to the region just last month, where I had the opportunity to meet with the ASEAN PermReps in Indonesia and entrepreneurs in Vietnam.
In Myanmar, I met with President Thein Sein, Aung San Suu Kyi, and other leaders, and spoke to the urgency of protecting the rights and dignity of all minority groups.
I have to tell you, one of the absolute highlights of the trip – actually, probably one of the highlights of any trip that I’d made anywhere in the world – was in Indonesia. We visited a pesantren in Jakarta, an Islamic religious school where girls learned alongside boys and the curriculum represents Indonesia’s proud tradition of faith, tolerance, and critical thinking. It was absolutely extraordinary. We talked; after we made some remarks. The students asked questions. And they asked about American leadership in the world today, they asked about the plight of the Rohingya and Indonesia’s responsibilities, they asked about the situation in Egypt. It was remarkable. I was incredibly impressed by the sophistication of their questions and their courage to raise tough, controversial issues with a visitor from abroad.
In their questions and indeed throughout the trip, I saw a region that’s increasingly open and free – a region that is embracing the connection between good governance, sustainable growth, and long-term stability. Across Southeast Asia, nations are surging forward as they reap the benefits of economic and democratic progress.
Next year, as you know, the Philippines will celebrate 30 years of democracy and, of course, just last year Indonesia held the largest single-day elections in the world. Today, Indonesia is the 16th largest economy and the only Southeast Asian member of the G20.
In Myanmar, nascent democratic progress has unlocked vast economic potential. There is a long road ahead, but since the nation began opening up, almost 1,300 political prisoners have been freed, universities have reopened their doors, private newspapers have flourished, investment has soared. In 2010, U.S. bilateral trade with Burma totaled $9.7 million. Just four years later, it’s grown 19-fold to $185 million. And of course, the potential is virtually limitless.
And Vietnam, of course, has lifted millions of people out of poverty through market-oriented reforms and progress toward a more open society. Today, 22 million Vietnamese are on Facebook, 35 million connected to the internet – where, increasingly, they speak their minds and argue their opinions freely.
This, of course, is an important year in our relationship with Vietnam – the 20th since we normalized relations between our countries, thanks to the leadership of Senator McCain, then-Senator Kerry, and President Clinton. We’re looking forward to welcoming General Secretary Trong to the White House in just a few short weeks, the first time a party secretary will have visited our capital.
All told, ASEAN today is a vibrant, stable market that produces some 2.4 million in GDP and consumes almost 100 billion of our exports, supporting, in turn, about 560,000 American jobs. Since 1984, when the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council was founded, ASEAN’s GDP has rocketed up more than 1,000 percent.
So, all of this adds up to an ASEAN that is profoundly important to the United States, central to the Asia-Pacific region, and poised to take a leading role on the world stage. It is a position that we welcome and celebrate. Whether we’re working together to expand internet connectivity or develop clean energy, our economic engagement in the region is a long-term vote of confidence. It’s why we’ve taken an active role in APEC and its work to promote trade, cut global carbon emissions, expand economic opportunities for women. It’s why President Obama attends the East Asia Summit, the premier forum for dealing with political and security issues throughout the region. And it’s why we’ve remained a very strong supporter of ASEAN and its mission to integrate the 10 countries of Southeast Asia into one community.
As old dictatorships have crumbled and vibrant economies have emerged, ASEAN has served as a vital pillar of international order, a standard-bearer for a common set of rules and responsibilities.
We’re very proud to collaborate on a range of issues of global importance, from empowering women though the ASEAN Women’s Entrepreneur Network to strengthening economic integration through the ASEAN Economic Community. The launch of the AEC later this year will herald a new era of growth and progress for the region as it frees the movement of goods, services, and skilled labor across the ASEAN countries.
Today, American investments in ASEAN are larger than Chinese, Japanese, and Korean investments combined. And as Secretary Kerry often points out, it’s not only the quantity of these investments that matters, it’s their quality.
U.S. businesses help develop a skilled workforce, contribute toward corporate social responsibility, abide by the rules of the road. They overwhelmingly partner with local firms, particularly small business, helping them build capacity through training, financing, logistical support.
Since 2001, trade between the United States and ASEAN has shot up 71 percent, a trajectory we know is nowhere even near exhausting its potential. And that growth is thanks to the extraordinary work of this council and also the commercial diplomacy efforts of our embassies around the world. One of the things that’s so important to me as I get a chance to travel is to visit with the American business community wherever I go. It’s an extraordinary eye-opener to really understand what the opportunity is, but also what some of the barriers are and the obstacles, and how we in the government can help. The old joke about “We’re from the federal government, we’re here to help,” we actually take seriously. And it is a vital part of our diplomacy and something I can tell you Secretary Kerry places a real premium on.
Since launching an initiative called Direct Line Calls, over 5,000 companies have joined calls with our ambassadors and our economic officers in over 190 countries. We’ve helped to facilitate billions of dollars in business deals as a result of these kinds of direct connections.
Last year, a U.S. company called APR Energy reached an agreement with the Government of Myanmar to bring power to 6 million people, a deal they’re already poised to expand. And just this past week, OPIC approved up to 250 million in financing to develop a network of 2,500 telecommunications towers across Myanmar – literally the potential to connect all the people of that country and to connect them with the world.
In Vietnam, GE signed a 94 million contract to provide 52 wind turbines for the first-ever wind farm in the Mekong Delta. In each of these cases and so many more, I’m proud that our embassies have played a critical role in identifying promising market opportunities and helping American companies capitalize on those opportunities.
So the question for us today is: Given all of this extraordinarily positive movement and momentum in Southeast Asia and in Asia more broadly, where do we go from here? And the fact of the matter is this: Trade and investment is happening one way or another. And the question for us is: How do they get shaped and who does the shaping?
How do we write the rules of the 21st century economy in a way that benefits all of our workers and does not end up being a race to the bottom?
How can we encourage economies to become more diversified, competition more dynamic, the investment climate more welcoming?
How can we help solve the challenges that all of you face as businesses – aging infrastructure, high tariffs, inconsistent regulations that prevent startups from launching and companies from growing?
That answer, at least in part, is found in the state-of-the-art Trans-Pacific Partnership, which will bring 40 percent of the global economy and nearly half of ASEAN together behind the highest labor, environmental, and intellectual property right standards while leveling playing fields for businesses.
Now, I think it’s fair to say that Washington is never a dull place, and last week was certainly no exception. But I’m here this evening to tell you that President Obama remains absolutely committed to working with Congress to get both TPA and TAA passed quickly so we can stay on track to conclude TPP this year. (Applause.) And one of the things that gives us strength in this effort is that we are not in it alone. We will continue to look to the US-ABC to help us carry this agreement across the finish line. We need your help, we need your partnership, we need your energy, we need your commitment, and we know that we have it.
This partnership serves both the United States and ASEAN’s strategic interests in three principal ways. You hear a lot about the economic benefits of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and they’re real and they’re significant. But from my perspective at the State Department, as important are the strategic benefits, and let me just spend a moment on them before concluding.
First, when we get TPP, it will set a rock-solid foundation for constructive engagement in the region and help ensure that all nations and all businesses prosper in peace and stability. It will reassure everyone in the region, from local entrepreneurs to global leaders, that the commitment of the United States to the region is not driven only by a temporary alignment of interests or solely by security imperatives, but also by a commitment to shared growth and prosperity far, far into the future.
Second, TPP offers a rare and sizeable opportunity to fundamentally advance our values and solidify an economic arena where every participant – however big, however small – complies with safe labor standards, utilizes environmental safeguards, and agrees to fight trade-related bribery and corruption.
Already, the prospect of the trade partnership has incentivized meaningful and necessary reforms throughout the region. For example, under the spotlight of TPP negotiations, Vietnam has ratified the Convention against Torture and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and promises to bring its domestic laws into synch with international human rights obligations.
TPP also allows us to elevate a number of issues that have never before been part of trade pacts, including promoting an open and secure internet and ensuring nationally owned companies compete fairly with ones that are privately owned.
Third – and I can’t emphasize this enough – this partnership is not, in any way, an attempt to isolate China or to keep it down. This is not a zero-sum game. We welcome China’s peaceful rise. The more trade, the more investment we see in developing nations – especially in infrastructure – the better off we all are. The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank’s efforts can be complementary to our own, and we’ll look for opportunities for collaboration while continuing to champion high standards for multilateral financing.
Over the last 70 years, we’ve invested in a system of international economic institutions and principles designed to protect and benefit everyone – and we’re committed to seeing that that system is upheld even as we modernize it.
While trade and investment play integral parts in sustaining our relationship with ASEAN, they’re not the only reason that that relationship endures. We’re bound not only by our shared shores and common values, but increasingly by the rich connections among our people.
Fifty or a hundred years ago, if you asked someone to define what constitutes the wealth of a nation, they might talk about the expanse of its land mass, the size of its population, the strength of its military, or its abundance in population and natural resources. And, of course, all those things are still important today, and in the United States we happen to be blessed with all of them, but in the 21st century, we know increasingly that the true wealth of a nation lies in its human resources and in the ability of countries to maximize their potential – to let all of their citizens be creative, innovative, entrepreneurial, with the freedom to argue, to criticize, to challenge conventional wisdom.
So, one of our key responsibilities in government has to be to strengthen those human resources and hopefully to encourage greater collaboration among them – between our scientists, our students, our entrepreneurs. That’s why we’re working together – business leaders and government officials – to give young people across the world, including in Southeast Asia, a launching pad for their ideas and for their talents.
From Phnom Penh to Kuala Lumpur, we’re connecting global and local businesses to young entrepreneurs who are opening the next frontier of innovation. In Indonesia, we started an incubator and organized a business angel investor network that has grown to 50 active investors, 18 of whom are women.
Since President Obama launched something that’s he’s incredibly proud of, the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative, just two years ago, more than 35,000 young people from ASEAN countries have become part of this network. We are very grateful to the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council for its support of this new generation of industry and entrepreneurial pioneers.
Earlier this year, 75 YSEALI Fellows interned at businesses across the United States to get a firsthand look at our culture of innovation, entrepreneurship, and research. We had a fellow, for example, from Burma who spent time with Marriott to learn how the tourism business operates in America and how to do so responsibly.
We had another fellow from Vietnam who spent time with the U.S. Small Business Administration to understand how firms can play a positive role in managing and in mitigating natural disasters. And before leaving the United States, each of the fellows in this program developed an action plan to put what they had learned into practice at home.
While I was in Southeast Asia a few weeks ago, I had the privilege to see some of these fellows in action, and it is an incredibly empowering experience. In Yangon, I spoke with two dozen young men and women who were helping guide their country on its journey toward greater freedom and greater openness.
In Jakarta, I met with YSEALI Fellows at the @america center, which some of you may have visited. It is one of our government’s best-kept public diplomacy secrets and one of the most effective spaces in the world – a center where young Indonesians can get help applying to American universities, bounce ideas around for a new business, and even rock out to live concerts all in the same place, which is not a bad introduction to the United States.
And in Ho Chi Minh City, I watched teams of YSEALI Fellows produce videos about environmental challenges in their own communities. And I have to tell you, I – we watched these videos and they were extraordinary both in their creativity and their impact, and I thought these kids must have been studying film and video for years. It rivaled anything I’ve seen anywhere in the world. And we asked the folks who were running this program how long it had taken them to put together these videos, and apparently these young people had arrived at our center that week, had taken a few introductory classes in how to use the video technology, spent the weekend coming up with their screenplays and putting these videos together, and then five or six days later there they were. It was absolutely extraordinary – and to my friends in Hollywood, I have a place to point you to if you’re looking for the next generation of talent.
And in Ho Chi Minh City, I watched teams of YSEALI Fellows as well not only producing these videos but interacting with each other. And what’s very powerful about this is that these young people are building networks and they stay in touch, and that creates a tremendous strength going forward. The energy, the excitement that I felt in all of these encounters was quite literally infectious. And while barriers to economic and democratic progress remain, obviously, across the region, it’s clear that Southeast Asia’s young people are poised to break through each and every one of them and propel their nations to new and remarkable heights.
We are very fortunate that the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council will be at their side every step of the way, helping shape a future where ASEAN is a full and active partner on the world stage, where disputes are settled openly and in accordance with the rule of law, and where businesses excel, innovation thrives, and opportunities abound.
In this tremendously important task, the United States will endeavor to remain ASEAN’s greatest cheerleader, its most reliable partner, and its closest friend.
Thank you so much for everything you’re doing every single day to advance this relationship. We’re grateful for our partnership with you; we’re grateful for everything that you do. Thank you very, very much. (Applause.)