East Asia and the Pacific: Extraordinary Meeting of the Friends of the Lower Mekong

On February 2, Counselor Tom Shannon and Senior Advisor to the Secretary Ambassador David Thorne led a U.S. delegation to the Extraordinary Meeting of the Friends of the Lower Mekong in Pakse, Laos. The Friends of the Lower Mekong, a donor coordination group, came together with the countries of the Lower Mekong to discuss the connection between water resources, energy needs and food security. Accompanying Counselor Shannon and Ambassador Thorne were representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Energy.

The health of the Mekong River is essential to the economic growth and sustainable development of the region. In Cambodia, the Mekong supports the rich biodiversity of a watershed that provides more than 60% of the protein intake for the entire country. The river irrigates the “rice bowl” in Vietnam, where more than half of the nation’s rice production is concentrated in the provinces that make up the Mekong delta. In Laos, Thailand, and Burma, the Mekong is an important artery for transportation, a water source for aquaculture and agriculture, and a generator of electricity.

Meeting participants discussed the challenges of ensuring a future in which economic growth does not come at the expense of clean air, clean water and healthy ecosystems. The meeting brought together senior officials from Laos, Burma, Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam alongside representatives from the United States, the Mekong River Commission, the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank, the European Union, and the governments of Australia, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, and Sweden.

At the meeting, the U.S. delegation announced several new initiatives, including the launch of USAID’s Sustainable Mekong Energy Initiative (SMEI). Through the SMEI, the United Stateswill promote the use of alternative energy and low-emission technologies. The delegation also announced that the Department of State will organize and send a Sustainable Energy Business Delegation to the region later this year.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that it will provide technical assistance on hydropower management. In conjunction, Counselor Shannon and Ambassador Thorne announced that the State Department will contribute $500,000 in support of a Mekong River study on the impacts of hydropower on the community and environment.

The Friends of the Lower Mekong will also work together to strengthen the capacity of Lower Mekong countries to more effectively implement social and environmental safeguards such as environmental impact assessments and strategic environmental analyses. The U.S. government, Asian Development Bank, World Bank, Japanese International Cooperation Agency and the Government of Australia plan to jointly develop a Regional Impact Assessment Training Center at the Asian Institute of Technology Center in Vietnam.

Under the auspices of the Lower Mekong Initiative the United States is continuing successful projects like Smart Infrastructure for the Mekong (SIM) to provide technical assistance to the region on land and water use management, renewable energy, and infrastructure development. $1.5 million will be spent on SIM projects in the Mekong region this year.

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Press Releases: Briefing on President Obama's FY 2016 Budget Request

DEPUTY SECRETARY HIGGINBOTTOM: Good afternoon, everyone. As you know, earlier today, President Obama released his Fiscal Year 2016 Budget, and I’m pleased to be joined here today by Administrator Raj Shah to discuss the 2016 budget request for USAID and the State Department and to take a few of your questions.

I just want to note that this is actually Raj’s last budget rollout. As I’m sure you know, in just a couple of weeks he’ll be moving on. And I just wanted to briefly take this opportunity to thank Raj for his service. He has been a really effective and dynamic leader at USAID. He has pushed forward innovative efforts like Feed the Future and Power Africa. He’s galvanized our response to unexpected crises like the Haiti earthquake and the Ebola outbreak, and we’re really going to miss you.

Two weeks ago, in his State of the Union Address, President Obama said, “If there’s one thing this new century has taught us, it’s that we cannot separate our work at home from the challenges beyond our shores.” That fact is deeply understood by Senator – Secretary Kerry and the men and women of State and USAID. We see it in action every day. And our FY ‘16 budget request makes critical investments in diplomacy and development that will secure peace and stability for the American people, strengthen the U.S. economy and global markets, and support U.S. citizens and our diplomatic and development presence overseas.

So first, the top lines. The State and USAID budget request totals $50.3 billion, which is roughly 1 percent of the federal budget. Our base budget request is $43.2 billion. This will allow us to address ongoing and emerging national security challenges, carry out our global diplomatic and development mission, advance the President’s signature policy and development initiatives, honor our security commitments to allies and partners, and carry out conflict prevention, nonproliferation, and peacekeeping activities around the world. We’ve also requested $7 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations funds to respond to immediate and extraordinary national security requirements. OCO funds will support critical programs and operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq, as well as exceptional costs related to our efforts to fight ISIL, respond to the conflict in Syria, and support Ukraine.

So let me just highlight a few of the key investments that we’re making or propose to make in the next year. As Vice President Biden penned in an op-ed last week, our budget invests $1 billion in Central America. These funds will address the underlying social, governance, and economic factors in Central America that drove last year’s crisis in unaccompanied migration – child migration, while helping Mexico secure its southern border. Our goal is to partner with our neighbors in Central America to mitigate these underlying factors before their youth risk the dangerous journey north and arrive at our border.

For Afghanistan, our request includes $1.5 billion in assistance, which will support the Afghan unity government as it strives to implement key reforms, improve its economy, and work with us on shared security issues. Our budget request also provides $963 million to secure and support embassy operations, including $125 million to harden Embassy Kabul, all of which will enable a significant reduction in our military presence. With a new, reform-minded Afghan Government in place, we have the opportunity to solidify the progress we have made in Afghanistan over the last decade. Our request continues the security, economic, and civilian programs necessary to do so.

As part of the Administration’s collaboration with coalition partners to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL, our request includes $3.5 billion to strengthen regional partners, provide humanitarian assistance, and strengthen Syria’s moderate opposition to advance the conditions for a negotiated political transition. The request also includes an additional $1.1 billion to support diplomatic engagement with Iraq to sustain our strategic partnership.

Last year at West Point, President Obama announced the creation of a Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund that will enable us to train, build capacity, and help facilitate partner countries on the front lines against terrorism. Our request includes $390 million to support the CTPF through security and stabilization assistance and through efforts to counter violent extremism and terrorist ideology.

Our budget also includes vital support for Ukraine to counter Russian pressure and aggressive actions. This includes $275 million to support an additional loan guarantee of up to $1 billion if Ukraine continues to make progress on its IMF program and if other conditions warrant. Our request also provides support for democracy and anti-corruption measures, European integration, energy security, and public diplomacy strategies to counter Russian propaganda throughout Europe and Central Asia.

The request also provides over $5 billion for international organizations and peacekeeping efforts. These funds strengthen our strategic relationships across the globe and enable us to advance global security while sharing the burden with other nations. Our assessed contribution supports 17 UN peacekeeping missions in Africa and the Middle East and satisfy U.S. obligations to the UN and 44 other organizations.

At the same time, our request will address urgent and growing humanitarian needs around the world. We are now facing four large-scale crises in Syria, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and Iraq. To address this unprecedented challenge, we are seeking a total of $5.6 billion in humanitarian funding.

Shifting gears a bit, we’re investing over $800 million in clean energy, sustainable landscapes, and adaptation through the Global Climate Change Initiative. This includes $350 million of a State Department contribution to the Green Climate Fund, a new multilateral fund that will help developing countries gain access to public and private finance to invest in reducing carbon pollution and strengthening resilience to climate change.

Secretary Kerry firmly believes that our people, the State Department and USAID personnel, are our greatest resource, and this budget makes significant investments in the people and platforms who make all of this work possible. The budget includes $6.9 billion to support State and USAID personnel and operations around the world. These funds sustain our relations with foreign governments and international organizations, the work of our development experts here in Washington and abroad, and vital overseas services to U.S. citizens and businesses.

In order for our diplomats and development professionals to do their work, they must be safe and secure. Secretary Kerry is committed to doing whatever it takes to ensure that they are. Our request includes $4.8 billion for worldwide security protection to support key security requirements such as protection of diplomatic personnel and new infrastructure such as the Foreign Affairs Security Training Center.

Within the Embassy Security, Construction and Maintenance Account, the budget includes $1.4 billion for worldwide security upgrades which include support for the Capital Security and Maintenance Cost-Sharing Programs and construction, maintenance, and security upgrades for diplomatic facilities as recommended by the Benghazi Accountability Review Board.

The fact remains that American leadership is needed now more than ever, but our global leadership and our leverage depends on our resources. Our budget request reflects what is needed to ensure that the United States remains powerfully engaged on the myriad issues that directly impact the security, prosperity, and values of the American people. We look forward to working with Congress to secure funding for these important priorities in the coming months.

And with that, I will turn it over to Raj to talk about our development assistance request.

ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: Thank you. Good afternoon, and thank you, Heather. I appreciate your kind comments and your incredible leadership on behalf of ensuring that State and AID have the resources required to carry forth President Obama and Secretary Kerry’s strong commitment to American leadership around the world.

Heather likes to point out – and she’s right – that most Americans think our collective budget is greater than 20 percent of the federal budget, and in fact it’s somewhat smaller than that, clocking in at just under 1 percent.

I’d also like to thank the leadership of President Obama and Secretary Kerry and bipartisan members, Democrats and Republicans, in both houses in Congress that have relatively strongly supported USAID and our country’s development and humanitarian missions around the world. In fact, 2015 is an important year for our collective partnership to address extreme poverty and promote resilient democratic societies, often in the most difficult parts of our world. But no matter where we work across the globe, the men and women of the State Department and USAID work on behalf of the American people. And the modest yet critical investments we make in improving the quality of life for the world’s most fortunate, in fact, contribute directly to American strength, security, trade, and prosperity.

And above all, over the last years we have refocused our investments to make sure that we’re doing our work in a way where, over time, our aid and assistance is no longer necessary, where self-sufficiency can replace the need for outside assistance. The President’s budget request this year includes $22.3 billion that USAID will manage or partly manage. These critical resources allow us to advance our country’s interests in a far-ranging set of contexts. By leveraging public-private partnerships and harnessing the power of technology, science, and innovation, we’re now able to deliver clear, focused, and measurable results with these resources.

Since 2010, USAID missions have reduced the number of programs and program areas in which we’ve worked from nearly 800 in total around the world to just over 500 today, or a reduction of greater than 35 percent. This has meant that our Global Health Program, for example, has been phased out of 23 countries. Our agriculture support programs have been phased out 25 countries. And as a result, we’re able to deliver better resources where we concentrate our investments and our efforts.

Today, all of our major programs are independently evaluated by third-party evaluators, and the results of those evaluations – which are often important but not the most exciting documents to read – are available on an iPhone app, an unprecedented level of transparency.

When I started five years ago, just 8 percent of USAID’s global investment focused on public-private partnerships. Today, it’s about 40 percent and the 2016 budget request will take that number to 46 percent. Nowhere has this focus on delivering real, measurable results been more significant than in our work in global health. The foreign assistance budget includes $8.2 billion for funding for global health, including HIV/AIDS, malaria, child and maternal survival, and a broad range of programs that tackle neglected tropical diseases, including Ebola.

These resources underscore our commitment to helping to realize the goal of ensuring that every child survives until the age of five and thrives beyond that timeframe. To achieve this goal, we’ve already narrowed our focus of investment in our Child Survival program to 24 countries that account for 70 percent of under-five child deaths and maternal deaths. As a result, in the past two years alone in those countries, we’ve delivered an 8 percent reduction in child mortality, more than doubling the baseline rate of reduction in child deaths.

We saw the power of this approach at work last week as the United States committed more than $1 billion over four years to the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization in order to immunize 300 million children and save at least 5 million child lives by 2020.

Another notable example of this new model is President Obama’s commitment to Africa, and specifically Power Africa. This year’s budget includes $134 million in resources to take that initiative forward. And as President Obama reset the goal for that initiative this past summer in this building at the African Leadership Summit, those resources will help us bring tens of billions of dollars of private investment to the African power sector in the hopes of connecting 60 million homes and businesses to clean, renewable, affordable power.

This budget request includes $1.02 billion devoted to the Feed the Future Initiative, President Obama’s signature global food security effort. The State/AID-managed portion of that will be $978 million. In 2013 alone, these investments, in addition to bringing more than 70 companies to co-invest with us in countries around the world, has directly helped more than 7 million farm households move out of poverty and improved nutrition for more than 12 million children who otherwise would go hungry – not by giving out food, but by helping their families stand on their own two feet.

Since 2014, the President’s budget has included attempts to ensure that we reach more hungry people, particularly at their greatest hour of need, by restructuring America’s 60-year-old food assistance program, Food for Peace. We look forward to working with Congress to get that done on a bipartisan basis this year. In doing so, we hope to renew the unique policy partnership between America’s food producers, shippers, humanitarians, and the world’s children who suffer through crisis. And this is important this year because smart, results-oriented humanitarian assistance is needed now more than ever.

Last year was the first time in our agency’s 53-year history that we were called to respond simultaneously to four large-scale emergencies around the world, not including the Ebola epidemic. In Syria, we’ve supported more than 300 field hospitals, clinics, and medical points that have saved countless lives. In the Philippines, we’ve reached nearly 3 million people with emergency assistance in the wake of typhoons. And in West Africa, we’ve cut down dramatically on the number of new cases of Ebola from more than 100 a day in Liberia when our efforts started to less than 1 per day over the course of the last week in Liberia.

Using the $2.5 billion appropriated to State and AID for the FY 15 Ebola Response and Preparedness Fund, the budget presented today requests – includes resources for USAID’s Global Health Security Program to work alongside a range of countries to make sure that threats like Ebola do not emerge again.

But even as we respond to these crises, we know it’s critical to support civil society and human rights around the world. That’s why this budget will provide $2.4 billion for democracy, human rights, and governance programs, some of which Heather has already spoken about. And in addition, this budget will include nearly $200 million in central funding for science, technology, and innovation through the U.S. Global Development Lab. The lab has already delivered extraordinary results, most notably redesigning the personal protective equipment that Ebola responders use in West Africa to keep themselves safe, building data systems to help us tackle Ebola cheaper, faster, and more effectively than anyone thought possible. And those types of results can be replicated across the broad range of what we do if Congress continues to provide strong bipartisan support for the United States Global Development Lab.

Finally, and echoing Heather’s comments, with $1.7 billion in USAID administrative expenses, this budget allows us to invest in our most important resource: our staff. This request represents just 7 percent of our total programmatic responsibilities, and we urge Congress to fully fund our operating expenses.

Thank you for your time and attention. I look forward to taking questions.

MR. RATHKE: Okay. We have time for a few questions. Matt, do you want to lead off?

QUESTION: Yeah, because I – every year I have the same question, because these figures that you guys provide don’t match up with the figures that are put out by the CBO, at least in the historical page. And I’m wondering – if you can’t answer these questions right now, maybe someone can get back to me on them. According to the CBO, the historical page, in 2015 the budget authority – total budget authority for Function 150 was $62.12 billion. And this year it’s 46.476 billion, which would be a reduction of 25 percent. And I’m wondering what’s getting cut in this budget.

DEPUTY SECRETARY HIGGINBOTTOM: So we’ll let our budget experts go through the tables with you, but our request overall for State and AID and the 150 account includes other agencies, such as Treasury and some others that have international affairs activities, is a 6 percent increase over our FY 15 request.

I can’t speak to the specifics on your table, but we’ll make sure you get an answer right after this.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, can you – off the top of your head in terms of highlights of things that are being cut, what are they?

DEPUTY SECRETARY HIGGINBOTTOM: Overall, our budget request is increasing.

QUESTION: Well – so nothing’s being cut?

DEPUTY SECRETARY HIGGINBOTTOM: No, there are some cuts here and there in the budget, but overall the numbers are going up because there are more and vast crises that we’re dealing with. For example, even though we maintain a robust investment in our Pakistan assistance, that’s come down by a small amount – about 10 percent – over last year based on what we think the needs are and what we think – what we assess the capabilities are. We have a level funding for Iraq at this point. We have level funding levels in many, many programs and increases where we think we need them.

So we can get into the specifics of where there are cuts and walk through the table with you if you’d like.

QUESTION: Okay, thanks.


MR. RATHKE: Okay, Arshad.

QUESTION: Two similar ones, if I may. One is that the CBJ summary tables have blanks for just about all the FY 2015 estimates.


QUESTION: I’m guessing that that’s because of the cromnibus and you haven’t had time to crunch the numbers?

DEPUTY SECRETARY HIGGINBOTTOM: The issue with specific allocations for programs and at the country level – there’s a process that after we get an appropriation, we work through regular order every year with our appropriators to decide on the allocations in that level of detail. So that process is happening at the moment.

QUESTION: Sure. And will we not get that breakdown until – when do you expect to have that breakdown available? Or because it depends on Congress, you don’t really know?

DEPUTY SECRETARY HIGGINBOTTOM: I would say in the spring.


DEPUTY SECRETARY HIGGINBOTTOM: That’s when the process kind of – it takes quite a while to go back and forth on the programming in country level.

QUESTION: And then I have two kind of granular questions you may not be able to answer.

DEPUTY SECRETARY HIGGINBOTTOM: More granular than that? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yes. Yeah, much. So I noticed that the economic support funds for Egypt are budgeted at 150 million for FY 2016; it’s a blank for FY 2015 because you don’t have that yet; and it was 200 million in FY 2014, the actual. And as you know, for many, many years it was like 250 or 255 million, I think. What explains the decision to ask for less for FY 2016 than you had in 2014? Do you believe that the Egyptian Government is just not making progress and you don’t want to support them, or —

DEPUTY SECRETARY HIGGINBOTTOM: No, it’s a good question. We do know, from our engagement with Congress and over the ’15 appropriation and our discussions with them, that they intend the FY15 level for ESF to be about 150 million, and so in working with them with this request and thinking about where we can go moving forward on Egypt assistance, we’ve settled at that level.

QUESTION: Okay. And then last one – and again, somewhat obscure – but I see that you have IMET funding for Thailand, but of course Thailand had a coup. And I wonder why you’re programming IMET funding for Thailand for FY16, given the coup.

DEPUTY SECRETARY HIGGINBOTTOM: We’ll have to get back to you on that one.



MR. RATHKE: Do you have – yes.

QUESTION: Yes, I’m Mounzer Onsur with (inaudible). I would like to ask highlights on Western Hemisphere. I heard that the 1 billion for Central America. But I would like more details. For instance, Merida Initiative, 1 billion – that 1 billion includes part of Merida Initiative, or is only for —

DEPUTY SECRETARY HIGGINBOTTOM: No, the $1 billion for Central America is just for —

QUESTION: Only, none for Mexico?

DEPUTY SECRETARY HIGGINBOTTOM: Yeah, that’s correct. The – in the Central America response to the migration – child migration crisis, we have included $120 million specifically for Mexico, for the southern border, but that’s separate from the billion. Our funding levels are pretty consistent with last year’s request for the Western Hemisphere with the exception of the Central American region.

QUESTION: Could you please talk about Merida Initiative, Plan Colombia?

DEPUTY SECRETARY HIGGINBOTTOM: Colombia’s about the same level. It’s a slight decrease based on our assessment of the increased capacity of the Colombian Government to take on some of those activities. And I don’t have the Merida number with me, I’m sorry. We’ll follow up with you right after this.

QUESTION: How about the human rights program for Cuba? Any change?

DEPUTY SECRETARY HIGGINBOTTOM: The Cuba funding is very similar to last year. It is $20 million in democracy planning for Cuba. I don’t know, Raj, you can jump in. The only difference in our funding request vis-a-vis Cuba is that we ask for $6.6 million to do some operational upgrades at our facilities there.

QUESTION: On Venezuela, the democracy program for Venezuela?

ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: I don’t have the numbers, but we can follow up with you.


QUESTION: Please, yes. Thanks.

QUESTION: Just the – a clarification on the Western Hemisphere and Colombia. I thought you had asked for more money for Colombia. In the first time in this Administration, there’s a slight increase, not a decrease.

DEPUTY SECRETARY HIGGINBOTTOM: I think that there’s – I’m pretty sure there’s a slight decrease in Colombia, but we’ll make sure you have the right numbers.



QUESTION: Could you focus a little bit more on the priorities for Asia, please? I didn’t see any mention on Asia.

DEPUTY SECRETARY HIGGINBOTTOM: Sorry. I’m glad you raised that question. We have an increase in – of 8 percent for the Asian region vis-a-vis our FY – vis-a-vis FY14 appropriations. The same issue regarding ’15 is still relevant in that we can’t compare to ’15 without the allocations that we’re going through with Congress. But over the FY14 appropriation, there’s – we propose an 8 percent increase.

MR. RATHKE: Okay. Yes, (inaudible).

QUESTION: Just to follow up on that, could you talk about why, as the pivot is a priority of this Administration, why Asia Pacific is not mentioned in your fact sheet and highlights?

DEPUTY SECRETARY HIGGINBOTTOM: Well, it is – when you look at the budget overall and what we’ve prioritized increases for and where we’ve had to keep things level, and even some of the places we’ve had to cut, it’s clear that the Asia Pacific remains a key priority for us because of the level of increase. There’s – we can speak to the specifics of a fact sheet, but the numbers really tell the story, and that’s a trajectory that has increased in our budgets consistently over the past few years.

QUESTION: Specifically, where does the 8 percent goes to?

DEPUTY SECRETARY HIGGINBOTTOM: All the details of that are in the congressional justification on our website, and in the call that you’ll have afterwards with folks. They can get into that level of detail with you.

MR. RATHKE: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Can you get into a bit more detail about the 3.5 billion for anti-ISIS/ISIL operations?

DEPUTY SECRETARY HIGGINBOTTOM: Sure. So the number includes the work that we’re doing to counter ISIL with Iraq and our partners in the region, to deal with the Syria humanitarian crisis, and to stabilize that region and ensure that there is the ability to work against that. So there’s security assistance training, et cetera, the humanitarian costs, the – Lebanon, Jordan, other partners in the region that are taking a lot of the responsibility for the crisis there.

MR. RATHKE: Okay. We have time for just a couple more. Go ahead in the back.

QUESTION: Hi. Can you tell us what is the budget request for Afghanistan and Pakistan individually, and how much of that will go to security and economic assistance?

DEPUTY SECRETARY HIGGINBOTTOM: Good question. So – I’m flipping here, sorry – the Afghanistan request is $1.5 billion for assistance, as I said in the opening. And I have the breakdown here. $1.2 million[1] is in security and the rest is in – excuse me, $1.2 billion[2] is in security and the rest is in civilian assistance. Although is this —


PARTICIPANT: So the total amount of the request for Afghanistan is $2.5 billion and that includes —

DEPUTY SECRETARY HIGGINBOTTOM: But that includes our operations, our platform.


DEPUTY SECRETARY HIGGINBOTTOM: You asked about assistance, right? Yeah. So 1.5 is the number for assistance.

For Pakistan, the assistance number is 804 million. There’s 534 million in civilian and 270 million in security.

MR. RATHKE: Okay. Thanks very much, everyone.

[1] $1.2 million in security assistance to complement Department of Defense efforts.

[2] $1.2 billion is a misspeak. The speaker is referencing $1.2 million in security assistance to complement Department of Defense efforts.

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Secretary's Remarks: From a Swift Boat to a Sustainable Mekong

More than four decades ago, as a young lieutenant in the “brown-water Navy,” my crew and I journeyed down the Mekong River on an American gunboat. Even with the war all around us, in quiet moments we couldn’t help but be struck by the beauty and the power of the river — the water buffalo, the seafood we traded for with local fishermen, the mangrove on the sides of the river and inlets.

Long ago, those waterways of war became waters of peace and commerce — the United States and Vietnam are in the 20th year of a flourishing relationship.

Today, the Mekong faces a new and very different danger — one that threatens the livelihoods of tens of millions and symbolizes the risk climate change poses to the entire planet. Unsustainable growth and development along the full reach of the river are endangering its long-term health and the region’s prosperity.

From the deck of our swift boat in 1968 and 1969, we could see that the fertile Mekong was essential to the way of life and economy of the communities along its banks. In my many visits to the region since then as a senator and secretary of state, I’ve watched the United States and the countries of Southeast Asia work hand in hand to pursue development in a way that boosts local economies and sustains the environment.

Despite those efforts, the Mekong is under threat. All along its 2,700 miles, the growing demand for energy, food, and water is damaging the ecosystem and jeopardizing the livelihoods of 240 million people. Unsustainable development and the rapid pace of hydropower development are undermining the food and water needs of the hundreds of millions of people who depend on the river.

What’s at stake? In Cambodia, the Mekong supports the rich biodiversity of a watershed that provides more than 60 percent of the country’s protein. In Vietnam, it irrigates the country’s “rice bowl” that feeds the fast-growing economy. Throughout the region, the river is a vital artery for transportation, agriculture, and electricity generation.

The Mekong rivals the Amazon for biodiversity. Giant Mekong catfish and the Irrawaddy dolphin are unique to the river, and scientists are constantly identifying new species of animals and plants across the delta. Some of these newly discovered species could one day hold the promise of new lifesaving drugs.

The challenge is clear: The entire Mekong region must implement a broad strategy that makes sure future growth does not come at the expense of clean air, clean water, and a healthy ecosystem. Pulling off this essential task will show the world of what is possible.

The fate of this region will also have an impact on people living far beyond it. For instance, U.S. trade with the Mekong region increased by 40 percent from 2008 to 2014. This trend has meant more jobs for Americans and continued economic growth for countries across Southeast Asia.

Meeting this challenge requires that we work with these countries to address very real development needs even as we work to sustain the environment. This requires good data for proper analysis and planning, smart investments, strong leaders, and effective institutions to manage the Mekong’s riches for the benefit of everyone in the region.

To that end, we joined with Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam, to launch the Lower Mekong Initiative. Its goal is to create a shared vision of growth and opportunity that recognizes the river’s role as an economic engine and respects its place in the environment.

That is why this week (Feb. 2 and 3) the United States and the government of Laos are co-hosting a major meeting of senior officials from the five lower Mekong countries, the United States, and the European Union in Pakse, Laos, where the Mekong and Xe Don rivers meet. They will be joined by representatives of the private sector and donors like the Asian Development Bank to work on a blueprint for a sustainable future.

At the meeting, we will launch the Sustainable Mekong Energy Initiative, a plan to encourage the countries of the region to develop programs that will redirect their investments to innovations in renewable energy and other sources that do not harm the environment.

This is not a question of dictating the path of development in these countries. Rather, it is about the United States and other countries working alongside our partner nations to establish a consistent set of investment and development guidelines that ensure long-term environmental health and economic vitality all along the river’s path.

This partnership is an essential part of the broader effort by President Barack Obama and the entire administration to support the people of the Asia-Pacific region, and a further sign of our commitment to helping these vibrant economies and emerging democracies.

For Americans and Southeast Asians of my generation, the Mekong River was once a symbol of conflict. But today it can be a symbol of sustainable growth and good stewardship.

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EIB and Bhutan sign a Framework Agreement for capital investments

EIB and Bhutan sign a Framework Agreement for capital investments

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EIB and Bhutan sign a Framework Agreement for capital investments

Román Escolano, EIB Vice-Président and Bhutan ‘s Finance Minister, Lyonpo Namgay Dorji


Rights Free

On Thursday 4 December, the European Investment Bank (EIB), the European Union’s long-term financing institution and Kingdom of Bhutan signed a Framework Agreement under which the Bank can start financing capital investments in the country.

The agreement was signed by the EIB Vice-President with special responsibility for the Bank’s activities in Asia, Román Escolano and his Excellency Lyonpo Namgay Dorji, Finance Minister of the Royal Government of Bhutan in Thimphu, capital of Bhutan.

The EIB is the long-term lending institution of the European Union and its shareholders are the EU Member States. Its remit is to make long-term finance available for viable projects in order to contribute towards EU policy objectives. Outside the EU, the Bank support projects that contribute to economic development in countries that have signed association or cooperation agreements with the EU or its Member States.

In Asia, the European Investment Bank has so far signed Framework Agreements with Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Maldives, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam and Yemen.

The signing of the Framework Agreement represents the first step of the EIB to support development projects in Bhutan. EIB is cooperating closely with the European Commission and the EEAS, in support of the EU’s policy objectives in the country. In pursuing sustainable investments in Bhutan, the Kingdom of Bhutan and EIB already discussed potential projects in the country, namely in the areas of energy and water infrastructure.

The EIB has been active in Asia since 1993 under mandates granted by the EU Council and the European Parliament. During this period the EU bank has signed contracts in the region for a total of EUR 5.6 billion. On 1 July 2014 the EU’s new External Lending Mandate, covering the period 2014-2020, entered into force. Part of the current mandate is dedicated to Asia, enabling the EIB to finance operations that contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation or the development of sustainable economic infrastructure. Additionally, the EIB can also draw on its own resources under the Climate Action and Environment Facility or the Strategic Projects Facility to finance relevant projects on a selective basis.

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U.S. Engagement in the Asia Pacific

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release

November 15, 2014

University of Queensland

Brisbane, Australia

1:11 P.M. AEST

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Thank you so much!  (Applause.)  Thank you!  Thank you, everybody.  Everybody, please have a seat.  Hello, Brisbane!  It’s good to be back in Australia.  I love Australia — I really do.  The only problem with Australia is every time I come here I’ve got to sit in conference rooms and talk to politicians instead of go to the beach.  (Laughter.) 

To Chancellor Story, Professor Høj, faculty and staff, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, and most of all, the students of the University of Queensland — it is great to be here at UQ.  I know that we are joined by students from universities across this city, and some high school students, as well.  And so I want to thank all of the young people especially for welcoming me here today.   

On my last visit to this magnificent country three years ago, I had the privilege to meet some of the First Australians; we’re joined by some today.  So I want to begin by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of this land and by paying my respects to your elders, past and present.

This university is recognized as one of the world’s great institutions of science and teaching.  Your research led to the vaccine that protects women and girls around the world from cervical cancer.  Your innovations have transformed how we treat disease and how we unlock new discoveries.  Your studies have warned the world about the urgent threat of climate change.  In fact, last year I even tweeted one of your studies to my 31 million followers on Twitter.  (Laughter.)  Just bragging a little bit.  (Applause.)  I don’t think that’s quite as much as Lady Gaga, but it’s pretty good.  (Laughter.)  That’s still not bad.

I thank Prime Minister Abbott and the people of Brisbane and Queensland for hosting us at the G-20 Summit.  This city, this part of Australia, is just stunning — “beautiful one day, and then perfect the next.”  (Laughter.)  That’s what I understand.  (Applause.)  We travel a lot around the world.  My staff was very excited for “Bris Vegas.”  (Laughter.)  When I arrived they advised I needed some XXXX.  (Laughter.)  You have some?  (Laughter.) 

Part of the reason I have fond memories of Australia is I spent some time here as a boy when I was traveling between Hawaii and Indonesia, where I lived for several years.  And when I returned three years ago as President, I had the same feelings that I remembered as a child — the warmth of the people of Australia, the sense of humor.  I learned to speak a little “strine.”  (Laughter.)  I’m tempted to “give it a burl.”  That’s about as far as I can go actually.       

But I do want to take this opportunity to express once again the gratitude of the American people for the extraordinary alliance with Australia.  I tell my friends and family and people that I meet that there is an incredible commonality between Australia and the United States.  And whether that’s because so many of us traveled here as immigrants — some voluntary and some not; whether it’s because of wide open spaces and the sense of a frontier culture — there’s a bond between our two countries. 

And Australia really is everything that you would want in a friend and in an ally.  We’re cut from the same cloth — immigrants from an old world who built a new nation.  We’re inspired by the same ideals of equality and opportunity — the belief everybody deserves a fair go, a fair shot.  And we share that same spirit — that confidence and optimism — that the future is ours to make; that we don’t have to carry with us all the baggage from the past, that we can leave this world a better, safer, more just place for future generations.  And that’s what brings me here today — the future that we can build together, here in the Asia Pacific region.

Now, this week, I’ve traveled more than 15,000 miles — from America to China to Burma to Australia.  I have no idea what time it is right now.  (Laughter.)  I’m completely upside down.  But despite that distance, we know that our world is getting smaller.  One of Australia’s great writers spoke of this — a son of Brisbane and a graduate of this university, David Malouf.  And he said, “In that shrinking of distance that is characteristic of our contemporary world, even the Pacific, largest of oceans, has become a lake.”  Even the Pacific has become a lake.

And you see it here on this campus, where you welcome students from all across Asia and around the world, including a number of Americans.  You go on exchanges, and we’re proud to welcome so many of you to the United States.  You walk the streets of this city and you hear Chinese, Vietnamese, Bahasa Indonesia, Korean, Hindi.  And in many neighborhoods more than half the people you meet were born somewhere else.  This is a global city in a globalized world. 

And I often tell young people in America that, even with today’s challenges, this is the best time in history to be alive.  Never in the history of humanity have people lived longer, are they more likely to be healthy, more likely to be enjoying basic security.  The world is actually much less violent today.  You wouldn’t know it from watching television that it once was.

And that’s true here in the Asia Pacific as well.  Countries once ravaged by war, like South Korea and Japan, are among the world’s most advanced economies.  From the Philippines to Indonesia, dictatorships have given way to genuine democracies.  In China and across the region, hundreds of millions of people have been lifted from poverty in the span of one generation, joining a global middle class.  Empowered by technology, you — the young people in particular of this region — are connecting and collaborating across borders and cultures like never before as you seek to build a new future.

So the opportunities today are limitless.  And I don’t watch a lot of Australian television, so — as you might imagine, because I’m really far away.  (Laughter.)  So I don’t know whether some of the same tendencies that we see in the United States — a focus on conflict and disasters and problem — dominate what’s fed to us visually every single day.  But when you look at the facts, opportunities are limitless for this generation.  You’re living in an extraordinary time. 

But what is also true, is that alongside this dynamism, there are genuine dangers that can undermine progress.  And we can’t look at those problems through rose-tinted glasses.  North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs — that’s a problem.  Disputes over territory, remote islands and rocky shoals that threaten to spiral into confrontation. 

The failure to uphold universal human rights, denying justice to citizens and denying countries their full potential.  Economic inequality and extreme poverty that are a recipe for instability.  And energy demands in growing cities that also hasten trends towards a changing climate.  Indeed, the same technologies that empower citizens like you also give oppressive regimes new tools to stifle dissent.

So the question that we face is, which of these futures will define the Asia Pacific in the century to come?  Do we move towards further integration, more justice, more peace?  Or do we move towards disorder and conflict?  Those are our choices — conflict or cooperation?  Oppression or liberty?

Here in Australia three years ago, in your parliament, I made it clear where the United States stands.  We believe that nations and peoples have the right to live in security and peace; that an effective security order for Asia must be based — not on spheres of influence, or coercion, or intimidation where big nations bully the small — but on alliances of mutual security, international law and international norms that are upheld, and the peaceful resolution of disputes.

We believe in open markets and trade that is fair and free — a level playing field where economies play by the same rules; where the purpose of trade is not simply to extract resources from the ground, but to build true partnerships that raise capacity and living standards in poor countries; where small business owners and entrepreneurs and innovators have the freedom to dream and create and flourish; and how well a country does is based on how well they empower their individual citizens.

And we believe in democracy — that the only real source of legitimacy is the consent of the people; that every individual is born equal with fundamental rights, inalienable rights, and that it is the responsibility of governments to uphold these rights.  This is what we stand for.  That is our vision — the future America is working toward in the Asia Pacific, with allies and friends.

Now as a Pacific power, the United States has invested our blood and treasure to advance this vision.  We don’t just talk about it; we invest in this vision.  Generations of Americans have served and died in the Asia Pacific so that the people of the region might live free.  So no one should ever question our resolve or our commitment to our allies. 

When I assumed office, leaders and people across the region were expressing their desire for greater American engagement.  And so as President, I decided that — given the importance of this region to American security, to American prosperity — the United States would rebalance our foreign policy and play a larger and lasting role in this region.  That’s exactly what we’ve done.  

Today, our alliances, including with Australia, are stronger than they have ever been.  American exports to this region have reached record levels.  We’ve deepened our cooperation with emerging powers and regional organizations, especially in Southeast Asia.  We expanded our partnerships with citizens as they’ve worked to bolster their democracies.  And we’ve shown that — whether it’s a tsunami or an earthquake or a typhoon — when our friends are in need, America shows up.  We’re there to help.  In good times and bad, you can count on the United States of America.

Now, there have been times when people have been skeptical of this rebalancing.  They’re wondering whether America has the staying power to sustain it.  And it’s true that in recent years pressing events around the world demand our attention.  As the world’s only superpower, the United States has unique responsibilities that we gladly embrace.  We’re leading the international community in the fight to destroy the terrorist group ISIL.  We’re leading in dealing with Ebola in West Africa and in opposing Russia’s aggression against Ukraine — which is a threat to the world, as we saw in the appalling shoot-down of MH17, a tragedy that took so many innocent lives, among them your fellow citizens.  As your ally and friend, America shares the grief of these Australian families, and we share the determination of your nation for justice and accountability.  So, yes, we have a range of responsibilities.  That’s the deal.  It’s a burden we gladly shoulder.

But even in each of these international efforts, some of our strongest partners are our allies and friends in this region, including Australia.  So meeting these other challenges in the world is not a distraction from our engagement in this region, it reinforces our engagement in this region.  Our rebalance is not only about the United States doing more in Asia, it’s also about the Asia Pacific region doing more with us around the world.

So I’m here today to say that American leadership in the Asia Pacific will always be a fundamental focus of my foreign policy.  It won’t always make the headlines.  It won’t always be measured in the number of trips I make — although I do keep coming back.  (Laughter.) But day in, and day out, steadily, deliberately, we will continue to deepen our engagement using every element of American power — diplomacy, military, economic, development, the power of our values and our ideals.  And so in the time I have left, I want to describe, specifically, what America intends to do in the coming years.

First, the United States will continue strengthening our alliances.  With Japan, we’ll finalize new defense guidelines and keep realigning our forces for the future.  With the Republic of Korea, we’ll deepen our collaboration, including on missile defense, to deter and defend against North Korean threats.  With the Philippines, we’ll train and exercise more to prepare for challenges from counterterrorism and piracy to humanitarian crises and disaster relief.  And here in Australia, more U.S. Marines will rotate through to promote regional stability, alongside your “diggers.”

Although I will say when I went out to Darwin to inaugurate the new rotation of our U.S. Marines there, that the mayor, I think it was, took out crocodile insurance, which disturbed me.  (Laughter.)  I mean I was flattered that he took out insurance on my behalf.  (Laughter.)  But I did ask my ambassador what this was all about.  (Laughter.)  And he described to me how crocodiles kill more people than sharks, and there are just a lot of things in Australia that can kill you.  (Laughter.)  But that’s an aside.  (Laughter.)

We have an ironclad commitment to the sovereignty, independence, and security of every ally.  And we’ll expand cooperation between allies, because we believe we’re stronger when we stand together.

The United States will continue to modernize our defense posture across the region.  We’ll deploy more of our most advanced military capabilities to keep the peace and deter aggression.  Our presence will be more distributed, including in Southeast Asia with partners like Singapore.  And we’ll increase military training and education, including working with the military partners we have in this region around the respect for human rights by military and police.  And by the end of this decade, a majority of our Navy and Air Force fleets will be based out of the Pacific, because the United States is, and will always be, a Pacific power.

And keep in mind we do this without any territorial claims.  We do this based on our belief that a region that is peaceful and prosperous is good for us and is good for the world.

The United States will continue broadening our cooperation with emerging powers and emerging economies.  We intend to help Vietnam pursue economic reforms and new maritime capabilities.  We will continue to move ahead with our comprehensive partnership with Indonesia, which is a strong example of diversity and pluralism.  We’ll continue to expand ties with Malaysia, a growing center of entrepreneurship and innovation.  And we support a greater role in the Asia Pacific for India, which is the world’s largest democracy.

The United States will continue expanding our engagement with regional institutions, because together we can meet shared challenges — from preventing the horror of human trafficking to countering violent extremism, to stemming the flow of foreign terrorist fighters.  Together, we can improve maritime security, upholding freedom of navigation and encouraging territorial disputes are resolved peacefully.  We’ll work with partners to develop the East Asia Summit into the region’s leading forum for addressing political and security challenges.  And we’ll support ASEAN’s effort to reach a code of conduct with China that reinforces international law in the South China Sea.

And speaking of China, the United States will continue to pursue a constructive relationship with China.  By virtue of its size and its remarkable growth, China will inevitably play a critical role in the future of this region.  And the question is, what kind of role will it play?  I just came from Beijing, and I said there, the United States welcomes the continuing rise of a China that is peaceful and prosperous and stable and that plays a responsible role in world affairs.  It is a remarkable achievement that millions of people have been lifted out of poverty in China because of the extraordinary growth rates that they’ve experienced.  That is a good thing.  We should want and welcome that kind of development. 

And if, in fact, China is playing the role of a responsible actor that is peaceful and prosperous and stable, that is good for this region, it’s good for the world, it’s good for the United States.  So we’ll pursue cooperation with China where our interests overlap or align.  And there are significant areas of overlap:  More trade and investment; more communications between our militaries to prevent misunderstandings or possible conflict; more travel and exchanges between our people; and more cooperation on global challenges, from Ebola to climate change. 

But in this engagement we are also encouraging China to adhere to the same rules as other nations — whether in trade or on the seas.  And in this engagement we will continue to be frank about where there are differences, because America will continue to stand up for our interests and principles, including our unwavering support for the fundamental human rights of all people. 

We do not benefit from a relationship with China or any other country in which we put our values and our ideals aside.  And for the young people, practicality is a good thing.  There are times where compromise is necessary.  That’s part of wisdom.  But it’s also important to hang on to what you believe — to know what you believe and then be willing to stand up for it.  And what’s true for individuals is also true for countries.

The United States will continue to promote economic growth that is sustainable and shared.  So we’re going to work with APEC to tear down barriers to trade and investment and combat the corruption that steals from so many citizens.  We’ll keep opposing special preferences for state-owned companies.  We’ll oppose cyber-theft of trade secrets.  We’ll work with partners to invest in the region’s infrastructure in a way that’s open and transparent.  We’ll support reforms that help economies transition to models that boost domestic demand and invest in people and their education and their skills.

We’ll keep leading the effort to realize the Trans-Pacific Partnership to lower barriers, open markets, export goods, and create good jobs for our people.  But with the 12 countries of the TPP making up nearly 40 percent of the global economy, this is also about something bigger.  It is our chance to put in place new, high standards for trade in the 21st century that uphold our values.  So, for example, we are pushing new standards in this trade agreement, requiring countries that participate to protect their workers better and to protect the environment better, and protect intellectual property that unleashes innovation, and baseline standards to ensure transparency and rule of law. 

It’s about a future where instead of being dependent on a single market, countries integrate their economies so they’re innovating and growing together.  That’s what TPP does.  That’s why it would be a historic achievement.  That’s why I believe so strongly that we need to get it done — not just for our countries, but for the world.

But that’s also why it’s hard — because we’re asking all these countries at various stages of development to up their game.  And it requires big transitions for a lot of these countries, including for the United States.  And TPP is just one part of our overall focus on growing the global economy.  That’s what the G-20 meetings are all about. 

Over the last few years, the United States has put more people back to work than all other advanced economies combined.  But America can’t be expected to just carry the world economy on our back.  So here in Brisbane, the G-20 has a responsibility to act — to boost demand, and invest more in infrastructure, and create good jobs for the people of all our nations.

As we develop, as we focus on our econ, we cannot forget the need to lead on the global fight against climate change.  Now, I know that’s — (applause) — I know there’s been a healthy debate in this country about it.  (Laughter.)  Here in the Asia Pacific, nobody has more at stake when it comes to thinking about and then acting on climate change.

Here, a climate that increases in temperature will mean more extreme and frequent storms, more flooding, rising seas that submerge Pacific islands.  Here in Australia, it means longer droughts, more wildfires.  The incredible natural glory of the Great Barrier Reef is threated.  Worldwide, this past summer was the hottest on record.  No nation is immune, and every nation has a responsibility to do its part.

And you’ll recall at the beginning I said the United States and Australia has a lot in common.  Well, one of the things we have in common is we produce a lot of carbon.  Part of it’s this legacy of wide-open spaces and the frontier mentality, and this incredible abundance of resources.  And so, historically, we have not been the most energy-efficient of nations, which means we’ve got to step up. 

In the United States, our carbon pollution is near its lowest levels in almost two decades — and I’m very proud of that.  Under my Climate Action Plan, we intend to do more.  In Beijing, I announced our ambitious new goal — reducing our net greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by the year 2025, which will double the pace at which we’re reducing carbon pollution in the United States.  Now, in a historic step, China made its own commitment, for the first time, agreeing to slow, peak and then reverse the course of China’s carbon emissions.  And the reason that’s so important is because if China, as it develops, adapts the same per capita carbon emissions as advanced economies like the United States or Australia, this planet doesn’t stand a chance, because they’ve got a lot more people.

So them setting up a target sends a powerful message to the world that all countries — whether you are a developed country, a developing country, or somewhere in between — you’ve got to be able to overcome old divides, look squarely at the science, and reach a strong global climate agreement next year.  And if China and the United States can agree on this, then the world can agree on this.  We can get this done.  And it is necessary for us to get it done.  (Applause.)  Because I have not had to go to the Great Barrier Reef — (laughter) — and I want to come back, and I want my daughters to be able to come back, and I want them to be able to bring their daughters or sons to visit.  (Applause.)  And I want that there 50 years from now.

Now, today, I’m announcing that the United States will take another important step.  We are going to contribute $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund so we can help developing nations deal with climate change.  (Applause.)  So along with the other nations that have pledged support, this gives us the opportunity to help vulnerable communities with an early-warning system, with stronger defenses against storm surges, climate-resilient infrastructure.  It allows us to help farmers plant more durable crops.  And it allows us to help developing countries break out of this false choice between development and pollution; let them leap-frog some of the dirty industries that powered our development; go straight to a clean-energy economy that allows them to grow, create jobs, and at the same time reduce their carbon pollution.

So we’ve very proud of the work that we have already done.  We are mindful of the great work that still has to be done on this issue.  But let me say, particularly again to the young people here:  Combating climate change cannot be the work of governments alone.  Citizens, especially the next generation, you have to keep raising your voices, because you deserve to live your lives in a world that is cleaner and that is healthier and that is sustainable.  But that is not going to happen unless you are heard. 

It is in the nature of things, it is in the nature of the world that those of us who start getting gray hair are a little set in our ways, that interests are entrenched — not because people are bad people, it’s just that’s how we’ve been doing things.  And we make investments, and companies start depending on certain energy sources, and change is uncomfortable and difficult.  And that’s why it’s so important for the next generation to be able to step and say, no, it doesn’t have to be this way.  You have the power to imagine a new future in a way that some of the older folks don’t always have.   

And the same is true when it comes to issues of democracy and human rights.  There are times where when we speak out on these issues we are told that democracy is just a Western value.  I fundamentally disagree with that.  (Applause.)  Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, they have built thriving democracies.  Filipinos showed us the strength of People Power.  Indonesians just voted in a historic election.  I just came from Burma; this is a place that for 40 years was under the grip of a military junta, one of the most closed and oppressive nations on Earth.  And there, I was inspired by citizens and civil society and parliamentarians who are now working to sustain a transition to a democratic future.  I had a town hall meeting with young people like you, in which they were asking, what does it mean to create rule of law?  And how should we deal with ethnic diversity in our city?  You could feel the excitement.  What does a free press look like, and how does it operate?  And how do we make sure that journalism is responsible?  Incredible ferment and debate that’s taking place. 

Those young people, they want the same things that you do.  The notion that somehow they’re less interested in opportunity or less interested in avoiding arbitrary arrest, or less interested in being censored is fundamentally untrue.  Today, people in Hong Kong are speaking out for their universal rights. 

And so here in Asia and around the world, America supports free and fair elections, because citizens must be free to choose their own leaders — as in Thailand where we are urging a quick return to inclusive, civilian rule.  We support freedom of assembly, and freedom of speech, and freedom of the press, a free and open Internet, strong civil societies, because the voices of the people must be heard and leaders must be held accountable — even though it’s uncomfortable sometimes.  I promise you, if you lead a country, there are times where you are aggravated with people voicing opinions that seem to think you’re doing something wrong.  You prefer everybody just praise you.  I understand.  (Laughter.)  But that’s not how societies move forward.

We support strong institutions and independent judiciaries and open government, because the rule of force must give way to the rule of law.

And in that same fashion, the United States will continue to stand up for the inherent dignity of every human being.  Now, dignity begins with the most basic of needs — a life free of hunger and disease and want.  So, yes, we’ll speak out on behalf of human rights, but we are also going to invest in the agriculture that allows farmers to feed their families and boost their incomes.  We’ll invest in the development that promotes growth and helps end the injustice of extreme poverty in places like the Lower Mekong Delta.  We intend to partner with all the countries in the region to create stronger public health systems and new treatments that save lives and realize our goals of being the first AIDS-free generation.

And what we’ve learned from the Ebola outbreak is that in this globalized world, where the Pacific is like a lake, if countries are so poor that they can’t afford basic public health infrastructure, that threatens our health.  We cannot built a moat around our countries, and we shouldn’t try.  What we should be doing is making sure everybody has some basic public health systems that allow for early warning when outbreaks of infectious disease may occur.  That’s not just out of charity.  It is in our self-interest. 

And again, I want to speak to young people about this.  When we talk about these issues of development, when we invest in the wellbeing of people on the other side of the globe, when we stand up for freedom, including occasionally having to engage in military actions, we don’t do that just because we are charitable.  We do that because we recognize that we are linked, and that if somebody, some child is stricken with a curable disease on the other side of the world, at same point that could have an impact on our child.

We’ll advance human dignity by standing up for the rights of minorities, because no one’s equality should ever be denied.  We will stand up for freedom of religion — the right of every person to practice their faith as they choose — because we are all children of God, and we are all fallible.  And the notion that we, as a majority, or the state should tell somebody else what to believe with respect to their faith, is against our basic values. 

We will stand up for our gay and lesbian fellow citizens, because they need to be treated equally under the law.  (Applause.)  We will stand up for the rights and futures of our wives and daughters and partners, because I believe that the best measure of whether a nation is going to be successful is whether they are tapping the talents of their women and treating them as full participants in politics and society and the econ.  (Applause.)

And we’re going to continue to invest in the future of this region, and that means you, this region’s youth — all of you — your optimism, your idealism, your hopes.  I see it everywhere I go.  I spend a lot of time with young people.  I spend a lot of time with old people, too.  But I prefer spending time with young people.  (Laughter.)  I meet them in Tokyo and Seoul, and Manila and Jakarta.  It’s the spirit of young men and women in Kuala Lumpur and Rangoon, who are participating in our Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative.  And like you, they’re ready to lead. 

To the young woman with an idea who dreams of starting her own business — if she just had the network, if she just had the capital, America wants to be her partner, because we believe in the entrepreneur that you can be, the innovations you can spark and the jobs you can create.  And when you succeed, we’ll all be more prosperous. 

To the young man who’s working late in a clinic, tending to a patient, who dreams not just of treating diseases, but preventing them — if I just had the resources, if I just had the support — we want to be your partner, because we believe in the advocate that you can be, and in the families you can reach and the lives you can save.  And when you succeed, our world will be better.

To the young woman tired of the tensions in her community, who dreams of helping her neighbors see beyond differences — if she could just start a dialogue, if she knew how others had walked the same path — well, America wants to be your partner, because we believe in the activist that you can be, and the empathy that you can build, and the understanding you can foster between people.  And when you succeed, our world will be a little more peaceful. 

And to the young man who believes his voice isn’t being heard, who dreams of bringing people like him together across his country — if he just knew how to organize and mobilize them — we want to be your partner, because we believe in the leaders that you can be, in the difference you can make to ignite positive change.  And when you succeed, the world will be a little more free. 

So that’s the future we can build together.  That’s the commitment America is making in the Asia Pacific.  It’s a partnership not just with nations, but with people, with you, for decades to come.  Bound by the values we share, guided by the vision we seek, I am absolutely confident we can advance the security and the prosperity and the dignity of people across this region.  And in pursuit of that future, you will have no greater friend than the United States of America. 

So thank you very much.  God bless Australia.  (Applause.)  God bless America.  God bless our great alliance.  Thank you.

                        END                1:51 P.M. AEST

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“Regional integration and global developments – a view from the European Union”

European Commission

[Check Against Delivery]

José Manuel Durão Barroso

President of the European Commission

“Regional integration and global developments – a view from the European Union”

World Economic Forum

Istanbul, 29 September 2014

Dear Prime Minister, Mr Ahmet Davutoğlu,

Dear President,

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is my pleasure to get this opportunity to address you all and to give you a view from the European Union on the issue of regional development and global developments, after the meeting of minds you’ve had over the last two days. Indeed I believe that regional development can also come from further developing such bonds between regional leaders and stakeholders.

When we discuss the challenges facing the European Union and the wider region today, it is important to bear in mind the starting point: that the European Union as such is precisely a project meant to overcome the divisions of the past and deal with those challenges. That European integration was always meant to be, and will always need to be, a tool to help its member countries face the issues they cannot successfully face alone. That bringing Europe as a region together is the only way to protect our interests and defend our values in a rapidly evolving world. And that the same logic of regional integration and increasing cooperation is at the heart of what the European Union does both internally and internationally, especially with its immediate neighbours.

That is as true today as it was when European integration took off after the Second World War.

That is where our lasting commitment to regional integration comes from.

Because then, and now, when times change, institutions need to change as well. So let me briefly recall what the current pace of change we are facing means for our governance at global and regional level. I will then try and highlight how I see the need for the world order to adapt itself to these new challenges. To conclude, I will say a few words on EU-Turkey relations.

Ladies and gentlemen,

As we speak, times are changing drastically, in some cases even dramatically. The rate of technological progress is unprecedented, global economic integration is rapidly expanding, issues like climate change and international migration are affecting all of us.

Trade flows and supply chains cross borders with increasing ease, information travels globally and decision-making centres are spread across the globe as well. So political decision-making and cooperation must rise above national borders too. The political mind-set needs to evolve as well.

One of the main questions of our times is whether or not we succeed in adapting our governance institutions to such a changing, complex and challenging global environment, and how. Governing structures need to evolve to support more dynamic societies, empower them get the most out of the opportunities that globalisation offers in terms of jobs, travel, knowledge and innovation, education and exposure to new ideas. They also need to shield them from some of the harmful effects of globalization like the growing threat of increasing international terrorist networks. Institutions are there to support us, and they need a certain flexibility to be able to do so.

This is particularly true in times of change and crisis, when hard questions are asked of governments everywhere. Around the world, we now see a triple gap of confidence widening: a gap between markets and states; between states amongst one another; and last but not least between governments and the governed. As a result, political institutions and economic systems across the world are under pressure.

This is, let’s be clear, not a “European” or “Western” issue.

True, in democracies such gaps show easily. But this is not – as some would have it until a few years ago – a problem aggravated by democratic openness. The legitimacy question is a fundamental one everywhere, and indeed democracies are better suited to deal with such issues than the ‘pressure cooker’ model of undemocratic or less-democratic systems. Our openness, the accountability of our political structures and the diversity inherent in our model of society, is what allows us to be more flexible and to adapt better to changing environments.

But for that to happen, we need leadership and we need cooperation.

That is why events such as this one organised by the World Economic Forum can really make a difference.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let’s be honest: today, our governance systems are in many cases sub-optimal.

Few would deny that we struggled to deal with the global financial crisis. In many ways we had to improvise and the creation of the G20 – I will come back to it in a moment – was a clear illustration that our governance models needed to adapt to a totally new situation. Indeed, a lot of what we have done since the financial crisis, most obviously in the European Union but beyond as well, was trying to remedy the defects of our financial and economic governance systems.

Even fewer would deny that the ongoing war in Syria or the emergence of a totally new form of terrorism in the region, to take only these examples in the current international turmoil in the Middle East, are showing the inadequacy of some governance systems. And the actions taken by the United Nations, as well as the support given by countries around the world including in Europe, are a necessary effort to deal with the situation collectively.

As a result of systemic defects or delay, we must also admit that there is some popular scepticism about both regional and global governance systems. This could, in the longer term, undermine them. Sometimes, they are seen as over-powering and interfering – as you can note from emotional protests against the World Trade Organisation, for instance. At other times, they are damned as ineffective – as if often claimed of the United Nations. And indeed, they may even be criticised for being both – which is sometimes the case of criticism of the European Union, that some criticise because it is too intrusive in Member States’ competences; others because it does not rely on sufficient coherence of Member States’ action. Such criticism may or may not be true, but it undoubtedly underlines an increasing need for greater legitimacy in our institutions, as well as enhanced effectiveness.

The regional dimension is part of that effort.

There is frequently a gap also between regional and global decision-making. Global bodies such as the UN and the WTO explicitly recognise the desirability of regional input and support – but the truth is that we have no established model or mechanism for how this should take place. In some cases the gap between global and regional decision-making is widening. A clear example is the relative stasis of the WTO agenda compared to the proliferation of regional or bilateral trade deals.

Besides, interdependence and interconnectedness are evolving fast, but the dynamic propelling us towards a “global village” and shared decision-making is confronted by that of a world which seems to be drifting apart. The renewed claim for identity at subnational or local level can sometimes be seen as a threat to the Nation State model, potentially leading to greater fragmentation. Globalisation has shortened the distances but has not erased differences in political and social models and has sometimes even exacerbated them. Today, we live not just in economic, scientific and technological competition with each other, but also in a broader geo-political competition of models of governance. Differences seem harder to bridge – at a time when the need to bridge them is much greater.

On top of that, the dynamic of divergence between East and West, North and South, seems set to continue. It is no exaggeration to say that power and influence are shifting, but I do not necessarily consider this as a “loss of power” of the West – I see it as part and parcel of truly global integration, which, if implemented according to some values and principles, can be a true win-win situation for the different players in our world.

In concrete terms we have seen challenges to the post-war bodies, on which global governance was based, such as the UN, the IMF and World Bank. A certain amount of complexity may be part of the new reality, but new competing institutions could further complicate regional and global governance. So the real question in my view is: do we want to focus on cooperation and collaboration or on competition?

Ladies and gentlemen,

Against this backdrop, how do we see the world order shifting and adapting itself?

A first, major development which I already mentioned is the emergence of the G20 in response to problems of global economic governance.

The economic liberalisation, and therefore also: the economic interdependence that has been so spectacular and successful over the last two decades came under threat as soon as the financial crisis erupted. The need for openness and for a global response was more obvious than ever before, namely by collectively resisting pressures of naked and ugly protectionism. But that in itself was not enough to bring it about, because the temptation to go it alone and try to survive the crisis by ‘beggar-thy-neighbour’ policies was very strong. We simply had to step up our common engagement.

I vividly remember when French President Sarkozy, then holding the rotating Presidency of the European Council, and myself went to Camp David in October 2008 in order to try to convince President George W. Bush to join our call to act against the crisis in a concerted and convincing way. This led to the G20 in its current format, at Heads of State or government level, and the hugely important effort to globalise the response to the crisis at that stage. Since then, the G20 has become the only truly global forum for coordination of economic policies between its members, giving concrete shape and form to a lot of the concepts that the European Union has brought to the table, for instance on a framework for balanced and sustainable growth, on financial regulation and supervision or on action against tax evasion and fraud.

The development of the G20, from which Turkey is a member and will hold its next presidency, is a constructive and an institutional response to the problems we face together. As such, it is one of the most significant transformations of the global system – in the short term probably the most important one – and its creation certainly helped to avoid much more negative scenarios that might well have happened without it.

A second, major test for global governance is climate change, on which we had an important UN Summit in New York last week where I had the honour to speak on behalf of the European Union.

Climate change is one of the defining challenges of our times. It ignores borders, disrupts societies, undermines development and destroys our global commons. It is by its very nature a problem we can only face together. At the same time, climate change also presents an opportunity to reinvent our economies in a cleaner, leaner, greener and more efficient way. But we, the international community, can only grasp this opportunity and defend our shared planet if we show courage, vision, determination – and unity.

The European Union has been and remains at the forefront of efforts to address climate change. In 2005, we created the world’s first and largest carbon market with the European Emissions Trading System (ETS). In 2008, we set the most ambitious targets for domestic emissions’ reductions, renewable energy and energy savings under our 2020 framework. This ambition is paying off. The European Union is on track to meet our targets.

And we try to lead by example in the future as well. The European Commission has proposed an ambitious reduction target of 40% of domestic emissions by 2030, compared to 1990 levels, plus a renewables target of at least 27% and energy savings of 30%.

So, the European Union will be ready to agree a comprehensive, global and binding climate treaty at the end of next year in the Paris Summit. And we urge those countries with the greatest responsibilities and capabilities to get ready as well. Climate change is probably the most obvious example of the need for stronger global governance.

At the same time, we must also assist the most vulnerable countries, many of which are less able to take action on climate change, but who nevertheless suffer the consequences. For that reason, over the next 7 years, the European Union aims to allocate more than €3 billion in grants to support sustainable energy in developing countries. This will leverage between €15 and €30 billion in loans and equity investment, to plug gaps in energy infrastructure and businesses, to power schools, homes and hospitals in a sustainable manner. In total, Europe will provide €14 billion of public climate finance to partners beyond its borders over the next seven years.

We need to keep up the momentum on climate action, and foster a true coalition of all stakeholders, not just governments and international organisations but business leaders, financial institutions, and civil society. This concerns us all.

A third, major evolution in global governance is the increasingly dense web of trade agreements that spans the globe – not least around the European Union’s free trade agreements.

This too is a case of rules and institutions following economic reality, while shaping it at the same time. Open trade needs to go hand in hand with a rules-based system and a level playing field for all nations, citizens and companies, otherwise its effectiveness and legitimacy will suffer gravely.

Over the last five years, Europe was able to conclude a new generation of deals with South Korea, Singapore, Colombia, Peru, Central America, and Canada; we finalised economic partnership agreements in Africa, with West Africa and the Southern African Development Community (SADC); we resumed negotiations with the Southern Cone Common Market (Mercosur); we launched important negotiations on free trade agreements (FTAs) with Japan, India, Vietnam and Thailand, and on an investment agreement with China. And we took the unprecedented step to start negotiations with the United States of America on a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). All this shows clearly: the European Union as the world’s largest trading block remains open for business. The crisis has not prompted us to pull up the drawbridges – on the contrary.

Now, we have always made it clear that this system of deeper bilateral ties, for us, is a second-best option. Indeed, we have only resumed bilateral and regional negotiations once it was regrettably but unmistakably clear that a multilateral trade deal encompassing the whole of the WTO membership was not forthcoming because some of the most important players were not ready for a global agreement. And in the EU we have made sure that our bilateral agreements, all of which go much beyond what would be possible multilaterally, are building blocks and not stumbling blocks for the multilateral trading system. It is a good example of pragmatic policies of bilateral and regional integration adding up to a race to the top, instead of a race to the bottom.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Since we are here in this historical and great city of Istanbul, let me conclude with some words about Turkey – a country that I respect and admire so much – and also about Turkey-EU relations.

EU-Turkey relations are almost as old as the EU itself! We are close partners – and it is absolutely critical that we sustain and deepen this partnership. I think both Europeans and Turks understand this shared interest very well.

The EU is Turkey’s central trade and investment partner. In 2013, 41.5% of Turkish goods exports went to the EU and 36.7% of all imports of goods came from the EU. The great majority of all foreign direct investment in Turkey comes from the EU. With the customs union, Turkey has access to the biggest internal market in the world. Also, I believe that adopting the EU acquis – as required by the agreement – encourages and facilitates investment in Turkey.

Turkey has gone through tremendous changes over the past ten years. The most spectacular change obviously concerns the economy: thanks to a series of difficult but smart reforms after the big crisis of 2001. Turkey has become a much wealthier country, with a 5% annual growth on average, entered the G-20 club and qualified as a functioning market economy, one of the economic criteria for EU accession.

Turkey has also made progress in its alignment with the EU legislation even if we consider that the picture is mixed as regards the political criteria.

Let me stress that the EU stands by Turkey’s reforms. I have to say that Turkey is the biggest recipient of pre-accession assistance from the EU – it benefited from €4.8 billion in the period 2007-2013. For the next programming period 2014-2020 Turkey will benefit from around €4.5 billion. Strategic priorities include support to political reform and democratisation, including rule of law and human rights, social development and social inclusion, development towards a resource-efficient low carbon economy, increased inter-connectivity, and progress towards alignment with the EU.

We welcome the fact that the new Government has tabled its EU Strategy, which is intended to reinvigorate Turkey’s work on its European path. We would like to see this clear European commitment on the Turkish side. On the European side, I would like very much to see new chapters open as soon as possible, in particular chapters 23 and 24.

So, Turkey is and remains a key partner for the EU. This has been repeated many times by the Council of the EU and by the Commission, and I’m sure this will again be one of the central messages of the upcoming Progress Report.

Take any major challenge we are faced with – from the economic crisis and energy security to migration policy or terrorism – Turkey appears as a strategic partner for the European Union and as part of the solution. Not to mention of course Turkey’s crucial role in its neighbourhood – which is also the EU’s neighbourhood. The way Turkey has so far offered shelter to a million of Syrian refugees and recently to Kurdish refugees is very impressive. But to be able to tackle all these challenges, Turkey strongly needs the EU, too! We are bound to succeed together. There is also a large, untapped potential for cooperation between us. This ranges from foreign policy to counter-terrorism, the economy, trade, energy, migration policy and the visa dialogue.

I know there are some, both in the EU and in Turkey, who have doubts about EU enlargement. But let me tell you I am convinced EU enlargement will continue because a bigger Europe is a stronger Europe.

In 2012, EU GDP was 23% of world GDP, amounting to €13 trillion while our share on the global population is just 7%. Accession benefited both those countries joining the EU and the established member states.

Enlargement extended the internal market, opened trade and financial flows and created new opportunities for businesses and companies to firms in the EU and in the incoming countries. Trade between old and new member states grew almost threefold in less than 10 years preceding the 2004 and 2007 enlargements and fivefold among the new members themselves. Central and Eastern Europe grew on average by 4% annually in the period 1994-2008. It is estimated that the accession process itself contributed almost half to this growth over the period 2000-2008.

The economic dynamism of these countries generated three million new jobs in just six years from 2002 to 2008. Growth in the acceding countries contributed to growth in the old member states through increased investment opportunities and demand for their products. It contributed 0.5 percentage point to cumulative growth of EU-15 in 2000-2008. German exports to the 12 countries that joined in 2004 have almost doubled since then, totalling €124.5 billion last year.

These figures speak for themselves. EU enlargement was and is a good thing for Europe.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Government structures are stubborn things.

But facts, as we know, are even more stubborn.

So we need to be ready to change the way we work when faced with new realities, in order to better serve and protect our citizens.

In a world where threats and opportunities are ever more global, I am confident we will find solutions that transcend the traditional boundaries of politics as well.

Pragmatism and conviction will overcome all pessimism. After ten years at the helm of the European Commission, I can say that this is not wishful thinking. This is simply the lesson I draw from all what was achieved to overcome the worst part of the financial and economic crisis, as well as to face new global challenges.

Thank you very much.

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IAEA and FAO Honour Achievements in Radiation-Supported Plant Breeding

Press Release 2014/22

24 September 2014 | Awards honouring teams of scientists who have helped increase food security by using radiation to breed better crop varieties were presented today by IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano.

Mutation breeding, which uses radiation to mimic natural plant mutation events, is a well-established method that enables plant breeders to work with farmers to develop variations of rice, barley, sesame and other crops that are higher-yielding and more resistant to disease.

The awards were initiated by the Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture to celebrate successes achieved so far and promote the development of further sustainable crop varieties. The Joint Division – a strategic partnership between the IAEA and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization that is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year – supports countries in their use of the method.

“Through the use of plant mutation breeding, nuclear techniques help to create new strains of plants with characteristics that allow them to resist disease and thrive under harsh conditions, such as high altitudes and saline soils,” Director General Amano said at an award ceremony at the IAEA headquarters, where he handed certificates to representatives of the countries of award recipients.

“The development of new varieties of food crops will be increasingly important in the future as the world tries to adapt to the potential impacts of climate change.”

The following scientists and teams were selected for Outstanding Achievement Awards:

  • Peru: Cereal and Native Grains Research Program (Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina)

    Mutant breeding helped Peru tackle the harsh conditions its farmers face at high altitudes. The improved mutant barley and amaranth varieties produced, thriving at altitudes of up to 5 000 metres, provide seven million farmers in the Andean region with more food and income.

  • China: Team of Radiation Mutant Breeding (Jiangsu Academy of Agricultural Sciences)

    The team has released 17 mutant varieties, including eight rice, five wheat and four barely cultivars. Three of the mutant wheat varieties have been planted on more than 30 million hectares and generated more than 30 billion Yuan RMB (about US$ 4.9 billion) of socio-economic benefit.

  • Bangladesh: Dr. Mirza Mofazzal Islam (Bangladesh Institute of Nuclear Agriculture)

    Nine mutant varieties of fibre jute, vegetable jute, mungbean and chickpea with improved yield and quality traits were released and widely accepted by farmers for cultivation. The mutant varieties have increased yield from 20 to 45 per cent compared to other existing crop varieties. The area where these mutant varieties are cultivated is increasing.

  • Indonesia: Plant Breeding Group (National Nuclear Energy Agency)

    Mutant breeding has benefited hundreds of thousands of farmers and millions of consumers in Indonesia. The Group’s research led to the release 20 mutant rice varieties, one of which has produced an estimated total income of USD 2 billion. The mutant rice varieties make up 10 per cent of the total rice varieties registered.

  • Viet Nam: Agricultural Genetics Institute (Viet Nam Academy of Agricultural Sciences)

    Rice and soybean mutant varieties have vastly improved farmers’ livelihoods: One top mutant rice variety created almost US $540 million in additional value compared to older varieties. Soybean mutant varieties increased income by a third for almost 3.5 million farmers.

The following were selected for Achievement Awards:

  • China: XYW Rice Team (Institute of Nuclear Agricultural Sciences, Zhejiang University)
  • India: Plant Mutation Breeding Team (Bhabha Atomic Research Institute)
  • China: Wheat Mutation Breeding Team (Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences)
  • Pakistan: Nuclear Institute for Agriculture and Biology (Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission)
  • China: Genetics Breeding Team of SIAE (Sichuan Institute of Atomic Energy)
  • Viet Nam: Institute of Agricultural Sciences for Southern Viet Nam (Viet Nam Academy of Agricultural Sciences) and Centre for Nuclear Techniques (Viet Nam Atomic Energy Institute)
  • Afghanistan: Mr. Sekander Hussaini (Academy of Sciences of Afghanistan)
  • Thailand: Rice Department, Bureau of Rice Research Development (Department of Agriculture)
  • Brazil: Research Group: Use of in vivo and in vitro induced mutation in plant breeding (CENA, IAC, IAPAR, EPAGRI, ESALQ, UNESP, Centro de Melhoramento Genético do Fumo)
  • Republic of Korea: Radiation Breeding Team, (Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute)
  • Egypt: Mr. Abdel Shafy Ibrahim Ragab (Nuclear Research Centre, Atomic Energy Authority)
  • Sweden: Ms. Udda Lundqvist (Nordic Genetic Resource Centre)
  • Viet Nam: Phuong Tan Tran and Cua Quang Ho (Department of Agricultural and Rural Development)
  • Cuba: Ms. Maria Caridad González Cepero (National Institute of Agricultural Science)
  • Yemen: Mr. Abdulwahid A Saif (Agricultural Research and Extension Authority)
  • Malaysia: Malaysian Nuclear Agency
  • Republic of Korea: Rice Research Division (National Institute of Crop Science, Rural Development Administration)
  • Sri Lanka: Department of Agriculture

The Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture has successfully tackled a range of agricultural problems since its establishment in 1964, including global freedom from rinderpest, the eradication of the tsetse fly on Zanzibar Island, Tanzania, and water-saving agriculture in seven African countries.

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Remarks by National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice on Southeast Asia at the Brookings Institution

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release

September 22, 2014

Good afternoon everyone.  It’s great to be back at Brookings.  This was my place for six years, and since my mother and I both worked here for so long, it really has the feel of home.  This is where I met so many gracious and insightful colleagues, whom I still turn to for guidance and support.  And of course, working here was the last time I got a full 7 hours of sleep.  So I’m especially nostalgic.  Strobe and Martin, thank you for inviting me to participate today. 

I’m honored to be here with Foreign Minister Shanmugam. President Obama and I met with Prime Minister Lee at the White House a few months ago to affirm the excellent partnership between Singapore and the United States.  And, I think it’s fitting that Brookings’ new Chair in Southeast Asian Studies is named for Singapore’s founding father, a man who has played such a key role in shaping the region’s growth, Lee Kuan Yew.

In many ways, Singapore embodies the arc of development that nations across Southeast Asia are achieving.  The people of Southeast Asia are increasingly connected—to each other and to the global economy.  Entrenched dictatorships have given way to new democracies, and throughout the region, citizens are playing a greater role in their government and civil life.  As President Obama said in Malaysia earlier this year, “perhaps no region on earth has changed so dramatically” during the past several decades. 

With this change comes growing influence and greater opportunities to engage on the world stage.  Asia’s rise in global affairs is due in no small part to Southeast Asia’s contributions.  That’s why the nations of Southeast Asia are and will remain a central focus of America’s rebalance to Asia.  We see the nations of Southeast Asia as equal partners in our mission to advance a vision that promotes growth and development, bolsters the security of nations, strengthens democratic governance, and advances human rights for all people. President Obama will continue this work when he visits the region again in November, including stops in China to participate in APEC, Burma for the East Asia Summit, and Australia for the G-20 meeting.

Southeast Asia and its markets are critical to America’s prosperity.  Together, ASEAN comprises the seventh largest economy in the world and the fourth largest trading partner for the United States.  ASEAN nations draw more U.S. investment than any single country in Asia.  And, with some of the fastest-growing economies in the world, ASEAN will only become more important to our economic future.  That’s why we’re committed to completing the Trans-Pacific Partnership.  One-third of TPP participants are from ASEAN, including members like Singapore, Vietnam, and Malaysia, for whom the high-standard agreement means making serious new commitments.  But, this agreement will deliver tremendous benefits to all our economies, and we are committed to helping our partners meet TPP’s requirements and realizing the opportunities for greater trade and investment that come with it. 

We’re working to deepen our trade and investment ties with the region.  In June, Secretary Pritzker led a delegation of American business leaders to the Philippines, Vietnam, and Burma to explore new commercial opportunities.  Ambassador Froman met with all his ASEAN counterparts in Burma last month.  Together, we’re promoting growth that is broad-based and sustainable, so that economies can compete on an equal footing and prosperity is shared among citizens at every level of society.  Equally, Southeast Asia plays a vital role in maintaining peace and stability throughout Asia.  We have long-standing alliances with Thailand and the Philippines, as well as an important security partnership with Singapore.  In April, President Obama and President Aquino announced a new Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement that will strengthen cooperation between our militaries.  We’re also enhancing our security cooperation with nations like Malaysia and Vietnam, including by improving their capacity to contribute to maritime security. 

We continue to work with nations in the region on challenges that none of us can meet alone.  This includes addressing borderless threats like climate change, responding to humanitarian crises like last year’s super typhoon, countering violent extremism, and peacefully resolving maritime disputes among neighbors.  To support cooperative solutions to these challenges, the United States has made historic investments to strengthen the region’s institutions, including ASEAN.  President Obama hosted the first U.S.-ASEAN leaders meeting in 2009, and it’s now an annual event.  The President sent our first resident ambassador to ASEAN, and the Senate just confirmed Nina Hachigian to fill the post in the coming years.  This increased engagement with ASEAN has already delivered substantial benefits, including improved coordination in responding to natural disasters, growing investment in developing the region’s infrastructure and green energy sources, and rapidly expanding cooperation on maritime safety and security.

We’re also working with governments, institutions and people to strengthen the democratic foundations of the region and fortify protections for human rights.  We’ve seen significant successes, as in Indonesia, which demonstrated the strength of its democracy through successful elections and peaceful arbitration.  President Obama is looking forward to meeting with President-elect Widodo in November.  We’ve seen hopeful steps in Burma, but significant challenges remain as we continue to work with the government and people as they pursue their democratic transition.  Unfortunately, we’ve also seen troubling setbacks, as in Thailand.  We remain committed to our alliance with the Thai people, but we want to see the country return soonest to an inclusive and democratic government. 

We’re also building partnerships directly with the people of the region.  We’re doing this through programs like the Lower Mekong Initiative, which helps strengthen communities’ ability to provide for their own healthcare, educate their children, and protect their environment.  In Cambodia, USAID is working with local authorities to improve school enrollment among young children.  In Indonesia, the Millennium Challenge Cooperation is helping villages raise incomes while reducing their dependence on fossil fuels.  And, through President Obama’s Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative, we are helping young people across the region build their skills and connect them to the resources they need to serve their communities, create new businesses, and become the next generation of leaders. 

President Obama hosted a remarkable town hall with many of these young people in April in Malaysia.  There were entrepreneurs and activists and advocates, all of them impressive and thoughtful young people, and each determined to forge a brighter future.  They wanted to know not just how they could become stronger leaders, but how to bridge gaps of culture and language and belief in order to unite a region as diverse as Southeast Asia so that it can to achieve its full potential. 

That’s a goal we share—because Southeast Asia is brimming with enormous potential.  It’s also facing serious questions about how to adapt as several major powers become more active in the region.  China’s rise, Japan’s reemergence, India’s revival, and, of course, America’s rebalance—these dynamics are real, and they converge squarely in Southeast Asia.  But, these trends ought to be an opportunity for greater cooperation, not just competition.  Southeast Asian nations should not have to choose sides among major powers, particularly when it comes to the United States and China.  Preserving the independence and sovereignty of all our partners in the region is at the heart of our policy toward Southeast Asia. 

To be sure, America’s relationship with China is important to the future of both our nations, to the region, and to the world.  I just traveled to China a couple weeks ago and met with their senior leaders.  In November, President Obama will meet again with President Xi to continue deepening our cooperation on major regional and global challenges—building a relationship that allows us to work together on shared interests, and to talk frankly about areas where we disagree, including human rights. 

At the same time, we continue to build stronger bilateral relationships with the nations of Southeast Asia and to work together as equals in multilateral fora so that individual nations can preserve their independence while fostering a group dynamic that reinforces collective norms and prevents large states from pressuring smaller ones.  That’s another reason we’ve focused on strengthening Asia’s regional institutions, like the East Asia Summit.  We want to build and reinforce habits that encourage collaboration—to establish a common set of rights as well as responsibilities that ultimately ensures a level playing field for all. 

All of the challenges I’ve discussed today require sustained attention, and even in the press of world events—ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, heightened tensions with Russia over Ukraine, an Ebola epidemic ravaging West Africa—the U.S. commitment to Asia, and to Southeast Asia in particular, remains a priority.   

The United States is a Pacific nation.  Our shared future is as certain as our shared past.  And, the people of the United States and the people of Southeast Asia share a common vision for that future—a future where daughters and sons can go to school and reach confidently for their dreams; where anyone can start a business and have a fair shot to succeed; where fundamental rights can never be restricted or denied.  That’s what we’ve been building toward for the past five years.  That’s why we’ve worked so closely together in pursuit of shared goals—whether we’re securing the sea lanes of the Pacific or delivering relief in the wake of natural disasters. 

With each year, the ties between our peoples grow stronger.  And, as we continue working together toward our shared future, the United States will remain a reliable partner and a true friend to all the people of the region.  Thank you. 

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