Ambassador Hachigian Remarks at the Closing Dinner of YSEALI Summit

Ambassador Nina Hachigian at YSEALI Summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Ambassador Nina Hachigian at YSEALI Summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.


I am thrilled to be here on the last night of the largest YSEALI event ever in the history of YSEALI or of the universe, actually.  I was here earlier, though, sitting in the back at the Town Hall with President Obama.  Did you like that?  Isn’t he amazing?  I am very lucky to work for him.  Just like for him, YSEALI events are absolutely one of my favorite parts of my job.

Knowing you makes me confident that the future of ASEAN is in good hands.

Now when I was your age, and people said things like that in speeches, I would think to myself:  How do they know?  They don’t know me.  I am not a leader!  I have no idea who I am going to be and what I am going to do.

What I know now is that us older people like President Obama and me…. we can tell.  And I can tell that YSEALI members are going to make a difference during your time on this shared Earth of ours.

Now, I have to confess to you that I am a bit tired.  My wonderful Mission staff and I have been working very hard the last few weeks to lay the ground work for these important gatherings of you but also of all our leaders including President Obama.  So it’s a very good thing that being around you is so energizing.

Yesterday, I had the honor of sitting right behind President Obama in the U.S.-ASEAN Summit with the heads of State from your ten countries. Again this morning, I had that seat of honor at the East Asia Summit with the 10 ASEAN leaders plus leaders of eight other outside countries like the U.S.

At the U.S.-ASEAN Summit, our 11 leaders had very good discussions about Climate change, violent extremism, economic growth, human trafficking as well as the importance of international law and the South China Sea.

Let me tell you some exciting news from our US-ASEAN Summit.  President Obama invited the 10 ASEAN leaders to come to the US for a special summit next year.  Our leaders agreed that ASEAN and the United States will now have a “strategic” partnership.  That new name is recognition of the fact that we mean a lot to each other and that we cooperate across ASEAN’s three Communities that were launched this morning: Political-Security, Economic and Socio-Cultural.

To commemorate this new phase in our relationship, we issued a joint statement.  I worked on it, for a long time, along with many other American and ASEAN officials.  I am proud of the result because despite the fact that it was written by 11 countries, I think it might be a document that someone outside the government could read and understand.

But I’d like you to read it and let me know what YOU think. It’s only 2 ½ pages long.  And I want you to be honest with me.  I’m a big girl and I can take criticism.  It will help me do better next time. You can find the statement on the   U.S. Mission to ASEAN Web site by tomorrow.  Email the Mission or tweet with your comments @usmission2asean or @ninahachigian or leave a Facebook comment.  Importantly, in this document, it lists five priority areas of cooperation between the U.S. and ASEAN.  They are: economic integration, women’s opportunity, transnational challenges including climate change, maritime cooperation and ….are you listening …. fostering emerging leaders.

That’s YOU.  That is right. YOU are officially one of our very top priorities of cooperation between US and ASEAN.

So that was the US-ASEAN Summit.  The East Asia Summit, with the eight additional countries, shows how important ASEAN is.  There are a lot of big powers involved in Southeast Asia, as you may have noticed.  And there are sometimes tensions among them on various issues.  But when ASEAN invites them to a meeting, we all turn up!  So the leaders of the U.S., China, Japan, India, Korea, Australia, Russia and New Zealand were meeting this morning and sharing views on some of the most critical issues we face.

Now sometimes the statements the EAS issues can sound pretty formal and lofty.  But these are not abstract issues.  All of them have a personal connection to you and to me.  Our leaders discussed climate change, whose effects we can see every day in this region.  They discussed maritime issues including marine conservation and illegal fishing.  The meetings addressed countering violent extremism, cyber security as well as preventing human and wildlife trafficking, and the importance of education and disaster response.

I know that you discussed some of these same issues here in your YSEALI Summit. And I know something else.  I know that the combination of enlightened leaders, motivated youth and dedicated individuals addressing these challenges can and will make a difference.

So let’s talk about how everyone in this room can also take personal steps, in their own lives, to make, collectively, a big difference, even if you don’t work in these areas.


The oceans connect us all and a healthy ocean is essential to life on Earth.  Did you know–because I didn’t–that phytoplankton in the ocean produces more than half of the oxygen we breathe?

The ocean regulates our weather and provides hundreds of thousands of jobs in Southeast Asia through fishing, tourism, and more.  More than three billion people around the world depend on seafood as a significant source of protein and in Southeast Asia, many people rely on seafood alone for protein.

Southeast Asia is also home to a greater concentration of marine biodiversity and beautiful marine places than anywhere else in the world.

As we know, our oceans face serious challenges.

  • Almost 30 percent of the world’s fish stocks are overfished.
  • Losses from illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing are in the billions every year.
  • There is so much waste in the ocean that experts predict by 2025 there could be a ton of plastic in the ocean for every three tons of fish.

So what I am doing in response is talking to leaders in the region about all these issues and seeing what kind of steps we can take together.  What can you do?  Well, you could talk to your leaders too.  You could make your peers aware of these issues or join up with non-government groups who care about them.

But there are other small ways we can all help that collectively can make a big difference.  I try to always use reusable water bottles and cloth shopping bags because many plastic bags and bottles end up in the ocean.  There they poison sea creatures and we humans eat the sea creatures who have eaten the plastic and we are poisoned too.

I also personally try to eat small fish, not tuna, shark, swordfish or marlin which are critical to ocean ecosystems and whose populations are deeply threatened.

And because climate change is badly affecting the ocean, also make sure that you let your leaders know that the world needs to reach a fair and smart agreement at the climate change conference in Paris next month.

Countering violent extremism

Another topic leaders discussed during the Summits was Countering Violent Extremism and foreign terrorist fighters.  These were already on the agenda, but the recent attacks in Mali, Paris, Ankara and Beirut brought new urgency.  The spread of violent extremism undermines local communities and threatens peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region and around the world.

Violent extremism is not associated with any particular religion, nationality or civilization. The United States believes deeply in tolerance and supports the rights of all people to follow their beliefs and practice their faith.  But violence—killing innocent civilians– is not acceptable.  That is where we draw the line.

We must work together to promote positive messages of respect and inclusion. President Obama has said, “ideologies are not defeated with guns; they’re defeated by better ideas – a more attractive and more compelling vision.”  The ideas can come from anyone.  They can come from this room.  I am big believer in the power of a good idea.  And what I’ve found throughout my career is that people will generally listen to and act on a good idea, no matter where it comes from, even from a young person.  And, as POTUS said, treat everyone you meet with respect.


The issues discussed at the summits this week are global challenges that personally impact all of us.  ASEAN is the organization that brings all of Asia together.  And ASEAN has laid the foundation for the peace and stability this region enjoys today.

As YSEALI participants and alumni of exchanges, regional workshops and grant recipients you are, like me, now ambassadors for ASEAN.

I want to encourage all of you to think beyond your own borders and think regionally and globally.  You are a part of the broader ASEAN community and you can play a part to make this beautiful, diverse and dynamic region even better.

I know that your individual and collective efforts will contribute to implementing ASEAN’s new vision.  I’m going to tell you what this is – it was just released today: “a robust, vibrant, people-oriented and people-centered ASEAN Community in a peaceful, stable and outward-looking region in a global community of nations”

I know you have done community-building of your own during this Summit and have forged new connections across ASEAN.   I couldn’t be more pleased.

I urge you to take your past experience and what you’ve learned this week, along with your passion and commitment to make a difference.  This could be in your house, your neighborhood, your country, or Southeast Asia or beyond.  Share your experience and commitment to improving the world with friends, family and colleagues – the more dedicated people we have, the better.

Before I conclude, I would like to say that having sat in meetings with world leaders over these past days, I fully expect that a few of you will be leading these meetings and making a difference on a global scale in the years to come.

Congratulations on your summit and hard work.  As President Obama said on Friday, “Have big dreams but then be willing to work for those dreams.”  See you all soon, I hope!