Ambassador Nina Hachigian’s Remarks at University of Indonesia

U.S. – ASEAN Relations and the Future of the Oceans

Good Morning. Selamat pagi.

On behalf of the United States Government, it is my pleasure to talk with you today  about ASEAN- US ties.

Thank you Dr. Irid for your kind introduction and the opportunity to speak with students and faculty here at the University of Indonesia, one of your country’s premier educational institutions.

Thank you Ibu Suzie and your team for arranging this event. I have been looking forward to our conversation.

As for the floods, I am from California, which is in the middle of a drought, so I don’t mind seeing a lot of rain. And as for the gridlock, I am from Los Angeles, so I am used to it!

One of my priorities is to meet and  get to know the young people of Southeast Asia. Young people like you will determine the future of the region – so after I talk for a bit,  I’d like to hear from you, I am interested in your thoughts about ASEAN and the U.S., and I will be happy to answer questions.

When President Obama was first elected, he had the wisdom to appreciate what ASEAN was – a regional powerhouse, 10 countries strong, representing well over 600 million people– and what ASEAN could become.

He appointed the first U.S. Ambassador for ASEAN Affairs in 2009. Later that year, President Obama called for a permanent mission to ASEAN.

In 2011, David Carden, – who also spoke at this university – was confirmed as the first resident U.S. Ambassador to ASEAN.  In fact, he was the first such ambassador from ANY non-ASEAN country. That makes me the third U.S. Ambassador to ASEAN and the second who has lived here in Jakarta.

Now, I don’t have to tell you—ASEAN’s countries are very diverse. You find major cosmopolitan cities, like Jakarta, as well as  remote, rural villages. Indonesia has around 600 times the population of Brunei. The world’s major religions converge here in Southeast Asia. And yet the ten countries of ASEAN have chosen to bind themselves together.

Not through power, but through principles. Through a dedication to non-violence and respect for international law, values the United States also holds dear. These shared values are one reason ASEAN is so important to the US.

Last November, I joined President Obama at the ASEAN-U.S. Summit in Myanmar. There my President reaffirmed the importance of ASEAN-US ties as a crucial element of America’s strategic rebalance to Asia.

He said that “a strong relationship between the United States and ASEAN is essential to realizing our shared vision for the future of the Asia Pacific.”

He continued: “the United States is committed to strengthening ASEAN, both as an institution and as a community of nations bound by our shared interests and values.”

The United States knows that multilateral diplomacy is essential in our era, and we support ASEAN’s leading, central role in the region’s architecture.

ASEAN is critical because, this vibrant,diverse community of nations also faces a host of “21st century” challenges. Challenges which do not recognize national borders.

And because they don’t, we all need to work together. That is another reason why ASEAN is so important to the US: ASEAN makes sure that all the nations in Asia, big and small, have a seat at the policy table. And while it works methodically, ASEAN, the organization, is quite ambitious. It seeks to make progress on the toughest and most important issues facing humanity– from equitable economic growth to climate change to human trafficking and everything in between.

Young people today don’t really have the luxury that I did when I was young of not paying too much attention to trans-border challenges like climate change.

We, the older generation, are counting on you to be different,more aware than we were. With a full 65% of ASEAN’s population under the age of 35, the future here undeniably relies on engaging and empowering the young.

The United States is delighted to work with the young people of ASEAN to help them contribute to Southeast Asia and to our world.  That is why we have programs like President Obama’s Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) and the ASEAN Youth Volunteer Program. These programs offer young people here platforms to develop themselves in ways that go far beyond what they learn in a classroom, or in their professional careers.

Both of these programs bring young people from all the nations in Southeast Asia together to build skills and collaborate on a variety of projects. These programs are helping to build an ASEAN identity.

These young people will foster ASEAN integration and ensure this region has a strong, unified voice in Asian and global affairs. Since its launch in December 2013, almost 20,000 young people in this region have joined YSEALI, and I hope you will too. It is open to all residents of ASEAN who are between the ages of 18-35. It is very easy to sign up — just go online, type YSEALI into a search engine, fill in just a few pieces of very basic information. That’s all. Doing this can open up opportunities for you in Indonesia, in the region and to participate in programs in the U.S.

President Obama recently expanded the YSEALI Fellows program to 500 exchanges to the U.S. every year. That means more young people willget to spend five weeks in the United States where they will gainvaluable skills, expertise and contacts in a range of fields including environmental management, civic engagement, and economic development.

YSEALI is creating a group of young Southeast Asian leaders who will work across ASEAN borders to solve common problems.

Last year 300 of your peers in YSEALI studied in the U.S., and another 300 attended regional workshops, like one that I had the chance to attend in Myanmar, on project development, entrepreneurism, and developing human capital.

This year there will be another four regional workshops including one on the environment, andone on entrepreneurship. My team and I will host a YSEALI women’s leadership workshop here in Jakarta in May.

The United States commitment to young people in ASEAN starts right at the top. Last year, President Obama met with YSEALI members on two separate occasions – once in Kuala Lumpur and once in Yangon – to enjoy conversations with people just like you.

Another example of our commitment is our support of the ASEAN Youth Volunteer Program, which promotes to young people volunteerism and community development within ASEAN. 2015 marks the third year of this volunteer program, and it is mobilizing youth to develop innovative solutions to challenges facing the region.

And since I am in a roomful of academics, I also want to highlight our Fulbright ASEAN-U.S. Visiting Scholars Initiative, which is also entering its third year. The U.S. has sent scholars representing all ten ASEAN member states to study for up to four months in the U.S. These scholars are bringing back what they have learned to the region and are working on issues important to all of us.

One of our first scholars from Brunei, Mrs. Siti Salwah Saim did research on climate change and disaster preparedness on her exchange. Her research was featured by the Sultan of Brunei in his speech at the UN Climate Summit in New York last year. Her research has contributed to decision making at the highest levels of government.

The scholars currently in the United States are studying a range of issues including international maritime law, climate change, economic regulations, and education.

In addition to our shared interest on youth development and education, the U.S. is also working with ASEAN to help develop a prosperous region. The U.S. knows that our economic future is tied to Asia. Southeast Asia has been a remarkable engine of economic growth. And the US recognizes the role this region will continue to play in promoting global economic prosperity.

As we all know, 2015 is a significant year for ASEAN – it will come together even more closely as an economic community. ASEAN integration means more trade opportunities for your businesses and ours, both large and small. Economics is another reason ASEAN is important to America.

American businesses have been the number one investor in ASEAN economies for decades. In fact, U.S. investments are larger than Chinese investments, Japanese investments and Korean investments combined and they’ve created millions of jobs here and in the United States. Americans invest more in ASEAN than we do in China. By a lot.

But as Secretary of State John Kerry said recently, “it’s not just about the quantity of our investments; it’s about the quality. When we invest in countries, we actually do it differently. When businesses from some countries enter new markets, they bring in their own workers…. We, on the other hand, hire local employees. And …we train them as well.”

The United States supports ASEAN integration and programs that make cross-border trade easier. We have also supported initiatives that promote economic opportunities for women entrepreneurs and small businesses.

The goal of the ASEAN Economic Community is to make life better and easier for the people of ASEAN. It will mean more prosperity, and more opportunity.

I want to give you some examples of these opportunities. For cross-border trade, simplified rules will offer larger markets. Instead of ten different procedures for goods entering ten different countries, there will be a streamlined process with integrated customs data which will facilitate trade across ASEAN.

The people of ASEAN will benefit from a unified market for entrepreneurs to launch businesses. I think my next example may resonate with some of you.

Student mobility, transfer of academic credits and creation of research clusters will help improve ASEAN’s higher education system and raise the game of the estimated 6,500 higher education institutions and 12 million students in the ten member states. This is good news for you and your peers.

And one final example: With a more developed banking sector and more competition, small and medium enterprises and entrepreneurs will have better access to the banking services they need.

The commitments ASEAN Member States have made and continue to make towards economic integration will increase the size and potential of the economies of ASEAN.

As the ASEAN Economic Community continues to progress, it must ensure growth that is both strong but also sustainable. As countries in the region move up the economic ladder, they should avoid the path of the U.S. that wrecked its air, water, and land as it industrialized and has been spending the last five decades and huge sums of money cleaning it up. I hope you can follow a more sustainable path. I’m particularly concerned about oceans in Southeast Asia.

You might think that is because of the disputes in the South China Sea — and that is true – but there is another reason as well.

ASEAN is home to the most diverse marine environment anywhere in the world. The oceans provide the people of Southeast Asia a critical source of protein and income. Ocean life may hold the key forscientists to create new life saving drugs.

The scale of the damage from pollution, overfishing, and illegal types of fishing is massive and many species of fish stocks are on the verge of collapsing.

But it is not too late to act.

The U.S. is deeply committed to saving our oceans. Secretary Kerry hosted a conference last year with participants representing 80 countries to determine concrete actions that can be taken at all levels to help protect ocean ecosystems. The U.S. is investing over $60 million in ASEAN countriesto address threats to the health of the oceans and seas here.

But to really solve the problems of the ocean, we must tackle climate change which is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, challenges of the 21stcentury.

As Secretary Kerry said last year here in Jakarta, Climate change is “is devastating the world’s fisheries.” He pointed out that some studies say Indonesia’s fisheries could lose up to 40 percent of their catch due to changes in ocean acidity and temperature

Fortunately, countries are taking action.  At the ASEAN-US Summit in November leaders released the ASEAN-U.S. joint statement on climate change. This is a big deal. We have never done anything like it before.

This statement shows ASEAN taking leadership on a global issue. For its part, the U.S. is spending hundreds of millions of dollars helping ASEAN to combat climate change, and we are taking dramatic action at home as well and working with other large emitters.

I grew up near the ocean – as a girl on the East Coast of the United States and later, on the West Coast, in California. Like Secretary Kerry, I am committed to preserving the oceans for our children and grandchildren.

My job is to work on policy changes but I also try to take small, personal steps to make a difference, even an incremental one I recycle everything I can – paper, plastic, metal. I use a reusable water bottle because plastic bottles end up in the ocean. I take my own bags to the grocery store because plastic bags end up in the ocean and poison sea creatures.

I try to eat smaller fish, not tuna, shark swordfish or marlin which are critical to ocean ecosystems and whose existence is deeply threatened.

These personal habits take a while to get used to at first—I forgot my cloth bags many times when I went shopping–but after a while, they are easy.  I encourage all of you to make changes in your life too – and tell your friends what you are doing and why. If I had started at your age, I could have made even more of a difference with these small steps. What is hard to appreciate when you are young—what I did not appreciate– is that little changes really add up over the course of a lifetime.

The US knows that Southeast Asia will play a major role in the history of the 21st century. We, all of us, write that history and we can all make a difference for our future and for future generations.

Thank you.

And now, I’d like to ask for Suzie to assist with opening up the discussion – I am eager to hear your ideas and thoughts on ASEAN and the United States.


Thank you for the warm welcome to the University of Indonesia. It has been a real pleasure talking with all of you this morning.

For those of you 35 years old and under, I hope you will become members of YSEALI.

And I’d like to encourage everyone in the room to visit your neighboring countries in ASEAN to learn more about your fascinating beautiful region.

I want to offer one last thought:  ideas are powerful things: Write, research, tweet, post and blog.  Your idea can make a lasting impact.  Small changes in our everyday behavior can and will collectively make a difference.

Thank you.