Ambassador Baker Speaks at 10th Nikkei Forum on the Future of Asia

Ambassador Howard H. Baker, Jr.
June 3, 2004
Imperial Hotel, Tokyo

AMBASSADOR BAKER: Thank you very much. May I say first of all that it's a delight to be here, and a great honor to be in the presence of so many of Asia's leaders to discuss the future of the region. My friends, while I am no longer burdened with youth, at gatherings like these in the presence of so much experience and responsibility, I always feel like the new kid on the block. The United States is a young nation, and I share with my countrymen their respect for cultures, your cultures, that trace your history not in centuries, but in millennia. While America looks back on the invention of the airplane, the automobile, Asia looks back on the invention of agriculture, philosophy and religion. That realization is a humbling prospect.

But my friends, we are not here to look back. We are here to look forward. We live in a time of great change, both technological and cultural. The global community is built on access to instantaneous communication, and nearly instantaneous transportation. Not only does any child with a mouse and an internet connection have more information available at his or her fingertips than the greatest scholars of my youth could research in half a lifetime from the world's great libraries, but the average citizen can now afford to travel farther in a day than their parents traveled in a lifetime, and visit in comfort the most exotic corners of the Earth, unavailable not long ago even to the most privileged and adventurous explorer. That access to the world and its ideas must inevitably change the way we think, as well as the way we live, and indeed it does.

Although the theme of this forum is "Laying the groundwork for Asian regional integration," it is apparent that regional integration is already well advanced in many ways. The principal engine for this integration has been economics. The rise of Asian economic might - starting first with Japan, but now extending through all of East Asia, down to Southeast Asia, and as far as India - has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, changed the balance of world power, and created new allies in our common pursuit of human welfare and freedom. And much of this was the result of dramatic increases in trade and investment directed by private sector initiatives.

Japan, of course, was the first regional leader to provide impetus to trade and investment throughout the Asian region, and it has now been joined by a very dynamic Chinese economy, which adds a second major engine for growth in the area. Many of the governments in Asia have embraced the concept of tighter regional economic relations and have started to create a web of Free Trade Agreements across the region. I fully support this development, and I hope that these aims will be sufficiently high and appreciated to be collectively exercised, and to be a positive influence on world trade and investment and the institutions dealing with these things.

While Asian regional institution building has lagged behind some other regions, ASEAN and APEC are coming of age, and are beginning to provide an organizational framework for regional integration. Some of this has also been aimed at enhancing regional security in the post-9/11 world, a development that we all welcome. This indicates to me that the nations of the region are capable of simultaneously increasing their sense of regional identity and carrying out their responsibilities as world citizens.

But the challenge of regional integration is far more than security arrangements and business agreements, as important as those may be. Along with economic integration, regional integration is cultural integration as well. It celebrates what is common among societies, while respecting what is unique about each culture that it embraces. We often note how young people in Asia and America listen to the same music, watch the same movies, wear the same clothes, and increasingly, eat the same foods. They share much in common that, certainly, their parents did not. More than any previous generation, they are of the same time.

But they are not of the same place. While the culture they share with their generation builds bridges around the globe, they also share the culture of their own land. A family is made of unique individuals, and the global family is no different. So integration does not mean that we have to choose one culture over another. Young people today may be citizens of the world, but they are still citizens of Japan, China, Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines.

Don't forget that the United States could in fact be many countries. We have some notable regional differences and internal historical conflicts of our own, and a population that is among the most culturally complex on the planet, and perhaps growing more so every day. But we have found that what we have in common is more important than what separates us.

When I spoke of Asia's long history, I was speaking not just of ancient history. As Asian countries strive to build a future together, I think it is worth remembering that Japan and the United States have overcome, in just two generations, a recent history of terrible war in order to forge an alliance and a friendship that I believe is unsurpassed. We have moved on from the conflicts of the past and have become friends in the present. We have our disagreements, some very complex and emotional, but we work them out to our mutual benefit. Each nation in the region has a unique history of relations with every other nation, and each partner brings different perspectives of the past. That diversity could bring conflict if expressed through our differences, but it brings strength and energy if it is expressed through our shared values and our shared goals. Greater regional integration will mean that self-interest must be multilateral.

The most obvious parallel of regional integration in recent times has been the dramatic transformation of the European community. The EU has not been an overnight success, but it is working because the European member nations understand that whatever historical conflicts might have separated them, their future lies in cooperation. Today, Asia is seeking its own common ground, and there are formidable obstacles that must overcome. To succeed, you must integrate a more diverse cultural landscape with an even longer history than Europe has, and do so at a time when the worldwide plague of terrorism threatens all of us, everywhere. The Middle East may draw the most attention, but we know that we all live in a dangerous neighborhood, and that there are strains that breed terrorists and other challenges to our security. And the danger is not limited to religious fanaticism. The nuclear threat from the north casts a shadow on all of us, regardless of faith. Extremism is the enemy, be it ideological distortions or dictatorial ambitions, the violent acts of fanatics or the systematic oppression of rogue regimes, small cells of hate mongers or state sponsored totalitarians are of equal danger.

We are making progress in this struggle. Recent developments in Iraq are encouraging. Now that the new Iraqi interim government has been named, it is vital that the international community demonstrate its support for the people of Iraq and their transition to full sovereignty. President Bush has made clear that the United States is committed to standing with this Iraqi government. I was not surprised to see statements of support from Foreign Minister Kawaguchi and Chief Cabinet Secretary Hosoda as well, demonstrating that Japan, as it has all along, is committed to supporting the Iraqi people in their efforts to form a free, democratic and prosperous country. The new Iraqi government is the product of months of consultations by UN Ambassador Brahimi, and reflects a broad cross-section of Iraqis. I hope that the international community will respond to the call by Prime Minister-designate Allawi to "contribute to the protection of Iraq until it is able to stand on its own feet."

The international community must also respond to threats from the microscopic world. The mobility I spoke of earlier brings mobility to disease as well, which seems to change and adapt as quickly as our doctors and scientists can find cures. SARS is closely associated with this region, and AIDS is an enemy to civilization that we must defeat as surely as we must defeat the enemies that threaten us with guns and bombs. Our governments must also meet their responsibilities for food safety and for food security as surely as they must for public safety and national security. And we need to agree on how to preserve the health of our planet, or it won't matter to future generations what else we achieve if we fail to save the environment.

So, my friends, our challenge is to prevent any virus - biological, technological or ideological - from infecting the body of civilization. I don't presume to have the answers. If there's anything I have learned in my many years of public service, it is my own fallibility. But I do not believe that we can sustain peace without prosperity, and in the creation of wealth there are some clear lessons in the global economy for us to see. The most obvious is that the fewer economic obstacles we create, the better for everyone. Often the only thing that trade barriers do is protect people from the success they could achieve if given the opportunity and the incentive to compete.

But to compete today we must tear down the wall separating the hopeful and the hopeless, and that is the educational barrier. The only limits for our children are the ones we place on them. If we give our young people adequate schools, trained teachers free of ideological agendas, and computers and other basic necessities of 21st century academic life, they will learn, and they will grow, and become more than we could ever dream of. It is our duty to provide them with that opportunity. If they fail, it is because we failed them.

You represent the most populous, most diverse, and in some ways the most dynamic region of the world today. Asia was the fountain of ideas from the beginning of civilization and through much of history, and I think that will be your strength in the years to come. I'm a great believer that scientific advancement leads to cultural advancement. The space program benefited America and the world in countless ways that were never even imagined when those programs were developed. In medical technology, computer technology, communications technology, so many, many inventions that helped create the world of today were the direct result of America's investment in that space program. Even more importantly, it opened the minds of America's youth to the future, and we will continue to reap the rewards of their creativity and invention, as with my grandchildren, I expect that for future generations, and for your children and grandchildren.

So, my friends, I will close with this thought. As the great leaders gathered here and their successors grapple with the complex political, economic and security issues of Asian regional integration in the years to come, I hope that a continuing priority, for all of us, will be to constantly strive to find the ways and means to allow the young minds of Asia to transform the world with their ideas. They only need for the fountain to flow freely.

I thank you very much.