Expanding the U.S.-Indonesian Dialogue

Press Availability
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Roundtable with Indonesian Journalists
Jakarta, Indonesia
February 19, 2009

MODERATOR: Well, thank you for joining the Secretary today. I know you're excited to talk to her. And I just wanted to let her know that all of you went to the United States to cover the U.S. General Election, and all of you are in some way covering the Indonesian parliamentary and presidential elections that are coming up. And so I thought we'd just start off by giving you the opportunity to hear what Secretary Clinton has to say about her experiences.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh. (Laughter.) Well, I'm more interested in your questions, but I am very pleased to hear that all of you went to the United States for our elections, which were very exciting. And we're so thrilled that President Obama has taken hold of our country at home, on the economy, and around the world with a message that America is reaching out and listening and wanting to work in partnership with countries like Indonesia.

I know you're going to be having elections, and I've been asked several times by Indonesians just in the last day how I could work for President Obama after I ran against him. (Laughter.) And it's because in our country, in our democracy, we try after we have elections to come together and look for solutions to the problems that we face. So I was very honored and surprised when he asked me to be the Secretary of State, but am very excited to be representing the United States and the Obama Administration here in Indonesia and around the world.

So with that, we should probably begin with your questions.

MODERATOR: Tina, would like to ask a question?

QUESTION: Yeah. You said last night how – when you had dinner that you are the most surprised person in the world when you were asked to serve as Secretary of State. And you already explained a little bit, but we are really concerned about what were your considerations professionally, and of course, personally when you decided to be Secretary of State. Because it never happens here in Indonesia where competitors meet in the same administration.

SECRETARY CLINTON: That's a great question, Tina. Well, I was very surprised. It was not anything I had any reason to expect or had even thought about. I assumed that I would go back to being a senator, which I loved doing, from New York, a place that I love to live and represent. But President Obama was very persuasive in our conversations when he did ask me. We have so many of the same views about what we should be doing in the world. And as we talked more and more, I became convinced that it would be an exciting and important opportunity to work with our new President and to try to send a different message to the rest of the world about what America was doing and thinking.

And it's proven to be an extraordinary experience. It was difficult – I know you asked both professionally and personally – because I did love what I was doing and I had to make a very hard decision. But I believe strongly in supporting my country and serving my country, and this was another way to continue to do that.

MODERATOR: Denny, I know you have a question for Madame Secretary.

QUESTION: Yes. It's – once again, it's my pleasure to meet you here, ma'am. I am from a small FM radio. My radio is – operate as a network radio and broadcast in 17 city in Indonesia. As that – we, in the last ten years, has implement our own democracy here in Indonesia. But when I have an opportunity to visit U.S. and watch (inaudible) election from your country, I find something else, that you preparing this election so well, I'm so thrilled when I heard McCain make his wonderful speech when he found that he lost, then Obama. And we cannot find something like that in Indonesia. (Laughter.)

So what do you think about our democracy? Can we do something like that maybe many years from now? Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: That's a good question too, Denny. We have been practicing democracy for a very long time. We are the oldest democracy in the world. And we are still not perfect. We work hard at it all the time. You are a young, vibrant democracy, and I think you've come a very long way in a short period of time.

But you have to have people in the media, people in politics, people in business and academics all understanding that the purpose of democracy is to improve the lives of people, to give people the opportunity to make good decisions for themselves, to build a strong economy with a functioning free market system that will give people the chance to work and have a better life for themselves and their children.

And so the elections are just a part of it. The elections draw a lot of the attention that you get as you're out campaigning, but really, you have to have an independent judiciary, you have to have the rule of law, you have to have competent, non-corrupt governance, you have to have a free press. You have to have a lot of the pieces in place so that no matter who wins, the democracy survives and keeps going. And then you have another election and somebody else will be elected.

So I think you should look at what you've achieved in the last ten years with a lot of pride, because many other countries just have not reached the level that you are right now. But that doesn't mean that you should be satisfied, and so you have to keep kind of working to get the people who are in politics to understand that they have to serve the nation, not just themselves or their political party.

And you mentioned Senator McCain's very gracious concession speech. That was a very hard speech for him to give. I mean, he knows that he'll never have another chance to run for president. He has served our country his entire life – in the military, in politics. He's a genuine hero. And he showed real character in saying that he wasn't successful and in wishing President Obama well. Now, that doesn't mean he's going to agree with everything that President Obama does, but he is going to be a contributing member of the government going forward. And I would hope that that's how you will see things develop here.

Does that make sense to you?



QUESTION: Thank you, ma'am.

SECRETARY CLINTON: But we've been at it for how many years? 220-plus years.

QUESTION: Yeah. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: And you look at the history of our democracy. At first, only men with – white men with property could vote. Then they had to amend the Constitution to include African American men, but then they prevented them from voting, and then we had to change the Constitution to let women vote. I mean, it's just been an ongoing process. But you just keep working at it, and you can't get discouraged, because it makes such a big difference to the lives of people if they feel like their government is responsive to them.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MODERATOR: Mohammed, I know you wanted to ask a question.

QUESTION: Yes, your statement regarding relations to the largest Muslim population in the world, does the Government of the United States in your Administration have – has a plan to more intensify the dialogue between the two countries, especially among people-to-people?


QUESTION: -- particularly religious society there in United States and Indonesia?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Mohammed, I hope we'll have a lot more exchanges of all kinds, people-to-people exchanges. I think governments have to talk, and that's important, and it's one of the reasons why I'm here in Indonesia. But there is nothing that is more effective than having people break down barriers between themselves.

The level of interest here in Indonesia for students studying in the United States has put student exchanges at the top of my list when I go back to Washington: How do we increase more exchanges? Because there's a great interest in having Indonesians study in the United States, and I think there will be opportunities for American students to do more in Indonesia. And I just had a wonderful meeting with your President, and he was talking about how we can have more higher education exchanges, university-to-university. We should look at all of that. How do we have more healthcare exchanges where our doctors and nurses and hospitals work with yours? The more we can have that person-to-person contact, the more likely it is we can develop better understanding.

I also am very impressed at the way Indonesia has led interfaith dialogues, and also its emphasis on democracy, like the Bali Democracy Forum, bringing countries together that are at different stages of democratic development. So we do see a tremendous opportunity for us to increase our government-to-government cooperation and the comprehensive partnership that I discussed with both the President and the Foreign Minister, but also more on a people-to-people basis.

MODERATOR: (Inaudible).

QUESTION: I'm Philip from the (inaudible) magazine. We want to know – I mean, "change" in last American election is a very famous word. We want to know that – is it America will bring any change in international relation, especially in – settled on conflict in countries like maybe in Palestinian and everywhere?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Philip, your question, as I understand it, is will we play a more active role in trying to resolve conflicts.


SECRETARY CLINTON: And the answer is we are going to try. We believe strongly that the United States does have such a role to play. A number of people in my conversations over the last day have asked about what we were going to do in the Middle East. And I pointed out that one of the very first decisions that the President and I made was to appoint a Special Envoy to the Middle East. And Senator Mitchell was very involved in helping to resolve the conflict in Northern Ireland, which had gone on for many, many years. And he is going to work very hard to try to find a path forward to bring the Palestinians together first, and then the Palestinians and the Israelis to achieve a two-state solution.

I will be going to the Cairo conference that Egypt is hosting to look for ways that we can provide humanitarian aid to the Palestinians in Gaza. So that's one example of the more engaged involvement that we want the United States to have. It will not surprise you that I think when the United States is absent; people believe that we are not interested. And that can create a vacuum that destructive forces can fill.

When I met with the ASEAN secretary general, he said that America had been absent from Southeast Asia over the last several years. Well, we don't want to be absent. We want to be present. Now, that doesn't mean that just by being present we're going to solve problems. But we want you to know that we intend to play as constructive a role as possible. There are some very difficult challenges –the problems in Darfur among the Sudanese, the problems in eastern Congo, terrible atrocities being committed, the problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We know that there are many places that we think are important, not only to the people living through that conflict, but also to the rest of the world. So we will be more engaged and we will try to bring people together whenever possible.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MODERATOR: (Inaudible).

QUESTION: Yes, ma'am. You are already now U.S. Secretary of the United States of America, and you are a mother also and a (inaudible) woman (inaudible). So my question is: How if – how (inaudible)? I mean, how do you feel if (inaudible) – if you lost everything right now?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I don't think about that. (Laughter.) I feel very fortunate because I've had a set of extraordinary experiences that have been just a gift to me. I mean, you never know what's going to happen to you in life, and I try to live each day to the best that I can and not worry too much about tomorrow. It will come, and I hope I'll be here and have a chance to continue my work. But I was privileged to be the First Lady of my country; that's when I visited Indonesia.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes. And I had a wonderful time and was able to renew acquaintances with some of the people who I met 15 years ago last night at dinner. (Laughter.) And I was privileged to be a senator from New York for eight years and to be a senator and work with my state on very big challenges, like the attack of 9/11, which killed so many people and was devastating, and trying to figure out how to protect our country and make it possible for people to lead their lives and raise their children. And now, I am so honored to represent my country around the world.

So I'm very grateful for everything I've been able to do. And I never expected, when I was your age, I would do any of those things. (Laughter.) So I think that gift –life is a gift, and you just make the best of it every single day. And as a woman, I've watched the opportunities for women increase in many parts of the world. And here in Indonesia, when I met with the Foreign Minister, there were three women at the table. And today, with the President, there were two women ministers at the meeting. So I'm very impressed with what Indonesia is doing with the rights and roles of women. That's not true in many parts of the world still. And I think that countries that don't provide equal rights for women are losing half of the talent of their country. They're losing doctors and nurses and businesswomen and professors and politicians, and so much else.

So I came of age at a time when it was just happening in my own country that more and more women were being given the opportunity to chart their own course, make their own decisions. And so I've been very fortunate, and I'm grateful for every opportunity that I've had.

MODERATOR: Let's go to Simon.

QUESTION: Okay. So welcome to the Indonesian world. People loves you so much, really.


QUESTION: (Inaudible.) (Laughter.) My first question. Why do you choose to visit Indonesia? Of course, for us, our country is important. But there are other country important (inaudible) too. Is it because of Obama – President Obama asked you to visit, or what happened this first visit?


QUESTION: And then the second one. Sorry. As a matter of fact, Indonesia and United States have good relation. I've been a reporter for 20 years, but in my opinion this good relations (inaudible). So my question is how do we use this relation to make it more fruitful to people from (inaudible)? We are talking about democracy for (inaudible). I mean, of course, it is our responsibility, but you can do that. You can do some help through the public diplomacy. I mean, how can we use this relation to overcome (inaudible)?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Those are two really important questions, Simon. On the first question about coming to Indonesia, I decided that I wanted to come to Asia on my first trip because we concluded that in the last several years, we hadn't paid enough attention to many parts of Asia, and certainly to the ASEAN countries. And I think it's important that Asia know that the United States is paying attention that we consider ourselves both a transpacific and a transatlantic power – we don't just look one way – and that our interests are not just focused on China. China is very important. We know China will assume more and more of a presence in not just Asia, but the world. But that we have long relationships with many countries, and I wanted to demonstrate that.

And as I was putting my trip together, I wanted to come to Southeast Asia, and I have such wonderful memories of my trip here in Indonesia, and I've also been very impressed by what you have achieved in the last ten years. My husband had a very positive experience working with the people of Indonesia after the tsunami and working on the rescue and the recovery and the reconstruction of Aceh. The President and I were talking about that. And of course, the personal relationship that President Obama has with Indonesia is very important to him. You can hear him talk about it and you can read his writings about how his time in Indonesia helped to shape his view of the world and the values that he has – seeing people from many different kinds of backgrounds living harmoniously. His sister is half-Indonesian. So he has personal family relationships that are very important to him. So for all of those reasons, Indonesia seemed like a very good choice.

And part of what I wanted to do is to make the point of your second question. It is not just about government-to-government, it has to be – going back to Mohammed's question – people- to- people. And how does the United States not just meet with presidents and foreign ministers, but meet in a way that people in Indonesia understand our concern and our commitment to this partnership.

After I leave here, I'll be going to a neighborhood in Jakarta where the United States Government, through our aid programs, have been working to help the families in the neighborhood get better services, and also do it in a way that is consistent with climate change challenges, so green technologies and approaches toward water and sewer systems and economic development.

I wanted to go there to highlight that because, in a quiet way every day, the United States, through our government, through NGOs, through person-to-person contact, is working with Indonesians across your country. And I think that making that a bigger part of our relationship will help to spread the word. That's why when I talk about our foreign policy, I talk about the three D's – defense, of course, but diplomacy and development, and how we help Indonesia develop.

I know there will be many opportunities about climate change. Indonesia is hosting a big Oceans Conference in May. We'll have high-level representation there because Indonesia, once again, is showing such leadership in this area. The forest problems and the coral reef problems that Indonesians have, which affects your livelihood and your environment, we're going to be involved with you on that. And then these education exchanges and healthcare exchanges, and other kinds of cooperation. So we're going to do a better job, and meeting with all of you and talking with all of you about what we're doing in partnership is one way of getting below the level of, as you say, the elites, and getting to where people live – that's what we want to do.

QUESTION: This has been such a great honor for me to be here. My question is you are probably the most popular U.S. Secretary of State here in Indonesia. How do you deal with this and how do you think this would affect Indonesia-U.S. bilateral relationships?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I want to be a good friend to Indonesia. And I want to work with the Indonesian Government and the Indonesian people on behalf of my government and the people of the United States. I'm very excited about what we can do together. And we will not always agree, friends don't always agree. But if we talk to one another and we listen to one another, I think that we can further deepen our positive relationship. So I'm here on my very first trip because I think the relationship between Indonesia and the United States can be a centerpiece of what we do not just in Asia, but in the world.

You've heard me say that those who doubt that Islam and democracy and modernity and women's rights can all coexist should come to Indonesia. So I can help bring that message to my own country because many people don't know that about Indonesia, and to create better understanding and communication and to encourage more Americans to travel to Indonesia, to invest in Indonesia, to work in Indonesia, just all kinds of opportunities that I think we can pursue. So this is a very special trip for me.

My last trip made such an impression on me. I wrote about it in my book It Takes a Village. I wrote about some of what I did in Indonesia and in my other book Living History. And I just have always felt that the people of Indonesia were so open and so tolerant and willing to work with people who showed their willingness to partner, and I want that to be known broadly.

And I also want to consult with the Indonesian Government about some of the problems beyond the obvious. The Indonesian Government has lots of experience in dealing with some difficult neighbors like Burma. And how we can try to help the people of Burma deal with the terrible human rights violations that go on there every day and the political prisoners, and Aung San Sui Kyi's valiant struggle for freedom and democracy -- what will work? And the Indonesians, your government, has been trying so we want to learn or, looking for advice on dealing with some of the other difficult challenges around the world. So I think this will become an even deeper and broader comprehensive partnership.

MODERATOR: We have time for one more question and I'm going to go to Tina.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) about democracy and Indonesian elections. So you said that it is hard for you personally to work with someone that was your competitor. So we will face a presidential election, and what we face right now is the President and also the previous presidents, I think they don't really get along together. So how can you tell Indonesian people and Indonesian politicians to be more mature in doing the politics?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I said it was hard to make the decision to give up my Senate seat because I loved being a senator. But it is not hard to work with President Obama because he and I have a very good working relationship, a very friendly relationship. We talk about the problems that we see and what we're trying to solve. So it's really been a very exciting opportunity for me to work as part of his Administration.

QUESTION: It wasn't because your husband asked you to work with him?

SECRETARY CLINTON: No. (Laughter.) Although he thought it was a good idea. (Laughter.) He was very encouraging because he thought that we'd be a good team that I would be, able to do some of the traveling and the outreach that we wanted to do in our new Administration. Because President Obama is so focused on our problems at home. I mean, he's working on trying to improve the economy at home and dealing with our housing crisis at home, and that's a very demanding set of challenges. So he's not going to be able to travel as much he would want to. When I spoke with him this morning, I told him that the people of Indonesia are waiting with open arms for him to come – (laughter) – but it will be difficult, given his other responsibilities, to plan that kind of travel. But eventually, he'll be able to do that.

But we both thought it was important, President Obama and I, that I get out and do as much traveling as early as possible to send a message that he wants the world to hear. And he's been talking to a lot of leaders around the world to reinforce that message, because we know that we inherited a lot of problems that we had to start dealing with. And we wanted to just dive in and have as many people helping as possible. And that's why I'm very proud to be the Secretary of State in his Administration.

And it is exciting because it so fits what I believe should be done. Now, if I'd totally disagreed that would be hard, but I don't. I agree with what we're trying to accomplish and the importance of having the United States, once again, reaching out to the rest of the world. But I hope that, as you point out, in your elections, however they turn out and that's, of course, up to the Indonesian people, that after the elections are over, people come together for the good of the country. And that's what we've tried to do in our own country.

But politics is hard – (laughter). You covered our election.


SECRETARY CLINTON: And you will cover your own election.


SECRETARY CLINTON: And people get very invested in their campaigns and in their positions. But when it's over, it's important to say, "Okay, what are we really trying to achieve here, and don't we want to work for the good of our country?"

QUESTION: But you are a woman and you are maybe the most successful woman politician in the living history of the United States. How can you survive? You say that politics is hard.


QUESTION: So how can you survive?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, you have to a high threshold for pain, number one. (Laughter.)

Well, I think if I didn't believe in what I was doing, I couldn't do it. You have to – I mean, some people get into politics thinking that it'll be glamorous or they'll get to be important. Well, that's the wrong reason to get into politics. I mean, you have to believe that you're getting into politics to make a difference in people's lives, that your service will help somebody. And I've always been motivated by that ever since I was a lawyer and a child advocate, and working not in politics but in trying to improve the lives of children.

And that's what still motivates me. I mean, what can we do to make a more peaceful, prosperous world where every child has the chance to live up to his or her God-given potential? I mean, to me, that's the motivating purpose of my involvement in politics. And I feel strongly about it. And I've served in different ways, and now I have this opportunity to serve as Secretary of State.

MODERATOR: Madame Secretary, thank you very much for your time.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. Thank you, all. To be continued. (Applause.) Thank you. My own reporters never ask for a picture. (Laughter.)

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PRN: 2009/T1-17