Townterview Hosted by Media Prima in Malaysia
Secretary of State
MR. ISKANDER: Ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together and welcome Her Excellency, the United States Secretary of State, Mrs. Hillary Rodham Clinton. (Applause.)
Okay. (In Malaysian.) A very good afternoon to all. First of all, thank you very much for being here. And today is a very, very historical day for everyone, especially for us. We have the honorable guests to be here. Can we once again give a round of applause to Mrs. Hillary Clinton? (Applause.) This is her first time here in – here in Malaysia and we want to welcome her and make her feel as comfortable as possible, so – because she’ll be taking questions from everyone here and she said you can ask anything you want. (Laughter.)
While you’re preparing questions, let me introduce you who will be taking – asking questions from the station. We have in the middle Ahmad Talib from Media Prima, together with Norzie Pak Wan Chek. Both of them will be posing questions to Mrs. Clinton, and at the same time, we’ll be passing over to the floor where I’m going to be doing the moderating of questions. So whoever wishes to ask a question, please raise your hand and then we shall proceed with the questions to Mrs. Clinton.
Are we good? We are so excited to have you here. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: It is such an honor for me to be here. And I thank ISTAC for hosting us in this beautiful setting and for all of you coming today to have this dialogue. And thank you to (inaudible) Norzie and Ally for helping to moderate and facilitate it. I told them this is, unbelievably, my first visit to Malaysia. (Applause.) And I am already very impressed and looking forward to not only working with your government – I spoke to the prime minister this morning from his hospital room – (laughter) – and I urged him to do whatever the doctors tell him to get a full recovery. And then coming here, I had the chance to meet with a number of your women leaders. Your minister for women’s affairs helped to arrange that, and that was very exciting. So I am looking forward to this event and to the rest of my stay here, and a really broader and deeper relationship between our two countries.
MR. ISKANDER: All right, so the stage is yours (inaudible).
MR. TALIB: Thank you, Ally. Madam Secretary, good morning and welcome to Malaysia.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much.
MR. TALIB: We are very happy to have you here. You almost became the president and if you had become one, you will be here as the president instead of the Secretary of State. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: But if I had become the president I would not be here, because we have an election tomorrow. (Laughter and applause.) And in fact, I spoke with President Obama at about 1 o’clock in the morning Malaysian time, which is 1:00 in the afternoon in Washington time, and I think he was a little envious that I’m here. (Laughter.) But it is a great honor to be working with him and to be the Secretary of State and to have the chance to come here for these kinds of exchanges that go far beyond just the government-to-government meetings that are part of our usual itinerary.
MR. TALIB: I just want to ask, if you had become the president, would you do things differently than what President Barack Obama is doing in terms of foreign policy perhaps?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, he and I work very closely together on foreign policy, and I am extremely supportive of the direction that the President is leading our country. I am, as Secretary of State, prohibited by law from participating in politics anymore, so everything I’m about to say is not political, it’s just the objective facts that I think the President inherited a very difficult set of problems and has been persistent and visionary in trying to address those problems. And I have been privileged to be a close partner and advisor to the President.
I think I know a little bit about how hard the job is, having watched my husband for eight years, having served in the Senate and run for the office myself. And I think President Obama is doing an excellent job in dealing with a variety of challenges that are truly complex. If it were easy, it would be done, but these are hard problems and I hope we get a chance to talk to some of them.
And I think that the tone and the direction that he has set for our foreign policy, it doesn’t change things overnight, it doesn’t come with easy answers, but it slowly builds the kind of engagement and partnerships that it’s going to take in the 21st century for us to handle a lot of the difficult issues we face.
MR. TALIB: Your position as the Secretary of State is no less important. In fact, I think it encourages women all over the world to aspire to become more than what they are. I know there must have been a lot of tears, there might have been a lot of sweat, I’m not sure about the blood, though. (Laughter.) What kind of advice would you give to women who aspire to become or to enable them to become more than what they are?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I just met with a group of very inspiring women here in Malaysia, women who are at the head of your central bank, the head of your securities and exchange commission, the head of large businesses, the head or the vice chancellor of universities, ministers in your government. I think that Malaysian women are demonstrating unequivocally that the rights and roles of women are important for advancing society’s growth and opportunities into the future. So I am looking for more chances to set up exchanges between American women and Malaysian women, and the minister and I have agreed to work on that.
Because for me, it is a lifelong commitment. I’m thrilled when a young woman like Norzie sits here as one of the questioners. And when I travel and I meet governments and civil society in various countries, I do keep kind of a running count in my head: How many women are at the table, how many women are making the hard decisions?
And Malaysia and the Sisters in Islam movement that I was privileged to learn a little bit about earlier today, I think is breaking ground and setting an example, not just for the Muslim world but for the world in general. It is not possible in the 21st century to disenfranchise half the population and expect that there will be progress for the next generation. So I am very committed to this agenda because it’s not for me kind of an add-on, it is a core issue, because the empowerment of women worldwide is one of the pieces of unfinished business in the world today.
There are different cultural, historical, religious experiences from each of our histories, but the overall imperative to find ways to empower women and to give young women the tools that they can make the most out of their own lives should be on the agenda of every country in every part of the world. And I’m looking forward to working with the minister and the women that I met today to learn more about what is happening in Malaysia and to help support mutually the goal of having more women be given the opportunity to fulfill their own God-given potential.
MR. TALIB: I’d like to go back to what happened behind closed doors, but I think Norzie is very interested to ask some questions, too.
MS. CHEK: I’d just like to start out with asking you (inaudible). America’s relationship with Malaysia has largely been seen to be basically about trade and people-to-people exchanges. Given the weight of Asia in the international system today, how do you think Malaysia’s role will expand in terms of being a close ally of America within the region as opposed to, say, maybe India or China, for that matter?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, what we are absolutely convinced of in the Obama Administration is that Asia as a region will be instrumental in shaping the future for the entire world, and that individual countries within Asia, not just China and India, who obviously because of their size will play a significant role, but other countries that have the potential to be influential power centers, including Malaysia, will have an increasing opportunity to illustrate that.
So in our meetings with your government officials and even in my conversation with the prime minister earlier today, we of course talked about our bilateral relationship but we also talked about the role that Malaysia is playing in the Trans Pacific Partnership, a new free trade agreement that will enhance market access, but also working to support Afghanistan and the people there with training and medical services. Malaysia has an opportunity to be a real leader when it comes, as I learned from the governor of the central bank, in Islamic financing, which will provide a different approach to financing which can be very economically important.
Malaysia has played a central role in ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and the United States has just become more deeply involved. And I was just in Hanoi, where I saw your prime minister before he got sick, and he was a key player in the issues in the East Asia Summit. So it is clear to me that Malaysia, both by geography, by economic dynamism, by the role that Islam plays, which is a role that is not divisive, as it is in some parts of the world, has a real opportunity to be a thought leader in a number of significant areas going forward.
MS. CHEK: It has also been said that there are no permanent friends, just permanent interests. Would it be wrong to assume that America’s presence in Asia is to ensure that there are multiple power centers (inaudible) instead of just one power center?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I said yesterday in Phnom Penh – I was in Cambodia and speaking to a very large group of young people in a town hall setting, and it was fascinating the questions they asked. And one of the questions was did I think it was a good idea for Cambodia to be dependent on China, or did Cambodia need to balance its relationships.
I’m a big believer in balance. I think that every country needs to have a series of partnerships and relationships, because although it is an old saying that there are no permanent friends, only permanent interests, it is important to know who your friends are and it is important to deepen and broaden relationships so that when interests are diverse you can still find ways to communicate and to work for common goals.
When we work with countries around the world, and we have a global reach, as you know, we may be working with ten things with a country. And on five of those we’re already in agreement, and on three of those we’re working to understand each other better, and on two of those we may be in disagreement. But that doesn’t interfere with our desire to better understand each other and to find common ground wherever we can.
You see, I think in today’s world there is a conflict going on between the forces of integration and moderation, and the forces of disintegration and extremism. And this is across all regions, all religions, all ethnicities. There are those who are using the tools of the global commons to promote divisive and extremist viewpoints. And I think it’s important for countries to always keep our eye on the fact that, unfortunately, a small minority can be disproportionately influential unless people of common sense and shared humanity speak out. And it’s not only within countries, it’s between and among countries.
So we have a broad agenda with many countries, and it’s really rooted on developing mutual respect, mutual trust, and that should last whether interests come and go. So I’m very committed to looking at the world through that kind of lens.
MR. TALIB: You said the crowd, the audience, would want to ask some questions, but before I pass the mike to them, one more question. You said something about Malaysia being a thought leader. How do you foresee this going forward in terms of creating a more mutually understanding and harmonious vision in the world between – especially between the West and Islamic countries, for instance? How do you see that?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, of course, it is up to the people of Malaysia themselves to determine that, but from my observation and my discussions with not only Malaysian officials and citizens but also observations, the work, for example, on Islamic finance very largely influenced if not created right here in Malaysia. Is that true, governor? I think that that was a very creative approach. Sisters in Islam, which brings women together who have common interests and certainly a common goal of promoting women but within Islamic traditions. The way that Malaysia is looking at boosting the economy but also protecting the environment, where we are partnering with you. Malaysia has a big stake in how we deal with climate change, and there can be some creative ways of dealing with deforestation or with coral, with species of animals.
I think on so many different issues, when people are talking about creative problem-solving, I often hear references to what Malaysia is doing. So I think not only in the bridge with the Islamic world and the rest of the world, but on these specific issues Malaysia has the opportunity to be creative, to think outside the box, to come up with ways of addressing problems that can bring the rest of the world’s attention to you.
So I’m certainly not in the decision-making framework here in Malaysia, but I am very, very impressed by what I have seen and heard and look forward to learning more and cooperating more as we take on these common issues that will confront us.
MR. TALIB: Another question?
MS. CHEK: No, we’ll take questions from the floor if there are any.
MODERATOR: Okay, let’s have hands. Can we start off with one of the students from the floor? Anyone? Yes. You look like a student so I assume you are, okay. (Laughter.) Could you introduce yourself?
QUESTION: Okay, my name is (inaudible). I am from UAE, fourth-year medical student. First of all, congratulations on your daughter’s wedding. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. Thank you so much. (Applause.)
QUESTION: My question is what do you think is the main reason behind China’s current economic rise as opposed to America’s decline?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I don’t think America is in decline. (Laughter.) I think that you have in China an economy that is largely state-dominated and decisions that are made from a centralized governmental perspective and a commitment, which I actually commend, by the Chinese leadership to try to raise the standard of living of hundreds of millions of Chinese people. That is a worthy goal and that goal is being pursued with great vigor by the Chinese government, and the results are coming in, although there is a long way to go because you have 1.3 billion people who need to be given services and to be given incomes and jobs. So it is a very important economic growth story.
On the other hand, the political space for opposition, for speaking out within China, has not grown, and there is a mismatch that eventually will have to be remedied between people becoming more active economic consumers, and then as they do so, wanting to be heard and wanting to be part of the political future of their country.
In contrast, you take Malaysia, which is growing dynamically economically but also has a very robust political system. So I think that China has a lot of very positive results from their economic growth, but I will predict to you that I don’t know whether it’s 5 years, 10 years, 15 years, there is an inherent contradiction between economic freedom and the lack of political freedom, and so there will have to be adjustments made.
Now, if you compare China to India, India is also making progress economically while maintaining a very large, sprawling, pluralistic democracy. So it’s a little bit harder to do to try to keep the economy and political systems moving forward together. And I think they’re two very interesting models, and we have to follow and watch both of them.
But I will tell you I am optimistic about America’s future because our fundamentals are so strong. And we go up and down. You can look at our history where we have challenges. But as Winston Churchill famously said, “In America they finally get around to doing the right thing after trying nearly everything else.” (Laughter.) And we do have that tendency where we have an incredibly contentious political environment but our economic fundamentals are strong, and we’re going through a patch where we have, for us, high unemployment that will have to make some adjustments. And some of you know that my husband, when he left office, had a balanced budget and a budget surplus, and now we have a very big deficit and we’re going to have to deal with that.
But I’m very confident that it may not be – the two things that you should never watch being made: sausage and legislation in the American Congress. (Laughter.) So I am convinced that there will be a very, very strong and positive future for the United States as well.
MODERATOR: Can we take one more question (inaudible)? Yes.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary Clinton, my name is (inaudible). I’m a new media practitioner. In 250 years of American foreign policy, now we see that U.S. has an Islam-friendly foreign policy. I’m asking you a question from social responsibility perspective. The last three natural disasters have affected a lot of Muslims, being in Pakistan they had a great flood a few months back, and Indonesia they had a tsunami recently and volcano eruption. Is America playing more active role in being a global citizen and giving more social responsibility to the Muslims which is 80 percent in Asia? Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, yes, and I think if I’m not mistaken, our total contribution to the people of Pakistan after the floods is the highest in the world, probably close to $400 million plus a lot of other in-kind contributions, American military helicopters rescued tens of thousands of people, we provided water purification kits and meals. So we’ve been very active in helping with the recent devastating floods in Pakistan.
With respect to Indonesia, the terrible tsunami that was so devastating to Aceh, my husband, as you might remember, was asked by former President Bush to work with the first President Bush to be the head of our humanitarian efforts. And then my husband went on to be the United Nations Special Representative for Indonesia after the tsunami and spent a great deal of time and the United States was a key leader in helping for the recovery and reconstruction of Aceh.
In this current situation in Indonesia, we’ve offered help. The Indonesian Government’s capability has increased quite significantly. They are accepting some help from foreign governments, but they’re also doing a lot on their own. We talked with the president and the foreign minister when we saw them in Hanoi.
So the United States stands ready. And because we do have a global reach, we are able to move more quickly than many countries to get supplies deployed to locations where natural disasters hit. And the premise of your question is an interesting one because I’m not always sure that the people in countries, particularly but not exclusively Muslim-majority countries, know how much aid the United States offers. And that’s our fault that we haven’t done a better job in conveying and communicating our concern and our desire to help in times of distress. But we stand ready to do so and we have done it consistently over a number of years.
MODERATOR: Madam Secretary, I recall that sometime in April this year there was this presidential summit on entrepreneurship.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes.
MODERATOR: And I believe you made some statements there and you said something about wanting to provide assistance to promote entrepreneurship in Muslim-majority countries. What has happened to that initiative? Is it coming to Malaysia?
SECRETARY CLINTON: We have followed up on that and we are doing a number of things. We’re providing mentoring programs, special exchange programs. Malaysia has a very entrepreneurial culture and it is not as necessary in Malaysia as it is in North Africa and in the Middle East, in Central, South-Central Asia, so our programs may not be as evident here in Malaysia because there’s already such a dynamic small and medium size business environment. And you have good laws and you have systems that promote education and includes women.
So what we have done in our entrepreneurship outreach, I’ll give you two quick examples. We’ve started something called Tech Women, where we are bringing women entrepreneurs from Muslim-majority countries to be mentored in Silicon Valley by women executives there, to be exposed to a lot of the recent advances in technology, to be part of networks, and to figure out ways that they can increase their understanding and skills so that they can be more successful back home.
Secondly, we have been setting up online programs so that not only the people who attended the entrepreneurship summit but people back in the countries can log on and get information and also get networked with people who can provide advice to them without ever having to leave their country.
So we’re using modern technology as a way of promoting entrepreneurship. We are heavily invested in micro-enterprise and micro-credit programs so that people can get the funding they need. And it’s not just for the smallest enterprises but for businesses that have already started that frankly have trouble getting access to credit. And again, a lot of women-owned businesses have trouble getting access to credit in many of these countries. So expanding access to credit in the Muslim world will be an advantage for everyone but could be a particular advantage for women-owned businesses.
So we’re working and we would welcome collaborations with businesses and educational institutions in Malaysia that can give us some good ideas about how to seed and support entrepreneurship in Muslim-majority countries.
MODERATOR: Do you have a question or – go ahead.
MS. CHEK: I have a question before we open the floor up.
MODERATOR: Go ahead.
QUESTION: I just wanted to take you back to the topic of Islam.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes.
MS. CHEK: Since the beginning, you’ve said that the Obama Administration has been intent on strengthening its leadership role (inaudible). Undeniably, the U.S. is seen as a key player in neutralizing a lot of conflicts around the world, but now it’s Islam against the West, versus Islam, if you will, to put it mildly and generally. How do you see America’s role as it stands, just going (inaudible) bridging the divide between Islam and the West?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Norzie, I hope there is not a conflict, and that is one of my goals is to prevent and avoid any sense of conflict between Islam and the West. I mean, Islam has, obviously, like any great religion, core principles but has different historical and cultural presentation, depending upon the country where it is found. And I think it’s important not to lump the West together and not to lump Islam together, but instead to look for ways that we can enhance mutual understanding, enhance mutual respect, learn more about each other.
The question the gentleman asked in the back about the United States humanitarian assistance in disasters affecting Muslim countries is something that we need to do a better job in talking about so that people know about it so they don’t think that for some reason the United States is not there when disaster strikes.
So I think that the United States has to do a better job, but so does the Islamic world in reaching out to one another, using institutions like ISTAC to have more exchanges and more understanding. And again, I would go back to this theme that religion has many different faces even within one faith. As a Christian, there are many different kinds of practicing Christians, and in my religion, like in any religion in the world in our history and in modern times, there are those who use religion for other purposes. They use religion to promote an ideology, to mask nationalistic ambitions; they use religion for personal power. I mean, we know that. I see it in my own religion and I’ve seen it over history.
So I think it’s important for especially Islam and Christianity to make it very clear that there is a great problem within any religion between those who exploit religion for extremist purposes and the vast majority of adherents to that religion. And I think we need to do more exchanges, more education, more understanding, which is why I am very impressed with what Sisters in Islam is trying to do and to build those bridges.
So it is a very – it’s a very easy issue to mischaracterize and have sensationalist headlines, because conflict sells, and we have to be careful about that. Therefore, more moderate voices need to be speaking out and stressing mutual respect and mutual understanding. And that’s part of how I see my role as Secretary of State, but I can only advocate it. The work has to be done by people of faith in different settings around the world.
MS. CHEK: Could I just ask one more question as a follow-up. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: She’s a good journalist.
MODERATOR: Go ahead, go ahead.
MS. CHEK: It’s just so exciting to have you here and you know these are the topics that Malaysians, I think, (inaudible) to ask you. I just wanted to ask you, the clash between Islam and the West can no longer be seen as a clash between nations. Now today, no one particular leader of the Muslim countries can claim to speak for Islam or is capable of speaking for Islam.
So what we see today are pockets of frustrated Muslim society who feel that their leaders are not doing enough in terms of addressing issues of conflict or crisis, if you will, with the Muslim community. For example, almost all Muslims, regardless of faction, oppose Israel and fight American support of the country as Washington’s fundamental affront against Arab interests.
Now given that, do you agree that America’s adversary today comes in the form of Muslims across the barriers of state and doctrine who are frustrated with America’s policy with regard to this issue?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think this is a very, very controversial and difficult issue, and I appreciate your raising it because I know that it is a theme that runs through our relations with many countries and in particular with Muslim-majority but not exclusively with Muslim-majority countries.
And it has become a much greater international issue. I can tell you from my own experience when I was First Lady in the 1990s and I would travel around the world, outside of the Middle East the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was rarely mentioned. Now, 15 – 10-15 years later, it’s on everybody’s television screen, it is in everybody’s consciousness, so it is frequently raised. So it has a much broader base of awareness in the world.
And for the United States, we are committed to a two-state solution. We believe that Israel has a right to exist and that the Palestinians have a right to a state. I was the first American associated with our government who ever said that back in the late ‘90s. It has been a personal commitment of mine as First Lady, as senator, now as Secretary of State. And it is a particularly complex issue for a number of reasons, but let me just quickly tell you that I am working very hard to create the necessary trust between the Israeli and the Palestinian leadership for each of them to make decisions that are difficult politically.
If you – I know it might be very difficult to do this, but I always like to put myself in the other person’s shoes. I find it very helpful to try to figure out if I were an Israeli or I were a Palestinian, how would I see the world?
And if you put yourself into the Israelis’ shoes, the Israelis believe that they have tried, they made an offer to Yasser Arafat – my husband was part of that at Camp David in 2000 – and it was for a state and it was to resolve all issues. And for internal political reasons, it was not accepted. I mean, the Israelis would argue that if that had been accepted, there would have been a state now (inaudible). The Israeli leader, Yitzhak Rabin, who was working toward that, was murdered by an extremist Israeli.
So Israel believes that they have acted in ways that have not been reciprocated, including withdrawing from Lebanon and withdrawing from Gaza, and then being fired on by rockets. So if you reject Israel’s right to exist, your answer is, well, that doesn’t matter. But if you, as I do, accept their right to exist, then you can see why they are somewhat concerned about how to move forward.
The Palestinians, on the other hand, they feel like they have demonstrated in the last several years in particular under President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad that they can build the institutions of a state. In fact, the World Bank said in a recent report that given what the Palestinians have done, they will be ready for statehood.
And so they say to the Israelis we are now a mature or a maturing set of institutions and we’re ready for statehood. And the Israelis say, well, how are you going to protect us from rockets? And the Palestinians say, well, you’re just going to have to trust us on that. And the Israelis say, well, we need more than that.
So that gives you a flavor of what are very real issues between two people who I want to see share the same piece of real estate. So I am working endlessly to try to work out an agreement that each of them can accept. And it is important for a country like Malaysia to support the Palestinians in their state building. And the United States is the largest donor to the Palestinian people, larger than any Arab country, larger than anyone else. And we will continue to help the Palestinians build toward a state, but the only way to get there in a secure, lasting fashion is through negotiation.
So I’m well aware that many people say, well, why is the United States so supportive of Israel? Well, we are also very supportive of the Palestinians and we are very supportive of the Arab Peace Initiative from King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. But we want to take what are paper commitments and translate it into real world decisions, and that’s what I’m committed to doing. And any support that Malaysia can give to the Palestinians to keep up this very good state-building effort so that they’re ready for statehood will add to the ability to finally reach that agreement.
MODERATOR: Okay. Madam Secretary, not only do we have audience here in ISTAC, but we have remote audiences, one in Kuala Lumpur in KLC library, the other one in (inaudible) in east Malaysia.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Okay.
MODERATOR: We are trying to establish communication with them in a short while. While we’re waiting for that, can we have a question from (inaudible). I know everybody’s looking at me giving some kind of look, please take my question. (Laughter.) I saw you (inaudible). Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. Madam Secretary, good afternoon. I’m (inaudible) from (inaudible) Technology Malaysia. I just watched CNN and Al Jazeera this morning, okay, about I think the support that President Obama is having right now at this moment, and I think when he came to power, the majority, I would say many people in Malaysia have high hopes, as I think the rest of the Muslim world, right? But as Secretary of State, how confident are you that the noble intentions of President Obama will be realized when, at the moment, I think he himself is having challenges winning the hearts of the American people? Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, let me say as someone who’s been involved in American politics at the highest level for about 30 years, longer than I care to admit, every president who’s elected, I think going back to sometime in the 1800s, the party of the president loses seats in Congress in the first election after the inauguration of the president.
So if that happens in our election, and it may or may not – a lot of the pundits say it will, the same thing happened to my husband – it is sort of the way American politics keeps itself in the center. So a new president gets elected, he usually does an enormous amount his first two years, and then everybody in America says, well, that’s either not enough or that’s too much. That’s kind of the – it’s like Goldilocks. You know that story, it’s too hot, too cold, it’s not right. So they send a message to the new president by voting out members of Congress of his party. And we had that in 1994 and we have it in most of the – what are called midterm elections.
But what President Obama has achieved in his first two years is very lasting and very important. Just a few things. In the foreign policy arena, the President’s commitment to move the world toward one without nuclear weapons is important for every country. And the Nuclear Security Summit that your prime minister attended in Washington last April is a very strong indication that the leaders of the major countries in the world want to protect their people from nuclear materials getting into the wrong hands, from rogue regimes that get nuclear weapons and then threaten their neighbors. So that is a very significant step combined with the treaty that the United States and Russia have signed to continue to decrease our nuclear stockpile.
The balancing act that had to be done in the global economy in the immediate days after President Obama came into office, I personally believe that President Obama’s leadership at home and abroad working with countries like China, like India, like others, prevented a global depression. Now, it’s hard sometimes to get credit for what did not happen, but I believe that President Obama, when history looks at what he did, will get enormous credit.
At home, what the President has accomplished in healthcare, which is, from my own experience, a very difficult political issue in the United States that I worked on when Bill was president, and the fact that President Obama has passed major healthcare reform, will stand the test of time. Even though a lot of our special interests have everybody all upset about what was in the bill, it will change the way American healthcare is delivered and paid for. It will help millions of Americans. And again, when the dust settles, I think people will see that.
So there are many other examples I could give you. In the financial reform area, the President forced through a bill that will end bank bailouts, which will require our banks to be more responsible, which will be good for Malaysia as well for the United States.
So there are so many important initiatives that were passed in these first two years. So the political winds blow back and forth, but I think you’ll find with President Obama he’s a very steady captain of the ship and he believes that what America needs to do is hard, politically challenging, but must be done. So I think that no matter what happens in our election, you will see him immediately after the election going to India, Indonesia, South Korea, Japan, continuing to promote his agenda, which I think is right for America and right for the world.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Can we have some time now to go to KL Lincoln Corner at the KL City Library? Can we have the video feed? There we go. KL, can you hear me?
MODERATOR: There we are. Okay. The representative from Kuala Lumpur KL City Library is (inaudible). (Inaudible), is that you?
MODERATOR: Okay. You have a question to Madam Secretary? Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay. Hello, good afternoon and welcome to Malaysia, Madam Secretary. My name is (inaudible). I am university student from (inaudible). (Inaudible) the question I will like to ask. Madam Secretary, how can Malaysian women play a supporting role in national development, (inaudible), and multicultural society? Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, thank you for the question. And one of the many assets that I think Malaysia has for the 21st century is the multicultural diversity that you have in your country. The world is very diverse, and countries that can demonstrate how to have inclusive economies and inclusive political systems and accommodate different backgrounds are countries that are likely to be more successful in the long term. So I think Malaysia starts with an advantage.
And as this young woman asked, from my perspective based on the very successful Malaysian women that I know of and some of whom I met earlier today, women are playing a role and I hope will continue to play an even greater role. The young women who are studying in your colleges and universities today are going to be equipped to play not only a significant role in Malaysia but a significant role on the global stage on behalf of Malaysia – Malaysian businesses, Malaysia governmental policies, Malaysian NGOs and civil society.
So I think you can sort of guess from the comments that I’m making, my assessment is that Malaysia has an extraordinary opportunity to demonstrate leadership and to serve as a model for other countries throughout the world. And I am very, very hopeful that the young people of Malaysia will demonstrate a commitment to this multicultural, pluralistic model that Malaysia has become and show the way for other countries who can’t quite figure out how to do it. They can’t figure out how to have an inclusive economy or an inclusive political system and they are handicapping themselves because of that. So Malaysia has a lot to teach, not just Asia but the entire world.
MODERATOR: Okay, now can we go to Kuching for a while? (Inaudible.) Thank you very much. They’ve been waiting for us as well. Okay, in Kuching, the one in the center. Madam Secretary, the one in the center on the live feed. It’s (inaudible), can you hear me?
QUESTION: Yes, I can hear you.
MODERATOR: Go ahead with a question.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) good afternoon. You look great today. My name is (inaudible) and I am from university (inaudible). Before I can state with my question, I would like to welcome you to (inaudible) and also wish you happy (inaudible).
Okay. so I’ll proceed with my question. This is my question. Female education rates have progressed steadily worldwide, in many countries even outperforming and outnumbering their male counterparts (inaudible). These advances have yet to translate in greater (inaudible). Global education changes (inaudible) cultural and institutional changes are still slow. Please, can’t you tell us how (inaudible)? Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. Thank you very much. I believe so strongly that education is the key to individual advancement and to social development. And it’s going to be one of the key areas of our partnership with Malaysia. Our new ambassador, Paul Jones, who arrived only seven weeks ago, has already gotten out and met a lot of you, and we’re going to work closely together with your government, with your universities, and others to help design programs that will meet the needs of Malaysian students. And teaching English in rural areas, which is something that’s already been identified to us as an issue; more science, technology and research exchanges, as the vice chancellor from the university mentioned to me. So we’re going to be looking for a deep partnership on education.
The other part of your question about young women who do well in education not yet perhaps feeling as though they have an equitable chance at jobs and positions once they finish their education is something that has to be addressed in every society. And if the women leaders that you have already in Malaysia, demonstrating that you have very competent women who are at very high levels in every aspect of Malaysian life, should help to send a message to both young men and young women that decisions about jobs and professions should be made on merit. The best person, man or woman, should be given the opportunity to prove him or herself.
And I think that there will be a greater awareness of that. And I hope that here in Malaysia young women, who, like in my own country, are actually attending university at a higher percentage than young men and in many fields of study are actually doing very well, will be given the encouragement to pursue their academic and their professional desires.
Now speaking from my own experience and the work that I’ve done for many years, I know that for many young women – not all, but for many young women – being involved in the business world or the professional world does not mean you also do not want to be a wife and mother. And so the balancing of your family responsibilities with your work responsibilities remains one of the biggest challenges for women around the world. And many women have to sequence their careers as to how they do the jobs that they’re given and still fulfill their responsibilities to their family.
And society should support that because we don’t want to lose the talent of these educated young women. What we want – at least I will say this as a personal opinion – we want educated young women having families and raising the next generation and making that commitment to their children’s upbringing and education.
So every society has to figure out how to do that balance. And I have to say in my own country we still don’t have it right. It’s very, very hard for many young women to manage their careers and manage their families, and too many young women decide that they just can’t do both. And I think that’s a loss. I mean, if it’s a personal decision, I’m all for it. But if it’s a decision by default, I can’t imagine having a high-powered career and being able to care for my children the way I would like to, therefore I won’t have children, I think that’s a loss for society.
So how we balance this continues to be a challenge for nearly every society that I’m aware of, and I hope that this young woman who asked the question believes that here in Malaysia she will be able to excel in school, have an important career to her, make a contribution to her society, and if she chooses, also be a wife and mother.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Madam Secretary. We have one more question before we (inaudible) the stage. Yes.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, I’m from the 40 percent non-Muslim population of the country. My name is (inaudible). I recently came back from Duke University with a Ph.D. in political science, a Fulbright scholar – I’m proud to say that – came back in April or May. I just wanted to let you know, assure you that despite – regardless of who is in power at a governmental level, there are a lot of initiatives which are going on in Malaysia here which come directly as a result of our positive experiences in the U.S. Let me just give you three very shortly. You are familiar with Teach for America, of course, (inaudible). Teach for Malaysia is starting very, very soon.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes.
QUESTION: Teach for Malaysia is starting very, very soon.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Great.
QUESTION: I wanted to let you know – and run by Malaysians, inspired by the resources and also for Teach First, and as well as Teach for America, Teach International is helping them out. And I think many Malaysians who are overseas want to come back and contribute to this cause.
Second thing that I wanted to let you know is that Malaysians in the United States – actually, Malaysian students meet up independently in very small pockets – (inaudible) and Stanford – they are going to meet up in Boston next year to talk about their own learning experiences in the U.S. and how do you want to bring that back to Malaysia. One example of that is, for example, many of these students come back every year to give a very, very cheap workshop at about 10 U.S. dollars for two days to teach Malaysian kids and to give them advice on how to apply to the best schools in the U.S., research schools, universities, as well as liberal arts schools which many Malaysian otherwise would not know. I myself have been advantaged (inaudible) of that because I’ve hired – gotten to know and hired someone from your own alma mater, Wellesley, who was here on a gap year doing a different kind of consulting work.
And I think I just wanted to leave you – you’re not going to some bad news tonight and I know for tomorrow as well. But regardless of what happens in the political field, there are things happening at the P-to-P level and G-to-P level that are – that will continue to have a good impact formulations as a result of positive experiences dealing with the U.S.
And I had a great time at Duke as well.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Excellent, excellent. (Applause.) Let me reinforce those ideas because it is this people-to-people exchange that can be informal, like the young woman from Wellesley that you had a chance to speak to, and it can be more formal programs, and we want to do both.
And the idea of Teach for Malaysia is so exciting because I know that there are many successful Malaysian students who have studied both in Malaysia and the United States or in other countries who could be very important in the lives of less privileged young people who might not have the exposure and the experience that many of us have had in our own societies, so I would encourage you to take that idea. And this kind of volunteer outreach is really at the core – my belief that these people-to-people exchanges within societies and across national boundaries are going to be even more important in the future.
And we can either have positive exchanges or negative exchanges. And therefore, the more we can put into ensuring more positive exchanges, the better we will understand each other. And the more opportunities young Malaysian students will have to come to the United States, and I would like to see more American students coming to Malaysia.
QUESTION: I think – have we time for it?
MODERATOR: We have an extra 10 minutes.
QUESTION: We have an extra 10 minutes, okay. I just wanted to ask – I find you amazing because you have been traveling. You have been to Vietnam. You are now going to Papua New Guinea and Australia and New Zealand and all that. When do you play mother-in-law? (Laughter.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I thank the questioner for the good wishes about my daughter’s wedding, which was truly one of the highlights of my life. It was absolutely wonderful. And she and her husband live in New York, so not far from where we live. You know I work in Washington as Secretary of State, but my husband and I live in New York. And so we’re able to get together, probably not as often I would like, but probably as often as they would like – (laughter) – as the mother and mother-in-law. And it is – it’s wonderful having a grown-up child. And those of you who’ve had that experience know exactly what I mean. It is so gratifying and incredibly touching to me to watch my daughter launching her own life like this.
Also, email is a great invention. You can not only stay in touch but offer advice long distance and you don’t have to see their faces when they receive the advice, whether they like it or not. So it’s been for me a very wonderful experience on the personal level, and I’m very grateful. My husband and I feel blessed that my 91-year-old mother lives with us and my daughter is launched in the world, and it’s a very good feeling about the cycle of life and the contributions that we each make to it.
MS. CHEK: I’m equally amazed with your energy level. And I wanted to ask, and I want you to answer honestly, it’s been said that you’re smarter than your husband. Is that true? (Laughter.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: Now, I don’t – Norzie, I don’t know if you’re married. Are you married, Norzie? (Laughter.)
MS. CHEK: I am. I am.
SECRETARY CLINTON: But that is one of those questions that is a “no win” question. (Laughter.) First of all, I will say this because I really believe it, I think my husband’s the smartest person I’ve ever met, and he says the same about me so that said -- (Laughter.) (Applause.)
But it – we have been married for 35 years and we have known each other for 39 years, so much more than half of our lives. And we started a conversation when we were in law school and it never flags. I mean, it just keeps going on every issue under the sun. So I feel very fortunate to have a life partner who is endlessly interesting and so committed to helping other people. I mean, he is truly – got the biggest heart I’ve ever seen. And so we have an extraordinary time because we’re both able to support each other, but also learn from each other and create new ideas with each other. So I feel very, very lucky indeed.
QUESTION: What do you do to unwind? I mean, (inaudible) a very stressful job.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yeah.
QUESTION: But what do you do to unwind?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I try to catch up on my sleep. I try to exercise as regularly as I can. The weekends, when my husband and I are home, we like to go for long walks. We live in – north of New York City and there are a lot of nature preserves that we take our dogs to and we go for long walks. We like to go to movies and go out to dinner – just normal things that take your mind off of the day-to-day pressures of this kind of set of responsibilities.
MODERATOR: All right. I was given the signal that we have 10 minutes for the floor, only exclusively for the floor. Let’s go all the way – yes, you’ve been waiting for (inaudible).
QUESTION: Yeah, I will take you away from Malaysia to Afghanistan. I’m (inaudible), teaching political science. As you know that I don’t look like an Malaysian but I’m proudly from Malaysian society and I think --
SECRETARY CLINTON: If you could put the microphone up, sir.
QUESTION: This is Malaysia’s contribution to the Afghan society right from the 1990s, so he brought – they brought us here and that we are educated, but we wanted to go back. But I was told the United States abandoned us in 1990. So I want assurance that this time U.S. does not abandon us so therefore we can have a peaceful life. Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first of all, thank you for that question and I hope you will have a chance and that you take it to go back. What you say is true. In 1989 when the former Soviet Union left Afghanistan, the United States and much of the world breathed a sigh of relief and we did leave. And we left behind, frankly, some of the very problems that now are causing so much heartache in Afghanistan. The United States along with our Arab allies and European allies were the major supporters of creating the Mujaheddin, of arming them, of training them, of financing them, and one of them was named Usama bin Ladin. And religion was used as a means of enlisting nationalistic feelings against the Soviet Union. And then when it was over, those feelings do not disappear, that organization does not end, and it was unfortunate for Afghanistan, for Pakistan, and for much of the rest of the world that we all said, “Well, thank goodness that that’s over.”
Now, you know because you’re from Afghanistan that there was a terrible period of the Soviet invasion followed by another terrible period of warlords and Mujaheddin fighting and then followed by another terrible period of the Taliban. So the people of Afghanistan have suffered through 30 years of occupation and war. And the United States is committed to helping the people of Afghanistan recover and rebuild and the story is not told as often as I would like, but many positive things have happened in Afghanistan in the last 10 years with the fall of the Taliban.
At that point in time, there were about 700,000 children in school in Afghanistan and they were all boys. There wasn’t a single official school available for girls. And now there are about 6 or 7 million kids in school and about 40 percent of them are girls. The university is back open; it is coeducational. Some professors have come back and are teaching once again.
Agricultural produce is starting to flow. Markets are starting to open. Businesses – there’s been a recent discovery of a lot of mineral wealth in Afghanistan, if handled correctly, could be a boon. If not, it could be a source of massive corruption. There’s a lot of positive opportunity, but it is still a very difficult situation.
And the United States is committed to helping to build the Afghan security forces, both the military and the police forces and we thank Malaysia for helping on a number of areas with Afghanistan, including providing medical assistance in Afghanistan. And we are working with the government to build their capacity, and we’re hoping to see continuing progress. But I would not sit here and tell you that it is easy, because 30 years warfare has taken a terrible toll. And it is important that the international community try to help the people of Afghanistan recover. And hopefully, someday, you’ll be able to return and teach there what you’re teaching here in Malaysia.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Okay. We have one question here. She’s one of the Facebook members who – apparently Malaysia has the biggest number of Facebook friends in the world. She happens to be one of them. And you may want to share with them – Madam Secretary – why you are here – why you choose interview here before you pose the question.
QUESTION: I’m here because I am excited and you are actually my role model. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you.
MODERATOR: But the primary reason why you were chosen to be (inaudible).
QUESTION: Because I’m interested in a lot of issues and especially foreign policy and I think you are the right person to answer the question. Anyway, first of all, selamat datang ke Malaysia.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you.
QUESTION: Welcome to Malaysia.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you.
QUESTION: My first question – I have two questions. My first question is about woman participation in politics. As we see, even though we have more than 50 percent in most of the university in Malaysia comprising of women, but in terms of politics, woman participation, it’s quite low, mostly are male dominated and a very few women in top ministerial role and no woman in the top two posts before. So in terms of breaking the glass ceiling, I think you know better than all of us. So I would love to know – for you to share your experience.
Secondly, it’s about ASEAN. As we know, ASEAN is increasing – South Asian nations increasingly affected by disaster. And ASEAN, although an infant in this area, are working to assist as we see in the 2005 tsunami in Asia as well as 2008 Nargis Cyclone in Myanmar. So what is the U.S. foreign policy toward ASEAN in terms of dealing with this pressing issue in terms of climate change as well as humanitarian crisis? Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. Thank you very much. Let me take your second question first. One of the areas that the United States wants to partner with ASEAN and ASEAN nations is in disaster preparedness, response, and mitigation partly for the reason that you have already mentioned. The weather patterns are becoming more intense. And the effects of those intense weather events is causing more damage. So we need to do a better job preparing for disasters, so we don’t just reinvent the wheel every time a cyclone strikes, a tsunami strikes, an earthquake, a flood. We need to position material. We need to have a plan for how we’re going to respond. The United States is happy to be one of the leaders in that. We have to work on climate change so that we mitigate the effects of climate change, which unfortunately will either cause or exacerbate weather problems.
And ASEAN would play a key role in that. So we are talking with ASEAN about how we can do this. And I think it’s a very important question because the cost of these disasters are going up, and we have to be better prepared.
Finally, on your question about women in politics, well, I think it is fair to say that no matter what society you’re in, it is challenging for women in politics. It is just a very difficult road to walk. And you have to have a pretty thick skin, number one. (Laughter.) One of my heroes, Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of our very esteemed president during World War II, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, once said that if a woman wants to be in politics, she needs to grow skin like a rhinoceros. (Laughter.) And do you still have rhinos in Malaysia? (Laughter.)
So I think you – if you’re going to be a woman in politics, you cannot complain about how hard it is, because it is hard. You just have to be prepared as best you can to participate. And it is true that there remains something of a double standard globally about women in politics. I’ll tell you a funny story. Probably Finland has more women in high positions per capita than any country in the world. The president, the prime minister, the head of the central bank at one time, I mean, the defense minister are all women. And yet today, they will tell you, even though they are in these high positions, that when they go out to campaign and do political events, the press will still report on what they’re wearing. (Laughter.) So that seems like it goes with the territory.
But I am very convinced that more young women and women of all ages need to participate in the politics of their country. I’m not saying that women are better or worse. I’m just saying that we bring different perspectives to a lot of the issues that our countries face, and our voices need to be heard at the highest levels of domestic and foreign policy. So for any young woman who believes she has skin like a rhinoceros and is willing to be scrutinized about her hair, about her clothes, about all those things, it’s a very exciting career. You get to meet people you would never meet. The challenges are very intellectually demanding. Learning more about yourself so that you can better present yourself and communicate and form coalitions to get things done – it’s very rewarding.
But it is hard and it’s probably become harder because of intense media scrutiny. And it’s not just from the professional media, but everybody with a cell phone can record everything you say and everything you do. And that’s an extra burden that you just have to be ready to accept. So I hope that – just as in my own country, I hope both more young women and young men choose to pursue politics because we’ve got to have the best of our young people in our political systems in order to make the best decisions for the future. So I commend that to you.
MODERATOR: Okay. Now, looking at a question that – their hand’s raised. We really hope that you can stay, like, throughout the whole day but --
SECRETARY CLINTON: (Laughter.)
MODERATOR: -- we understand that your schedule is extremely tight, but let’s take one final question from this gentleman over here.
QUESTION: Thank you. Welcome to Malaysia, Secretary of State, and let me just give you a brief perception of what I think Malaysia is, but not yet appreciated by the United States. In 50 years, we have reduced poverty from 37 percent something down to 3 percent. And in 50 years, we have taken agricultural children and made them engineers who work in Cyberjaya. No other country in the world has systematically and schematically reduced and moved an entire generation of people from the third sector, which is agriculture, to the first sector.
So I think we are a global model, but unfortunately – I studied in the U.S., so I am thankful that I can articulate my ideas, but unfortunately, United States has never understood the potential of Malaysia. You still think Saudi Arabia is better or Indonesia is better politically or the Philippines is better politically. (Laughter.)
So let me suggest to you, Minister, that you seriously consider sending your – finally, your public policy students, international relations students for a semester abroad in Malaysia. We will teach them cross-cultural communications in really significant ways, because we are going into a very multicultural world. And unless you remove the ethnocentric world view, you will not appreciate the others better. That’s just my advice. Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, that’s – (applause) – that is advice that I’m going to take. (Laughter.) And as I said early on, the way that Malaysia has developed economically and politically, so that you had inclusive economic growth but a vigorous political system is the model for the 21st century. And countries that do one without the other, I don’t believe in 50 years will see the results that Malaysia has produced.
So I do think there is a very rich opportunity for more cross-fertilization between the United States and Malaysia, and one of the first things that Ambassador Jones and I will do is to try to create a program for an exchange of our policy students, and also perhaps some of our think tanks that need to be more closely connected and working together, and if you will be sure to come to see Ambassador Jones, we will follow up on this idea. Thank you. (Applause.)
MODERATOR: Okay. Unfortunately, we have to stop right here. Any last words for (inaudible)? Thank you very much once again for the questions, and those who were not able to ask a question, probably you might want to post a question on the U.S. Embassy Facebook wall or something similar, then – again, thank you very much once again. Can we give a big hand to Madam Secretary Hillary Clinton? (Applause.) It’s been such an honor to have you. Hope you have a wonderful stay here in Malaysia, although it’s short, and we welcome you once again, again, and again to Malaysia.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes. This day is like the appetizer, so – (laughter) – I have to come back for the full meal. Right, Ambassador, (inaudible)? Thank you. Thank you all very much.
MODERATOR: Thank you. My pleasure.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you.