Remarks at the U.S.-Japan Council Annual Conference
Secretary of State
And of course, as good as he is, he was made even better by his wonderful wife. (Laughter.) And as someone who has been the spouse of a very famous man, I know that Irene brings more than half of what this dynamic duo represents – (applause) – because she comes to the work she does every day with such extraordinary intelligence and grace. Irene is the kind of person who you might as well just say yes to right away – (laughter) – because you eventually will. And so to both of these great Americans, thank you for your friendship and your leadership.
Also, thank you to Mr. Iino for his leadership as well. I wish to welcome Japan’s national policy minister, whom I believe you will hear from later. And of course, our friend – friend to all of us, Ambassador Fujisaki, thank you so much for what you do to really help our relationship grow even stronger. And we celebrate this extraordinary friendship, which, as Dan said, for many decades now has been such a significant strategic relationship, but more than that, a cornerstone of America’s involvement in the Pacific, a partner in so many common endeavors to try to increase prosperity, pursue peace, and provide a better future.
And so we’re celebrating this at a moment when America is in the midst of a strategic pivot. The wars of the last decade are winding down and transitioning; the world’s economic and strategic center of gravity is shifting east; and the United States is committed to an even deeper network of relationships across the Asia-Pacific region. But when you set out to build something, you begin with the cornerstone, which is why, as Secretary of State, I made my very first overseas visit and several since then to Japan. And President Obama, Vice President Biden, and many other American officials have made that same journey in the last two and a half years.
But we know that governments alone cannot sustain the close ties that we have and continue to seek. Our strongest relationships have not lived only in the halls of power; they live in the hearts and minds of the American and Japanese people, not just in some cold assessment of our common interests, but in the warmth of common experiences, family ties, friendships, and the common values that bind us together. This relationship has been tested by time and tragedy, by rivalry, and by the natural push and pull between two proud nations like ours. And each time, it comes back even stronger. Each time, when it counts the most, our two countries stand in solidarity with each other.
Ten years ago, as a senator from New York, I saw firsthand what our friendship meant. When Japan sent firefighters from 7,000 miles away to help with the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, I was moved, but I wasn’t surprised. That’s just the kind of friend that Japan is to America and to many countries around the world. Wherever there is famine, disease, poverty, wherever there is a young democracy struggling to take root, from the frontlines to the forgotten corners, Japan is there, working hand in hand with America to build a safer, more prosperous world.
The generosity that moved us after 9/11 we sought to repay after 3/11. After Japan’s earthquake and tsunami, our governments launched the largest joint military operation in our history. More than 20,000 Americans from our military and other agencies took part in what we called Operation Tomodachi. Now, this was more than just a search and recovery mission; this was a demonstration of our deep ties, because as you know so well, tomodachi means friend, and that’s what we want it to be.
Americans who remembered the red and white flags on the jackets of Japanese volunteers at ground zero flew to Japan to return the favor. Across our country, in small towns and large cities, people raised money. Springfield, Illinois, for example, raised $32,000 selling blue jeans for their sister city in Japan. Nebraska corn growers donated nearly 9,000 bushels of grain. Japan-America societies across this country raised over $20 million for relief efforts in Japan. And the ambassador is passing out these white wristbands, which I’m very proud to wear. And as you might guess, he’s very persistent. So again, just say yes when he approaches you. (Laughter.)
The joint public-private partnership for reconstruction, which our governments launched in July during my visit with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Keidanren is bringing together policy makers and business leaders to galvanize Japan’s economic recovery. And just last month, when Vice President Biden visited Japan, he made a very clear message to the world that Japan is open for business. And I want particularly to thank Irene and the U.S.-Japan Council for the work you’ve been doing with our Embassy in Tokyo to create the Tomodachi initiative, which is an outgrowth of both the operation and the partnership for reconstruction. Tomodachi initiative will be focused on partnerships and programs to empower Japan’s young leaders and entrepreneurs. Together, we want to create a Tomodachi generation that is deeply committed to the future of our relationship.
Now, relationships like ours and so many others in our lives show their true colors in tragedy, but they are built over decades. And while economic and security ties are vital to our alliance, ties between our people give our friendship its full meaning. The wonder a Japanese college student exudes when she first sets foot in L.A. or Chicago or Boston, the warmth an American high schooler feels for his Japanese host family, the technological marvels that Japanese and American corporate partnerships unleash into our markets, the mind-bending discoveries of our researchers cooperating at the cutting edge of science, these are the experiences that underpin our shared success.
For all the fundamentals that are already in place, however, we cannot rest. We have to keep building and looking for new opportunities. And we do that issue by issue and person by person. And I must say that for us in the State Department, few opportunities deliver the lifelong impressions and friendships as sending our young people to each other’s country to learn languages and cultures. And we are committed to ensuring that even more young people have that opportunity. More than 35,000 people have participated in exchange programs sponsored by our two governments, programs like the Fulbright and the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program, known as JET. More than 750 officials have taken part in government exchanges, and nearly 4,000 Japanese professionals have taken part in the International Visitor Leadership Program, including four prime ministers, a Nobel laureate, a best-selling author, and many thousands more.
The simple truth is that these exchanges attract remarkable people and give them a global perspective. Japan’s first-ever female defense minister – you knew I’d have to get that in – is an alumnae of the U.S. International Visitor Leadership Program, and no less than four Nobel laureates from Japan are also Fulbright alums, and the CEO of Rakuten, whom I just met, who will be speaking from this very podium today, is a Harvard graduate.
So although these ties have already benefited both of our nations, they are not self-sustaining. We have to continue to invest in them. And I’m a little concerned, which is why I wanted to raise this with all of you. As recently as 1997, Japan sent more students than any other country in the world to study in America. Today, Japan ranks sixth. In the last 14 years, the number of Japanese students studying in America has dropped by almost 50 percent. And we are committed to doing whatever it takes to try to reverse this trend. So we are redoubling our efforts to connect Japanese youth with American universities. We’re establishing new Educational USA Advising Centers throughout Japan to explain to Japanese students how to win admission and financial assistance. We are working to remind a new generation of Japanese business leaders how valuable it is to have employees who know both of our cultures. And we are mobilizing Americans in the JET network to convince more students to study in America. And in a tough budget environment, we are fighting to maintain the funding for our flagship programs, including the Fulbright program, which will send 100 talented Japanese and Americans to learn each other’s cultures in 2012. We are providing scholarships to the American Field Service and other organizations so that students from the prefectures hardest hit by the tsunami can spend part of next summer in America. And we are encouraging more Americans to study abroad in Japan, and we’re pleased that this number rose to more than 5,700 this past year.
Now, we have seen how generations who study and live together give life to our alliance. We have seen how foreign visitors and overseas travel with all of its challenges in today’s world builds character and perspective. And it is inspiring to see what happens when our cultures do mix. Just last month, I met a group of Japanese little league baseball and softball players at the State Department. They were here through the U.S.-Japan Sport Visitor Exchange Program. It will not surprise you to hear that our sports exchange programs are our most popular exchange programs. And you should have seen the kids’ eyes light up as they met Cal Ripken, Jr., who was four times the size of anyone else in the room. (Laughter.) He hosted them in America and he will be giving youth baseball clinics across Japan next month. All of the kids who were there that day came from the areas hardest hit by the tsunami, and it was just a pure emotional high to see them in our country, some of whom who had lost family members, whose schools no longer existed, but who were just resilient and resourceful and determined to move with confidence into the future.
The American people are proud to count Japan among our closest friends. I recently heard the story of an Alaskan named Monty Dickson who taught English at Yonesaki Elementary School as part of the JET program. While in Japan, Monty came to love Japanese poetry, and on the morning of March 11th, he had translated a poem by Shiba Ryotaro into English, and it read: “There’s nothing as beautiful as dedicating one’s life for a cause.” And just a few hours after writing those words, Monty Dickson was swept away in the tsunami. In fact, both of the Americans who died that day, Monty and Taylor Anderson, were teachers in the JET program. Their lives and their cause are part of the fabric of the friendship that we now share. The Dicksons, the Andersons, and the entire extended family of JET alumni have been working to help the communities that both Monty and Taylor lived in and grew to love.
So we believe that building this relationship is not only strategic, not only economic, not only political; we believe it is a noble cause, and it’s one that we are absolutely committed to. The U.S.-Japan alliance is the cornerstone of a system in the Asia Pacific that has underwritten peace, stability, and prosperity for decades. And the close connections built by the Monty Dicksons and the Taylor Andersons and the U.S.-Japan Councils, those are the foundations that not only keep the cornerstones strong but keep building higher and higher.
I’m here to ask you for your help, Japanese and Americans alike. Let’s keep this alliance and what it represents strong for as far as we can see into the future. Let it be said about us as it can be said of prior generations of American and Japanese leaders in business, government, academia, civil society, that we understood why this relationship was so vital, not only to each of us but to the world. And let us teach our young people what our countries have meant, can mean, and will mean to each other in the years ahead. And then we can give a new generation the skills, the opportunities, and the dream to help America and Japan thrive together in the century ahead.
Thank you all very much. (Applause.)