Remarks at the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council 30th Anniversary Gala Reception
Secretary of State
Thank you very, very much. It’s sort of complicated to parachute in like this and then race off. And I think I’m hearing music accompanying my speech, which is interesting. (Laughter.) Beg your pardon?
PARTICIPANT: The heavenly choir.
SECRETARY KERRY: Beg your pardon?
PARTICIPANT: The heavenly choir.
SECRETARY KERRY: That’s fine by me, so long as it’s not calling me somewhere. (Laughter.)
But I’m really grateful. Evan, thank you so much for a very generous introduction. And I know I’m all that stands between all of you and dinner, so I will be – try to be respectful of that. On the other hand, this is an important gathering for an important effort, and I want to be very clear to everybody about why that is. Let me start by thanking the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council. I want to congratulate you on an extraordinary 30 years. To get an understanding of why this organization has been so successful, you only have to look to your right, look to your left, look at the leadership of the businesses of that are represented here. I just came from a small reception of a number of the folks who’re sponsoring it. But Evan, Alex Feldman, the president, CEO, others – US-ABC has some of the best and brightest businesses that are participating in – not just this evening, but in the ongoing enterprise of ASEAN efforts. And I thank all of you for your partnership over the years.
It’s also a pleasure to be among a lot of familiar faces. I was walking around, and from where I’m standing there’s – a whole bunch of the State Department is here. (Laughter.) Fair warning, I don’t care how much champagne you drink tonight, you’ve just got to be at work tomorrow morning. (Laughter.) Let me just quickly take this opportunity, if I can, to embarrass somebody who’s in the audience tonight, and he’s one of the most important people on my team. And I’m talking about Assistant Secretary for East Asia and Pacific Danny Russel, who’s standing right over here. (Applause.) When I first became Secretary, President Obama and I sat down to talk about his priorities, among them the Asia rebalance. And we realized that we really needed somebody who had the respect of people in the region and knew the region intimately and had the relationships which are a critical part of any kind of effort in East Asia, as all of you know. And there was never a doubt in President Obama’s mind or my mind who that person had to be. He had worked very closely with Danny in the White House – the President had – and Danny was actually one of the architects of the rebalance.
So before too long, I got to know Danny a lot better. I’d only known him parenthetically. But I’ll tell you, there are few people who understand the region better than he does. He lives it and he breathes it. It’s a mantle that he wears on his shoulders and carries with him all the time, and he loves it. And a year or two ago, just to prove this, I was walking through the White House one day and I passed the Situation Room and I saw Danny sitting across from Henry Kissinger. So I pop my head in and I say, “Henry, you’re giving Danny a briefing on Asia. That’s great.” And he turned to me and said, “No, John. Danny’s the one briefing me.” (Laughter.) Very, very – and it’s true, actually. That’s Danny, and there’s nobody better to drive our policy forward.
I’m also very, very delighted that tonight there are so many members of the diplomatic corps who are here. Thank you all for coming. I met with a number of the ambassadors just as I walked in and others – our ASEAN partner nations – are here in the audience. And I had an opportunity just the other day in New York at this massive speed dating exercise we get involved in in New York called UNGA, the UN General Assembly. So I met with all of the foreign ministers from the region there. We had a session in the evening, several hours. And I also met with our terrific U.S. Ambassador to ASEAN Nina Hachigian, and I think she’s here somewhere. Nina, why don’t you raise your hand? There she is. Our new ambassador right here, folks. (Applause.) She’s got a brother she’s marrying off, and the minute she got rid of him she’s heading out there, right? All right.
As I told everybody on Friday, ASEAN really is front and center in the region’s multilateral architecture, and we want it to remain there. ASEAN is central to upholding the rules-based system throughout the Asia Pacific and is the best way to ensure that countries big and small are going to have a voice as we work together to address the challenges that maritime security present, climate change presents, food security presents, not to mention just working our way through the complicated differentials between countries and barriers, non-tariff barriers, the different impediments to doing business. And it’s critical, because this group actually is creating significant economic opportunities, and the members who are here are helping to foster a very different playing field, which is critical. And I thank all of you for your partnership in that effort.
Lastly, I’m particularly excited to be among a lot of America’s elite business leaders heading up some of the most innovative and exciting businesses in the world. And that includes our own Assistant Secretary for Economic and Business Affairs Charlie Rivkin, who I saw somewhere. There he is right there. We actually had to call Charlie back from Paris where he had been serving as ambassador for a number of years so he could focus fulltime with me on advancing our economic agenda. And the reason we picked Charlie to lead our efforts and to promote American business abroad is very simple: Not a lot of assistant secretaries have been CEO of a billion-dollar company and a U.S. ambassador at the same time overseeing a bilateral relationship that clears one billion in business transactions every day. I might add that diplomacy is also in his blood, because his father, William Rivkin, was one of our finest ambassadors. He served in Luxembourg and Senegal. And Charlie has proven himself more than worthy of his father’s legacy, and we couldn’t be happier than to have him part of our team. So Charlie, thank you for taking on this job. (Applause.)
And the team includes Under Secretary Cathy Novelli, who also came from the private sector, from Apple; and Ambassador David Thorne, who became an ambassador from the private sector; and Scott Nathan, who has been a finance – who’s been engaged in finance, in funds – very, very successful in Boston, and who has joined our team. So we have a team that understands your challenges. They understand what it means to try to start a business, grow a business, open more opportunities, and get your decisions rapidly and get government out of the way as you try to do that, except to the degree that government can help you move forward.
So with so much focus on the challenges that are confronting us today, from ISIL to Ebola to Ukraine to Iran to Syria, and you can run the list, Afghanistan, it can be easy to miss the fact that there are also unprecedented opportunities staring us in the face at this moment, particularly when it comes to business and economic growth. And each and every business leader in this room would tell you that few regions in the world are as ripe for those opportunities as Southeast Asia.
Many of you have been involved initiative his region for decades. US-ABC includes some of the very first American businesses to open up shop in the ASEAN states. So you know better than anybody how dramatic the region’s transformation has been. I will personally never forget my first visit back to Vietnam as a civilian and as a senator in 1991. And I watched with great excitement because I was down in the south of Vietnam in prior years, never in the north. The north we looked at with great sort of trepidation, except for the pilots who obviously flew over it.
And as I flew into Hanoi, I looked down and I could see all kinds of craters from bombs that had been dropped. This is in 1991. And I noticed the streets as I drove in along the river, it was a very narrow road. The main highway had not yet been built. There was some construction going on. The streets were filled, chock-a-block full of bicycles, bicycles, and bicycles. No cars. Very few cars. There were few motorcycles, very few tall buildings. Not a stoplight worked in the entire city when I set foot there, not one stoplight. And it was just a massive constant mesh of bikes that somehow made it across and made it through.
And it was a place that had literally been frozen in time. I was back in Vietnam last year for maybe my 20-something trip over the last 30 years. And I’m sure many of you have experienced this as well. It just stuns you how far things have moved in this span of time.
The energy in Vietnam today is absolutely remarkable, and the transformation is nothing short of amazing. In the years since we lifted the embargo and normalized relations, Vietnam has become a modern nation and an important partner of the United States. And when you talk to the young people in Vietnam, you can feel the enthusiasm for the potential of the future: 65 percent under the age of 35.
This isn’t just Vietnam’s story. This dynamism, energy, transformation – similar stories can be told throughout Southeast Asia. I was at the Malaysian entrepreneurial fair that they had last year, summit, and it was just stunning: 15,000 kids cheering like at a rock concert, excited about entrepreneurial activity and possibilities. And the year – in 1984 – that was the year that the US-ABC was founded – the annual GDP of the 10 countries that are now ASEAN was about $220 billion in today’s dollars. Today, that GDP has grown more than 10 times over to more than $2.4 trillion.
Now, it’s not a coincidence that President Obama and the Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker and U.S. Trade Represent Mike Froman and I have all individually made a trip to one or more of the ASEAN states just within the past six months. Roughly $100 billion of exports to Southeast Asia every year, and every year that supports millions of jobs both there in the region as well as right here on our own shores.
Now, I don’t need to convince you probably – most of the leaders here – of these enormous opportunities. But for the folks who are tuning in tonight to understand what this is about, I want them to understand that enormous business opportunities exist throughout ASEAN, and all of you here are already the choir, so I don’t need to preach further.
I don’t need to remind you also that our embassies are there to help you, and I want you to understand that, from the ambassadors on down. We have a number of the ambassadors here tonight representing the countries of ASEAN. I know many of your businesses work with our ambassadors every single day. We’ve worked to bring about a billion dollars in business deals throughout the ASEAN region, including the largest – in billions, multiple billions – which we have been working towards, including the largest single commercial aircraft sale in Boeing’s history to Indonesia’s Lion Air. And our then-ambassador Scot Marciel played a critical role in helping Boeing to secure that deal which ultimately is worth almost $23 billion.
So what we need to focus on today is how do we make sure this growth continues. As you sit around your tables tonight, as you enjoy this dinner, as you think about the next years, think about that, because it’s not a given. There are still many places in the region where steep tariffs and unclear rules of the road breed uncertainty and stifle the flow of goods and ideas. And that will tampen down the capacity to keep on keeping on what we’re doing.
There are places where businesses don’t have access to the financing that they need to get off the ground, where infrastructure challenges like crumbling roads and inadequate internet and inconsistent power grids prevent businesses from reaching markets. Now, we can’t – I certainly can’t and I don’t know anybody here who can – just wave a magic wand and address all of these challenges tomorrow. But there are steps that we can take together in order to help bring about a more prosperous future for both the United States and our ASEAN partners, and I’ll be very, very quick.
First and foremost, as any business leader would agree, freer markets create more opportunity, more competition, more growth, more dynamism, and more innovation. And we need to do more to open up trade and investment in every corner of the globe, and particularly in that region. Every one of you knows the enormous difference that the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement – one that includes a number of ASEAN countries – could make. Just this afternoon, I hosted a lunch with Vietnam’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh, and we spoke at length about the potential of this agreement and how urgently we need to get it off the ground, and he agreed. The TPP is a state-of-the-art, 21st century trade agreement that will connect more than 40 percent of the global GDP and one-third of global trade, and it raises the standards. It brings everybody up, not a race to the bottom. It’s consistent with our shared economic interests and our shared strategic interests, and it’s rooted in our shared values.
And it’s about promoting stability in this dynamic region and also establishing a fair and transparent framework that enables countries throughout the region to deepen their economic integration and grow in harmony. We need to make it happen, folks, and we can’t do it without you. We need you to help make the case for TPP with the Congress and with the American people, and we need you to make the phone calls and set up the meetings and do all you can to get Capitol Hill on board. And this is a battle we need to prepare for and it’s a battle we absolutely need to win.
Second, we need to make sure that the leaders of the future are getting the training and the education that they need in order to thrive in a growing economy. About 65 percent, as I said, of the population of ASEAN region is under the age of 35, and these young people are innovative, creative, and they’re eager to contribute their ideas, energy, to improve not only their own lives but the lives of others in their communities and their country. I’ve seen this firsthand in Malaysia and the Philippines and Indonesia on every trip I’ve taken to Southeast Asia. And that’s why we are investing in programs like President Obama’s Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative, the YSEALI, as it’s known. Through YSEALI, every year we bring young men and women from Southeast Asia to universities in the United States where they can receive training, deepen their knowledge about regional issues and experience and perspectives. This year’s YSEALI class includes women like Sovan Srun from Cambodia. She’s an aspiring social entrepreneur who coauthored a handbook for high school graduates to plan for their career paths, in hopes that she will help her community become more self-sufficient and less dependent on foreign aid. She’s a remarkable young woman, and we need to make sure that others like Sovan have the opportunities they need to make the mark on their communities and that their energy is harnessed in a completely positive way.
Third – and this is especially important – we need to do more at the State Department to make sure that the U.S. Government and the U.S. business community are working with one another, not against one another. I tell every Foreign Service officer that they are, each and every one of them, an economic officer, no kidding. That’s how we have to think. And we need to show the world that the State Department means business, literally. We’re planning to do this by expanding what we call detail opportunities with the private sector. Department employees spend a year working with our private sector partners so they can get a better understanding of the business world and what’s needed from government for when they return. And we’re developing similar programs that will bring folks from the private sector to the State Department on detail as well so the bureaucracy can benefit from their entrepreneurial world view.
But all of us in government and business alike have to keep in mind that the true measure of our success is going to be whether our economies continue – is not whether they continue to grow, but it’s how they grow. If we make the correct choices in the months and years to come, U.S. trade and investment has the potential to create shared prosperity up and down the food chain: growth that’s sustainable and environmentally friendly, wealth that lifts up communities and creates opportunity, and enormous amounts of jobs for the United States and for all of our partner nations. And on top of that, if we commit high standards when it comes to business practices, we absolutely encourage this race to the top, which I think every one of you understands with globalization is at risk. So we need a race to the top from companies all around the world, and I think that’s a race that we can win.
So all of us at the State Department know well that in the 21st century a nation’s interests and the well-being of its people are advanced not just by troops and diplomats but also by entrepreneurs and executives in ways that are really quite significantly different from prior centuries. It is happening by virtue of the businesses that they build and the workers that they employ and the students that they train, and ultimately, the shared prosperity that they create. I say it all the time. I said it in the first days of my nomination to be Secretary. I said it in my opening statement to the committee: Economic policy is foreign policy, and foreign policy is economic policy. And the fact is that American businesses are some of the best ambassadors our country has. Just think about it. US-ABC businesses collectively represent more than 6 trillion in annual revenue. Your businesses support more than 13 million employees worldwide, and you do it all the time while wearing America’s jersey, so to speak.
And I underscore this: The reason we are so grateful to have such a capable and influential group of ambassadors throughout America’s business community is not simply because you do well, but also because you do good. And that’s particularly true in the ASEAN states. I’ve seen it firsthand in the factories I’ve been into, in the people I’ve talked to and the businesses they work for. American businesses have been the number one investor in ASEAN economies for decades. In fact, U.S. investments are larger than Chinese investments, Japanese investments, and Korean investments combined.
And it’s not just about the quantity of our investments; it’s about the quality. When we invest in countries, we actually do it differently. When businesses from some countries enter new markets, they bring in their own workers, their own tradesmen. We, on the other hand, hire local employees. And guess what – we train them as well. Some businesses in the world recklessly pollute the environment, knowing full well that it’ll be difficult to hold them accountable. But so many of our businesses make a point of investing in clean energy and environmental solutions in order to accompany their facilities abroad. And businesses that come in from other nations have been known to promote corruption instead of working to stop it, not held to account by our Foreign Corrupt Businesses Act. But we take every step we can to end corrupt practices abroad or elsewhere, because we know that when we eliminate corruption we’re able to build the long-term relationships that will withstand the test of time and make the environment safer for new businesses to be able to invest in.
So we do all of this because business doing right is part of the American brand. It’s part of our what our companies stand for and it’s part of the proposition of how we attract more investment to follow. What I’m talking about is more than agreeing to abide by a set of principles or guidelines. It’s really rolling up your sleeves and taking action to integrate responsible investment and objective corporate management decision making.
Now, there are a lot of other things that we could go on to say. I’m going to – I said I wouldn’t – I’ve gone on longer than I meant to. But I want to just emphasize to everybody here that the real excitement that comes with this is watching these countries go through these amazing transformations. I am nothing less than stunned by what has happened, the transformation taking place. I have absolute confidence, and as we go forward in these next years the differences between our nations, even as we respect cultures and history, but differences will evaporate in the way that people have fears and that they suspect people from abroad. There’ll be a unity because everything in the world is different today. Today’s kids all have smartphones; they all talk to each other. They’re talking to everybody in the world all the time about everything. And it changes everything in life. Politics is different. Building consensus is different. Getting your market share is different. Holding onto it is different. We’re living in a very, very different time, and nowhere are the possibilities more evident than in the transformations taking place throughout Southeast Asia.
So I think you all are onto something, and I profoundly say congratulations to ABC. We’re going to be in Burma. The President and I are going to be there a month from now. We’re looking forward to being in China, likewise, in November for the APEC conference. We’ll be there for the East Asia Summit. We are front and center and present because we’ve been a Pacific nation all of our history and we will never turn away from that.
So I thank those of you who have been the pioneers. I thank those of you who are on the front lines today. I say congratulations to all of you. Celebrate well tonight and tomorrow we all get back to work and continue on the road. Thank you all very, very much. (Applause.)