The President Speaks with Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative Fellows

The President Speaks with Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative Fellows


(applause) The President: Thank you. Thank you, everybody please have a seat. Well, thank
you so much, Zin Mar, for your introduction and for
your example and your commitment to build a free
and open press in Myanmar, and all the hope
that you represent. Please give her a big
round of applause. She did an outstanding job. (applause) Well, to all of you,
welcome to Washington. Welcome to the White House. And while I know that you’ve
been here a few weeks, let me just say again, on behalf
of the American people, welcome to the United
States of America. We are thrilled
to have you here. I’m not going to give a long
speech because what I really want to do is have a
conversation with you like the one that I had
when I was in Myanmar. So this is a town hall
meeting; the less I speak the more questions
you get to ask. But I do want to take a few
minutes to explain why I believe so strongly in the
work that brings us together today and why your presence
here is so important. I think all of you know I
have a special attachment to Southeast Asia. As a boy, I
lived in Jakarta. My mother spent years
working in villages to help women improve their lives. So Southeast Asia helped
shape who I am and how I see the world. And as President, I’ve made
it a pillar of my foreign policy to make sure that the
United States is more deeply engaged in the Asia Pacific
region, including Southeast Asia. And I want to welcome the
ambassadors from across ASEAN — thank you for being here and for your partnership. Give them a big round of — (applause) So I’ve deepened America’s
ties with Southeast Asia because your region is
critical to our shared future. There are more than 600
million people who live in the ASEAN countries, and
you reflect an incredible diversity of faiths
and ethnic groups and backgrounds and cultures. And that diversity has to be
celebrated and it has to be protected. We have incredible economic
engines like Singapore. We’ve got growing economies
like the Philippines and Vietnam and Malaysia. And we can see growth that
is lifting people out of poverty and creating
more jobs and trade and opportunity for
all our countries. We’ve seen a historic
democratic transition in Indonesia. We’ve got elections coming
later this year in Myanmar. Communities in Laos and
Brunei are working for development that’s
sustainable and protecting the environment. And we’re seeing new
commitments to the education of young women and girls,
as is true in Cambodia. The people of Thailand
played a critical role in the global response to
the earthquake in Nepal. And we are mindful of the
King of Thailand’s health issues lately and we wish
him the best, and our hopes and prayers are with him. So Southeast Asia
is stepping up. It’s on the move. And today, America’s
relationship with the region is stronger than ever. I’m proud to be the first
American President to meet regularly with all
10 ASEAN leaders. I will continue to do
so until I am no longer President. We’ve strengthened our
alliances, including with the Philippines. We’ve forged new
partnerships with Indonesia and Malaysia and Vietnam. Our trade with ASEAN
has been growing. We’re pursuing the
Trans-Pacific Partnership. We’re working with ASEAN to
bind the region more closely together and confront shared
challenges, and uphold international rules and
norms, including freedom of navigation, and to ensure
that disputes are resolved peacefully. At the moment, several of
our nations are working to rescue desperate Rohingya
migrants who are at sea, which reflects our
commitment to the security and dignity and human rights
of every human being. But despite all the work
I’ve been doing and the ambassadors have been doing,
building these stronger ties is not just the
work of government. They have to be rooted in
partnerships between our peoples — and especially
young people like you. All across Southeast Asia,
almost two-thirds of the population is
under 35 years old. So this is a young
part of the world. Technology is giving you
more power to communicate and organize like
never before. In Vietnam, tens of millions
of people are connected on Facebook. Across the region, you
are civil society leaders working for democracy and
human rights and religious tolerance. You are entrepreneurs who
are turning your ideas into new businesses; activists
fighting for the environment and against climate change. And that’s the power that
young people have, and the spirit of optimism and
idealism that you represent. So you’re inspiring to me. And I’ve made it clear that
America wants to be your partner. We want to help you succeed. So two years ago, we
launched the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative —
YSEALI — to help empower young people like you, to
give you more of the skills and resources and networks
that you need to turn your ideas into action. And since then, we’ve
offered workshops, online networking, exchanges,
professional development, hands-on training. And today, the YSEALI
network includes nearly 35,000 young
people like you. Last year in Myanmar, at the
town hall meeting that Zin Mar mentioned, I announced
our fellowship program to bring young leaders from
across the region to the United States to help
develop their skills. And for this first class of
75, more than 1,000 people applied. The competition was intense. Today, I’m proud to welcome
you as the first class of YSEALI Fellows. We’re very proud of you. And I’ve had a chance to
read about some of you and the amazing things that
you’ve been doing. And I suspect that Niema
Remejoso, from the Philippines — there she is right there — (laughter) — she spoke for a lot of you. She said, “Am I dreaming, or
is this really happening?” So it’s really happening. (laughter) You come from all 10 ASEAN
nations, from capital cities and rural towns. You represent different
faiths and backgrounds, and different beliefs. Obviously, there are men and
women here — in fact, the majority are women —
because one of the best measures of a country’s
success is whether it empowers women and girls. And you’re all bound
together by a common belief that you have the talent and
the drive and the power to improve the lives of your
fellow human beings. So for the last five weeks,
you’ve been all across America. You’ve experienced state
legislatures and city councils. You’ve seen how our
day-to-day democracy works. You’ve worked at nonprofits,
learning how to organize and advocate for change. You’ve interned in some
American companies, seeing how to build and
manage a business. And I want to thank all of
our leaders and partners who are here — we’ve got
universities and academic institutions, we’ve got
businesses — all who have been very generous in their
support of this overall process. So you’ve been
experiencing America. Some of you were very lucky
and had a chance to go to my home state of Hawaii. (laughter) I heard that some
of you tried to hula dance. (laughter) Some of you went
to my hometown of Chicago, and you saw American
ingenuity at its best, including — I hear that you
saw ATMs that give cupcakes. (laughter) And I also know that
Americans have learned from you as well. You shared your culture
and traditions and foods. You discovered American
foods like Jell-O. I hear somebody had Jell-O,
which — I was very excited about that. And the friendships and the
understanding that you have forged will help to bring
our countries together for a long time. And soon you’ll return home. Each of you has developed a
project, an action plan, and you’ll take what you’ve
learned here and put it into practice. And we’re going to be with
you during this process as you build your ventures,
expand your networks, and — mentoring young people that
are coming behind you. We’re going to welcome 500
Fellows like you every single year. So this may be the end of
your visit to America, but you’ve really begun this
process of building partnerships that
will last a lifetime. And we want you to make sure
that you are realizing your dreams. I just want to take
a couple of examples. We’ve got Seth Suonvisal. Where’s Seth? Here’s Seth. So in Cambodia, Seth
works with parliament. So in Tulsa, he witnessed
city government at work, the legislative process
in Tulsa, Oklahoma. And, Seth, we’re proud to be
your partner as you strive to ensure that governments
deliver for all of the Cambodian people. We have Muchamad Dafip. Where’s Muchamad? There he is. He is an advocate for the
environment in Indonesia. Apa kabar? And at the East-West Center
— there aren’t two of you, is there? (laughter) So at the
East-West Center in Hawaii, he learned new ways to
empower citizens and effect change. So we’re proud to
be your partner. Together, we can promote
sustainable development and help our — help the next
generation meet the urgent challenges of
climate change. We’ve got Khine Muang —
there’s Khine, and — is a doctor in Myanmar where she
offers free surgeries to children for cleft palates
and lips, and gives them a new smile and
new confidence. So we’re very proud. At the Oklahoma University
School of Community Medicine, she focused on
ways to expand outreach and free clinics. And we are so proud to be
your partner, working for the health and dignity of
children across Myanmar. Although, I have to say that
you are the youngest doctor I’ve ever seen. (laughter) I mean, she
looks like she’s 14. It’s very impressive. So thank you. And where is Pern Phansiri? There’s Pern, from Thailand,
a tireless fighter against human trafficking. And at the city manager’s
office in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, she saw how
a community takes a comprehensive approach
to social services. So we’re proud to be your
partner in standing up for the rights of
women and children. We have to end the outrage
of human trafficking, and we so appreciate the
work that you do. So this just gives you an
example of the incredible talent and commitment that these young people represent. And I want to close with a
quick story that captures the spirit of our
work together. Thongvone Sosamphan
is here from Laos. Where’s — please, stand up. So she’s here from Laos. In Atlanta, she visited the
memorial and center honoring the Reverend Dr. Martin
Luther King, Jr. And she was struck by one of
Dr. King’s quotes, which says, “Life’s most
persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are
you doing for others?’ ” And that prompted her to
think about the true meaning of leadership. And she wrote something
very beautiful that I want everybody to hear. “Leadership is inside
you,” she said. “Everyone can be a leader,
because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a
college degree to lead. You don’t need to know
more than the others. All you need is a heart full
of grace, a soul generated by love.” That’s pretty good. (applause) So that’s what I
see in all of you. That’s why I believe so
strongly that you’re going to keep answering that
question Dr. King asked: What are you
doing for others? It’s why I’m confident
that all of you will be extraordinary leaders. Already you’re doing great
work in your communities and your countries, with hearts
full of grace and souls generated by love. And you will continue to
have a friend and partner in the United States
of America. So we are very,
very proud of you. And with that, let’s — I
want to hear from you, both questions or you can tell me
a story about the exciting food that you’ve had — (laughter) — all across the country. So we have some microphones
in the audience, and what I’ll do is I’ll just call on
people and I’m going to go boy, girl, boy, girl
so that it’s very fair. (laughter) So we’ll start
with this young lady here. Please introduce yourself
and tell us where you’re from. The Press: Hi,
Mr. President. I am an elected
representative from Malaysia. My question to you is,
what is your view on the democracy in Malaysia with
the recent jailing of Anwar Ibrahim, the opposition
leader, and the crackdown on opposition? Thank you. The President: Well,
Malaysia has a history of democracy that has
to be preserved. And I have a very good
relationship with Prime Minister Najib and we
are close partners and cooperating on a
whole host of issues. I think that Malaysia, like
all our countries, not just ASEAN countries but
countries here in the United States, have to recognize
that democracy is not just elections but it’s how
open and transparent and accountable government
is between elections. And it’s important that
free speech, freedom of the press, an independent
judiciary, the right to assemble peacefully —
that all those rights are observed to make
democracy work. So as a general rule, I
don’t comment on even individual cases in this
country, much less another country, because I think
it’s important for the legal system to work. But I do know that it is
important if an opposition leader who is well known has
been charged with a crime, that that process of how
that is adjudicated and how open it is, and how clear
the evidence is, that that is all subject to scrutiny. Because what you don’t want
is a situation in which the legitimacy of the
process is questioned. That has an adverse impact
on democracy as a whole. And I think we all have to
guard against making sure that there’s not a chilling
effect on potential opposition in government. So as I always point
out, democracy is hard. I mean, I think that many
of the things that are said about me are
terribly unfair. But the reason American
democracy has survived for so long is because people
— even if they’re wrong — have a right to say
what they think. George Washington, our first
President, he complained terribly about some of the
foolishness that was said about him. But part of the reason he
is considered one of our greatest Presidents is
because he set an example of recognizing that if
democracy was to work then you had to respect the
rights of even those people who you disagreed most with,
because otherwise there’s no way that a democracy can
flourish over the long term. So these are things that I
said publicly when I was in Myanmar — when I was
in Malaysia, rather. I had an opportunity to
meet with some community activists and civil
society leaders there. And this is something that
I say everywhere we go. And it’s important for
America to recognize that we’re not perfect, either,
and so we have to make sure that we are constantly
seeing how do we improve our democracy. I mean, the amounts of
money, for example, that are involved in our elections
these days is disturbing because it makes it seem as
if a few people have more influence in the
democracy than the many. And so I will continue
to speak out about these issues, even with friends. Maybe sometimes we are
even more willing to say something when it’s friends
because we know that they can do better. Thank you. Yes, sir. The Press: Hello,
Mr. President. I am from Indonesia. I am working with the
ministry of finance. My YSEALI theme is
economic empowerment. My question is, what is your
expectation about economic relationship between United
States and ASEAN countries in the future? Thank you. The President: Well, we
already have a very strong economic relationship. As I pointed out, this is a
region that is growing fast. It has a big population. You have very hardworking
people, entrepreneurial people. I expect it will
continue to grow. And the United States wants
to be a partner in all sorts of ways. Trade is the most obvious
and important relationship, economically. And so one of the
reasons why I think the Trans-Pacific Partnership is
so important is because it sets up a set of principles
to ensure fair trade between countries. It calls for higher labor
standards for all countries, higher environmental
standards for all countries. It makes sure that countries
are being treated — companies are being treated
fairly when they are operating in a
foreign market. And there’s the potential, I
think, if we get this right and completed in the next
few months, to be able to ensure that the United
States and ASEAN countries that already have a massive
amount of trade, that that’s able to increase and that
there’s more opportunity for everybody. But it’s at a high standard
rather than a low standard. Part of the goal for ASEAN
countries, most of them are now entering into a stage of
development where they don’t want to just be sending raw
materials to someplace else to have them developed, they
want to be creating value starting their own
businesses, making sure that they are part of the
21st century economy. And that requires upgrading
skills, education for their populations. We think we can be
helpful in those areas. And we want to encourage
high educational levels in ASEAN countries because
then it’s less likely that workers are exploited. And that means then that
you’re competing with us because you have the best
ideas and the best products, as opposed to just you
have the cheapest labor. And if all that ASEAN
countries are offering are cheap labor, then
what happens is U.S. workers get hurt and you
don’t necessarily see an improvement in standards
of living for those ASEAN countries. If everybody is operating at
a higher level then we’re all competing on an even
playing field, and over time that will result in more
growth and more development in ASEAN countries. But I think skills training
is the most important thing. I think that the power of
the Internet to access markets and ideas will be
particularly important for ASEAN countries. Infrastructure is something
that still needs to get done. I think there is still
under-investment of infrastructure
in that region. I know there was some
controversy a while back because China wanted to
start an Asia infrastructure bank; we haven’t yet
signed on to participate. I want to be very clear —
we actually want China to invest in infrastructure
in that region. We want to make sure that
the investments are actually good for the people in those
countries, which means transparency in terms of how
decisions are made at this new bank. But we’ll continue with the
Asian Development Bank and the World Bank and other
institutions, and try to encourage not only
investment in human capital, but also the infrastructure
that’s needed. And finally, I think
sustainability is going to be critical. I worry about the great
forests of Indonesia and Malaysia. If those all just become
palm oil plantations, and deforestation continues at
the same pace it has, then the prospects of additional
accelerated climate change are very powerful, not to
mention the loss of species and biodiversity. The oceans, if you get
overfishing, that’s a problem; pollution. Given how populated these
areas are, it’s very important that economic
development ties in with sustainable development. Otherwise, I think
we’ll all have problems. Okay. (laughter) That’s good. So, young lady right here. The Press: Mabuhay. The President: Mabuhay. The Press: Mabuhay,
Mr. President. I’m a city council member of
Davao City, the Philippines. There are a handful — or
a there are a few elected officials, some
are YSEALI fellows. I really would like to know
what is your word of advice for a young, budding
political leader, young legislator, elected official
like me in a developing democracy like
the Philippines? Thank you. The President: That’s great. Well, I think — my first
advice is don’t be shy, and obviously you’re okay. (laughter) I think you’re
doing to do great. I think that when I think
about my own political career, when I look at other
political careers that I admire, I think the most
important thing is to have a sense of principle and why
you’re in public service. I think sometimes people
want to be in public service just because they like
seeing their name up in lights, they like
being important. And that’s a bad reason to
go into politics; you should be like an actress or a
singer, or make a lot of money. But if you’re going into
politics and public service, there’s only one good reason
to do it, and that is because you want
to help people. And you should know what it
is that you stand for and what you believe in. It doesn’t mean that you
won’t have to compromise. It doesn’t mean that you
might not change your mind about an issue as you go
forward and you learn more and you have
more experience. But you should have
something inside of you that says, these are the things
that are really important to me that I will not
compromise on, all right? So for me, throughout my
political career, even before I was in politics
and I was just working as a community organizer, I knew
that I wanted to work to create more opportunity
for all people; that my orientation was always how
does this help the poor or the marginalized, or
somebody who has less opportunity then me; how is
this going to help them if they work hard to get ahead. I know that one of the
important principles for me has always been treating
everybody fairly. So whether that’s women or
people of different races or different religious faiths
or different sexual orientations, that one of my
core principles is that I will never engage in a
politics in which I’m trying to divide people or make
them less than me because they look different or
have a different religion. That’s a core principle. That’s not something I
would violate, right? So if you have a clear view
of what you stand for, then as you move forward,
you’ll have setbacks. There will be times where
you didn’t succeed. There will be times
where you’re frustrated. There will be times you
might even lose an election sometimes. But at least you’ll know
every morning when you wake up and you look at yourself
in the mirror, I know who I am and why I’m doing
what I’m doing. And I think those are the
people who eventually end up having successful careers
because people sense that integrity and
that leadership. Even if they don’t agree
with you, at least they know you believe in something. And unfortunately, too many
politicians, they’re just climbing the ladder but
they don’t know why. And when they get there,
then they’re not very effective leaders. Or they become much more
subject to the temptations of corruption because all
they’re worried about is I want to hang on to my power,
and I’m willing to give up anything in order to stay
in power and do anything to stay in power. And that’s when
you lose your way. You have to be willing to lose something for your principles. You have to be willing to
lose an election because you think that there’s something
that’s more important than you just winning
an election. And if you do that now —
but you have to — you should try to win. I’m not saying you
should try to lose. (laughter) But you have
to stand for something. That’s my most
important advice. Gentleman in the gray
suit right there. Yes, you. The Press: Thank you. I come from Vietnam. Like many others, I look
forward to seeing you and the First Lady visiting my
country, Vietnam, in the near future. I have a question. Mr. President, what do you
expect the young people in the Southeast Asian
countries doing in dealing with the current challenges
to the peace, stability, respect to international law
like the (inaudible), while promoting the cooperation
between the 10 countries with others, including
especially with the United States? Thank you. The President:
Especiall with? I’m sorry, the last part? The Press: Especially
with the United States. The President: Oh,
with the United States. Well, look, I think that
— I’ve seen already significant progress with
ASEAN countries over the last six years that I’ve
been attending the ASEAN meetings and the
East Asia Summit. And I think initially the
meetings would oftentimes just be symbolic, and
there would be a lot of pleasantries and a lot
of meetings and cultural events. But we didn’t always
have an agenda. And I think one of the
things that you’ve started to see is people working
much more concretely on what are we trying to
accomplish here. How do we develop more
capacity, for example, in the region around disaster
relief so that if, heaven forbid, there’s another
typhoon of the sort that we saw in the Philippines, or
if, in fact, that we see some other natural tragedy
that all the countries assets can be brought to
bear, and we’ve done the training ahead of time to
know who can help and how they can help? I think the — trying to
work on coming up with standards around maritime
law is a big challenge. And obviously, there’s
significant tension right now between many of the
ASEAN countries and China, as well as the United States
with China, around the South China Sea and how those
issues are going to be resolved. ASEAN has been very
constructive in trying to put together a code of
conduct that all countries should abide by so that
disputes around maritime boundaries are resolved
through law and an impartial process, rather than just
based on who’s the biggest. And that I think is going
to be very important. ASEAN can play an important
role in those areas. Environmental issues
I’ve already mentioned. This is a very fast-growing
region, and it is important to make sure that there’s a
lot of cooperation between countries because small
fisheries, et cetera — those don’t always observe
national boundaries. And so, working together,
you can accomplish more. And then human rights
issues, and democracy issues, reinforcing good
habits among the countries is very important. I think it’s fair to say
that the elections that will be taking place in Myanmar
would not have happened if it hadn’t been for the good
example that Indonesia set with its transition, and
other ASEAN countries showing the path from
military rule towards democracy, and how, through
all the lessons that have been learned, that
could be accomplished. And that I think created
more space within Myanmar to — and President Thein
Sein to feel that this is possible. So part of the goal here
is to make sure that each country is reinforcing the
best habits and laws, and observing human rights, and
being critical when one country slips but in a
constructive way that allows for a path to improvement. And I think ASEAN
can do that uniquely. And the United States
will be a partner. We have, obviously,
bilateral relationships with each of these countries, but
we also want to be a partner with the group as a whole to
encourage this cooperative model going forward. Okay. Young lady right there, yes. The Press: Good
afternoon, Mr. President. I’m from Indonesia. I work as a data analyst in
the World Bank Indonesia Country Office. My YSEALI theme is
civic engagement. My question to you: Now that
your second term in the office is about to end, how
do you want the world to remember you? Thank you. The President:
Fondly, I hope. (laughter) I still have 20
months in office so I’ve got a lot of work still to do
before I can start thinking about looking backwards. I’m still very much focused
on what’s in front of me. But obviously there are
things that I’ve been proud of. When I came into office, the
United States and the world was going through a terrible
economic crisis — the worst, really,
since the 1930s. And it was hard but we ended
up avoiding a terrible depression. And within a year, the
economy was growing again. Here in the United States
now, we’re back to the pre-crisis
employment levels. Our auto industry was saved. But also, internationally,
we averted a much worse crisis because of, in part,
the leadership the United States showed along with
international institutions and central banks managing
— that was very important. That’s an important
legacy for me. I think that the work that
I’ve done to provide health insurance for people here
in the United States and to provide more educational
opportunity is consistent with the principles that I
talked about, the reason I got into politics. Internationally, we’ve
reinvigorated diplomacy in a whole variety of ways. People don’t remember —
when I came into office, the United States in world
opinion ranked below China and just barely
above Russia. And today, once again, the
United States is the most respected country on Earth. And part of that, I think,
is because of the work that we did to reengage the world
and say that we want to work with you as partners with
mutual interest and mutual respect. It’s on that basis that we
were able to end two wars while still focusing on
the very real threat of terrorism and to try to work
with our partners on the ground in places like
Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s the reason why we are
moving in the direction of normalizing
relations with Cuba. The nuclear deal that we’re
trying to negotiate with Iran. Our efforts to help
encourage democracy in Myanmar. I think the people of
Myanmar deserve the credit for this new opening. But my visit there didn’t
hurt in trying to reinforce the possibilities of freedom
for 40 million people. And so that direct
engagement, the work that we’ve done to build and
strengthen international organizations — including
on issues like public health and the fight against Ebola
is just the most recent example of that — I think
we’ve been able to put our international relationships
on a very strong footing that allows us then to work
more cooperatively with other countries moving
forward to meet the important challenges ahead. But I’ve still got
a lot of work to do. So maybe in 18 months, I’ll
check back with you and I’ll let you know. (laughter) All right. Gentleman right
here with the sash. The Press: Hello,
Mr. President Obama. I’m from Burma. And firstly, I would like to
say hello on behalf of my family. And my question is, I work
in tourism business in Burma, and my question is
that — what do you see critical areas
in where the U.S. can contribute economic
development in Burma? Thank you so much. The President: Well, Burma,
Myanmar, it lost a lot of time over the last 40 years
because of the very tight controls on the economy
and the discouragement of entrepreneurship
and new businesses. Part of the reason why I was
so struck when I traveled to Myanmar was it reminded me
of when I first arrived in Indonesia back in 1967 —
whereas when I go to Jakarta now, or Singapore or
Bangkok, it looks completely different. This looked like the past. So there’s a lot of
catching up to do. The good news is, though,
countries that are still at those early stages of
development, they can grow very fast because there’s
so much pent-up energy and opportunity. And I think the most
important thing is going to be establishing rule of law
and systems and practices where if you start a
business, you can feel confident that you don’t
have to pay 100 bribes and you don’t have to hire
somebody’s son, and that you can make a profit; that if
there’s a foreign investor, that they can invest and be
treated fairly, and that their rights and their
intellectual property and their property
are protected. Those basic systems of law
where those are established, those countries can do well
because the natural talents of the people and the
incredible resources and hard work of the
people then pay off. I mean, look at Singapore. Singapore is a
tiny, little place. It has really nothing —
no resources to speak of. But today, when you travel
to Singapore, it is as prosperous as any
place in the world. Why is that? Well, part of it is that
it’s set up a set of systems where if businesses were
started or investors came in, they knew that they
could find a very skilled workforce; they knew
that the rules were international-standard rules
in terms of operations. So it will take some time
for I think Myanmar to move in that direction. But you have your own models
even in — among the ASEAN countries. You don’t have to look to
the United States; you can look at just your — some of
your neighbors to see what is required for success. And what the United States
will try to do is to provide technical assistance, and
we will also try to provide direct assistance,
particularly around building skills and education. Because one of the keys is
to make sure that you have a workforce that
can add value. In the age of the Internet,
when companies can locate anywhere, the most important
thing is to find someplace where there is security —
so there’s no conflict — where there’s rule of law,
and the people are highly skilled. And if you have those three
things, then people will invest. Yes, go ahead. The Press: Good
afternoon, Mr. President. I’m from Thailand. And now I work on the
anti-human-trafficking issue in Thailand and
neighboring country. So today, I would like
to ask you if you were a Rohingya, which country
would you prefer to live with and why? (laughter) Thank
you so much. The President: That’s an
interesting question. Let me speak more broadly,
and then I’ll answer your question. (laughter) We were talking earlier
about what’s required for Myanmar to succeed. I think one of the most
important things is to put an end to discrimination
against people because of what they look like or
what their faith is. And the Rohingya have been
discriminated against significantly, and that’s
part of the reason they’re fleeing. I think if I were a
Rohingya, I would want to stay where I was born. I’d want to stay in the land
where my parents had lived. But I’d want to make sure
that my government was protecting me, and that
people were treating me fairly. That’s what I’d want. And that’s why it’s so
important I think, as part of the democratic
transition, to take very seriously this issue of how
the Rohingya are treated. One of the things about
discriminating against people or treating people
differently is, by definition, that means
that people will treat you differently, and you never
know when you will find yourself in a situation in
which you are a minority, where you are vulnerable,
where you’re not being treated fairly. And right now, obviously,
our focus is on making sure that those who are being
subject to human trafficking and are, in some cases
right now, still in a very perilous situation out in
the open sea, that they are relocated. I want to commend Indonesia
and Malaysia for their willingness to take on
thousands of these displaced persons. The United States, as part
of our refugee process, will take some. We put over $100 million
over the last several years in Burma to make sure that
minority groups, including the Rohingya, are
protected against. But, ultimately, this is
going to be a great test for the democracy of the future. Not just in Burma and
Myanmar, but in areas all throughout the country. When I was — and I know
this directly because when I was young and I was living
in Indonesia, there were times where there were
anti-Chinese riots that were very violent and vicious. And, in fact, sometimes the
Chinese Indonesians were treated very similarly to
how Jewish Europeans were treated in Europe, and
subject to stereotypes and resentments. And the truth of the matter
is, one of the reasons that Singapore, I mentioned
earlier, has been successful, is that it has
been able to bring together people who may look
different but they all think of themselves as
part of Singapore. And that has to be a
strength, not a weakness. But that requires leadership
and government being true to those principles. To their credit, the
Indonesian government when I was growing up was very good
about not discriminating on the base of religion despite
the fact that it was 98 percent Muslim. And I think that the
tolerance towards other faiths historically in
Indonesia has been part of what’s contributed
to progress there. You haven’t seen the same
kind of sectarian animosity that you’ve seen in
parts of the Middle East. But the one thing I know
is countries that divide themselves on racial or
religious lines, they do not succeed. They do not succeed. That’s rule number one. Rule number two is nations
that suppress their women do not succeed. They don’t succeed. Not only is it bad because
half of the country is not successful — because
they’re not getting education and opportunity
— but it’s women who teach children, which means the
children are less educated, if you’re not
teaching the moms. So there are some — each
country is different, but there are some rules if you
look at development patterns around the world that
are pretty consistent. And those are two
pretty good rules. Don’t divide yourself on
religious and ethnic lines and racial lines. And don’t discriminate
against women. If you do those two things,
you’re not guaranteed success but at least you’re
not guaranteed failure. I’ve got time for
one more, two more. I definitely don’t
have time for 30 more. (laughter) Two more. I’ve got time for two more. It’s a gentleman’s turn. The Press: Good
afternoon, Mr. President. I’m from Malaysia. I work at Department of
Irrigation and Drainage in Malaysia. My YSEALI theme
is environmental sustainability. And my question for you is,
what have you learned about leadership and life as being
President in comparison to what you have might not
learned if you were not a President? The President: As President
you — I think probably what makes this job unique is
that you are the ultimate decision-maker. So there are other people
who work as hard as I do. My staff works
very, very hard. They’re just as smart
or smarter than I am. They care just as much
or more than I do. They have wonderful
qualities. But the one thing as
President is that ultimately there’s nobody you
can pass it on to. Harry Truman, one of our
best Presidents, once said, the buck stops here. He meant at his desk. And it’s true. And usually by the time a
decision comes to my desk, you know that it’s a very
hard problem because if it was easy somebody else
would have solved it. And so probably the thing
that I uniquely have had to learn in the presidency that
is — I hadn’t learned as well in other jobs is the
ability to look at all the information that you have,
listen to all the advice that’s there, and the
different viewpoints that may exist about an issue, to
try to make a decision based not on what is easiest, but
what I think is the best long-term solution; and then
feel comfortable in the knowledge that I may be
wrong, and that there will be significant consequences
if I am wrong, to have to have the courage then maybe
six months later or a year later to admit this didn’t
work, and then to try something new. But being willing to take
responsibility for making hard decisions, not be
paralyzed because you know there are big consequences
to them, and then being able to adapt based on the
evidence as to whether it worked or not I think is the
most important lesson I’ve learned. And that’s not something
that you have to — is just unique to being President. I think in whatever your job
is you should be willing to take responsibility
for getting the best information, to listening to
everybody, but then you have to just — you have to make
a decision and understand then that you have to
continue to evaluate it. And I think that that’s
been very important. The second lesson, which
is something that you just learn more of as President,
but all of you have already learned in some ways in your
work is to surround yourself with the best people. Your most important job is
to create a team of people, some of whom have talents
that you don’t have, to make up for your weaknesses; and
then to want to make them better, and make
them successful. Because if they’re
successful, then the team is successful. So you’re not a good leader
if you don’t want somebody who is smarter than you
because you think, oh, well, maybe they’ll shine
more than you do. Then you’re not a very good
leader because your team won’t succeed. So I’m always looking for —
who are people who are much smarter than me, or much
more organized than I am, or much better analysts. And my job then is just
to be able to weave them together so they’re all working together effectively. And if you’re doing that,
then you’re a good leader. And you should be constantly
thinking how can I help this person do their
jobs even better. And the good news is if you
do that and people recognize that you care about them
being successful, then they’ll work harder, and
they’ll want to do even better. And they’ll appreciate you
because they know that you’re helping them, instead
of trying to keep them subordinate to you. Last question. And all the men should put
down their hands because it’s a woman’s turn. No, all the guys have
to put their hands down. This young lady in the
yellow right here, right in the corner, right here. The Press: Thank
you President. Good afternoon, sir. I’m from Vietnam. Currently, I’m working for
the Da Nang Institute for Socio-Economic Development. And first of all, I would
like to say thank you to you for giving us this unique
opportunity to come to the United States and
to meet you today. My question for you is,
what is your opinion about disputes and China’s action
in the East Sea or so-called the South China Sea? The President: Well, as
already mentioned, what has allowed all of Asia to
prosper over the last two, three decades — including
China — is there’s been relative peace and
stability, freedom of navigation, freedom
of commerce. And all of that has been
underwritten, all of that has been because there have
been certain rules that everybody has followed. Freedom of navigation
requires that people observe basic conduct about, this
far off, your territory is your territory; after that,
it’s international waters. If there’s a dispute, then
there’s international mechanisms to adjudicate
that dispute. If you start losing that
approach and suddenly conflicts arise and claims
are made based on how big the country is or how
powerful its navy is instead of based on law, then I
think Asia will be less prosperous and the Pacific
region will be less prosperous. And that’s why we’ve said
directly to China and to other claimant countries, we
don’t have a claim to these areas. We’re not parties
in the dispute. But we do have a stake in
making sure that they are resolved peacefully,
diplomatically, and in accordance with internationally established standards. And for that reason, we
think that land reclamation, aggressive actions by any
party in that area are counterproductive. And we will continue as
an Asia Pacific power to support all countries who
are prepared to work with us to establish and enforce
norms and rules that can continue growth and
prosperity in the region. And the truth is, is that
China is going to be successful. It’s big, it’s powerful, its
people are talented and they work hard. And it may be that some of
their claims are legitimate, but they shouldn’t just try
to establish that based on throwing elbows and pushing
people out of the way. If, in fact, their claims
are legitimate, people will recognize them. I will say this, though,
that I am very confident — much more confident in the
future of Southeast Asia, the Asia Pacific and the
world, because I’ve had the opportunity to
spend time with you. I think all of you are going
to do outstanding work. And I want to make sure that
you know that not only will this administration and the
United States government continue to support the
work that you do, but I personally, even after I
leave office, will continue to have a great interest in
seeing not only you succeed but those coming behind
you — young people like yourself succeed. And I think you should be
interested in making sure to promote YSEALI and the
network and try to provide similar opportunities to
other young people as you become more important in
whatever your fields are in the future. Congratulations. Good luck. (applause)

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