The East-West Center at Fifty: Past is Prologue

Keynote Address delivered by
East-West Center President Charles E. Morrison
at the 2010 EWC/EWCA International Conference
"Leadership and Community Building in the Asia Pacific Region"
Honolulu, Hawai'i
July 2, 2010


Aloha.  It is my pleasure to join Lyn Flanigan and Rick Trimillos in welcoming you to Honolulu on this occasion of the East-West Center’s Golden Anniversary.    As has been rightly said, an anniversary is an opportunity for us to reunite for fellowship, for continuing education at our professional conference, and to celebrate our past and reaffirm the relevance of the East-West Center for the future.


At 50, our position is aptly symbolized by the statue of a young woman on the Pennsylvania Avenue side of the majestic National Archives building in Washington, D.C. who is looking ahead into the future over an open book.  The statue is entitled “The Future,” and on the base of that statue is a line from Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest: “What is Past is Prologue.”


This quotation is frequently misconstrued to suggest that the past repeats itself in endless cycles, but that is not what Shakespeare intended it to convey, nor did the designers of the National Archives.  Its real meaning is that what HAS happened in the past enables what CAN happen in the future.  For example, a nation’s proud past may be prologue to a bountiful future.


And this is also true for the East-West Center.


We are looking ahead, informed by the open book of our past.  In fact, you have each received not just one book but two books prepared for this occasion to remind ourselves and others of the East-West Center legacy.  One, Fifty Years, Fifty Stories looks at the lives and achievements of representative alumni.  The other, The East-West Center Legacy, focuses on some of the institutional accomplishments of the Center.


Both are inspiring.  The EWC, of course, cannot claim credit for every achievement of the incredible individuals associated with us, but those individuals credit the Center for being “transformational” – helping provide the intellectual and cultural tools, the networks, and the inspiration, spirit and vision enabling their achievements, and thus helping them to transform the region.   The 50 stories are only a tiny selection of our collective stories.  Each stands for over 1,000 others, and all these stories as well as our EWC institutional stories in the Legacy book are part and parcel of the rapid development of a region and of regional relationships.


The rise – or re-rise – of Asia and the emergence of the Asia-Pacific region as the world’s growth center is indeed one of the world’s great stories of the last half century.   It is a rise not only in economic terms.  It is a comprehensive process of enormous social change, including poverty reduction, educational improvements, technological advances, political empowerment, and enhanced personal opportunities in many spheres, including the opportunities for international travel and exchange.   We all know that this process is neither uniform across the region nor is it complete, but the breadth and rapidity of change is unprecedented in human history.


It is almost startling to recall that when the Center was created, there was not a single developed country in Asia, that the annual per capita income of South Korea or Taiwan was about $100; that the United States and the People’s Republic of China had no trade and virtually no human interaction, that segregation held sway in the U.S. South, and that not one Pacific island nation had emerged from colonialism.  Fifty years ago this month, July, saw the nomination of John Kennedy and Richard Nixon as the two U.S. presidential candidates, the unveiling on July 4 th of the 50 star flag following Hawaii’s admission to the union, and inauguration  of the first elected female prime minister in the world in Sri Lanka.   It was an age of typewriters, carbon paper, mimeograph, and ticker tapes.   In 1960, the Bell Telephone System advertised “low” long-distance telephone rates from the West Coast to Hawaii at only $5.25 a minute at night and on Sundays.  (That was 1960 dollars!)


In that era, the concept behind the establishment of the East-West Center – that individuals from East and West would meet on equal terms and work together in partnership on issues of common concern – was bold and revolutionary, almost as revolutionary as having a female prime minister.    Even today we hear slogans, such as “transformational diplomacy” and “smart diplomacy” that emphasize cooperation and partnership on the basis of mutual respect as if these were new ideas.   This is very good, but we were the pioneers.


As the region has made enormous strides in improving health, education, living standards, gender relationships, and governance, East-West Center alumni have played critical roles.  You – the collective you -- have brought new countries to independence, created businesses and NGOs, invented new crops and pesticides, and served as mayors, governors, legislators, Cabinet ministers, and president and prime ministers.  As journalists, teachers, religious leaders, and university professors and administrators, you have educated tens of millions of others.  As public servants, you have formulated statistical systems, provided and extended social services, and developed the needed policy analysis.  As diplomats you have forged new relationships and negotiated agreements, and those of you in international organizations have provided development and technical assistance.   You have been artists, architects, hotel managers, doctors, scientists, and engineers.  


And if you couldn’t do it all by yourself, you sometimes – actually quite often -- did the smart thing and married another East-West Center participant to do it together.


As we reaffirm our commitment to the future, we recognize and retain the key elements of our successful past.   Of these, first and foremost are our inter-related mission and methodology.  These were clearly stated in our founding document, the 1960 Congressional legislation that established the East-West Center.  The U.S. Congress directed the Center to promote understanding and relations between the United States and the nations of Asia and the Pacific through cooperative study, training and research.


Understanding and relations are not the ends in themselves, but the means to the end.  As then Vice President Lyndon Johnson stated at the ground-breaking ceremony for the East-West Center buildings, “The East-West Center is here to serve the world. To this Center we shall bring the wise men of the west and we shall invite the wise men of the east.” (He meant, of course, the wise women and men).   “From them we shall hope that many generations of young scholars will learn the wisdom of the two worlds, united here, and to use that wisdom for the purposes and the ends of mankind’s highest aspirations for peace and justice and freedom.”    In other words, the purpose of bringing together the very best of East and West is to help build a more peaceful, prosperous, free, and just Asia-Pacific region and world.


We will be true to the other key hallmarks that you and others have associated with the Center over the years.


We remain a forum for diverse views and perspectives.  As an institution we take no positions or promote particular policies.  As individuals, we have full right to express our views freely.


We will be catalysts, using the convening power of the East-West Center proactively to explore and bring attention to new issues and challenges.


We continue to bridge the world of ideas and the world of practical action.  We seek to bring the resources of higher education and advanced research to bear on very real issues of concern to the peoples of the region.


We continue to embody a spirit of dedicated public service with full accountability to our supporters, both public and private.


We remain people-oriented, reaching out to all who share our purpose, whatever their governments may be. 


We continue to draw upon and contribute to our host community here in Hawaii.  The cultural and ethnic diversity of this community and its tolerant, welcoming spirit make it the ideal and inspirational home for the East-West Center.


These, I believe, are values and principles that are embodied in the work of the Center.  They are a part of our DNA.  But the actual work of the Center – its programs and projects – must be constantly refreshed to meet new needs and challenges.


The same is true of individuals – our DNA does not change but we often change what we do.  We might be a community organizer in our 20s, a law professor in our 30s, a national leader in our 40s, and begin yet another career in our 50s.  Individuals, however, then have the luxury of being able to grow older gracefully, and even retire.  An institution can grow more venerable, but it can never retire or be allowed to become old.


How many times has someone already come up to you at this conference and told you that you don’t look a day older than the last time they saw you?   Most of us like that, even when we don’t believe a word of it.   In the case of the East-West Center, however, it is and must truly be 50 years young and ageless.   A few minutes ago, we heard the Hawaiian oli, or chant, about voyaging to a new island.  Listening to it, I was thinking that the East-West Center must always be a vessel for voyaging to new islands.


Today’s East-West Center has many young activities, new voyages – ones that we simply did not do a decade ago.  Let me cite some of these 21 st century innovations. 


Created in 2001, East-West Center in Washington is a mini-EWC in the nation’s capital with its own research, visiting scholar and exchange activities.  It also facilitates Honolulu-based programs in Washington.   EWC-Washington is the home of the two-year old Asia Matters to America, America Matters to Asia project that provides fresh, continually updated data on the evolving trans-Pacific relationships.   EWC-Washington also hosts many events, often rebroadcast on the EWC website, and it organizes each year Washington’s only regular, annual large-scale meeting on U.S. Asia-Pacific policy.   


Returning to Honolulu, the Research Program has initiated new projects on adaptation to climate change and environmental risk, governance, and infectious diseases.   The collaborative Asia International Justice Initiative has provided training in human rights law, and has been particularly active in assisting the Khmer Rouge tribunal in Cambodia, monitoring the trials, training the defense and prosecution lawyers as well as the judges and conducting public outreach activities, including videos shown on primetime television, on the trials and the importance of the legal process.


In the 21 st century, the Pacific Island Development Program has been engaged in mediation and conflict reduction activities throughout this decade, especially in Fiji, Tonga, and the Solomon Islands.  It has also begun a new line of business in election monitoring, last year in the Federated States of Micronesia and this year in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.  


The 8-year-old Asia-Pacific Leadership Program provides a highly selective and intensive certificate course on the big issues of the region and individual empowerment.   The content of the APLP is being compressed and repackaged to market internationally as part of business school programs with partner organizations, initially in East and Southeast Asia.


The Obuchi Okinawa Education and Research Program, announced by former President Clinton in the year 2000, just celebrated its tenth anniversary.   It provides a fresh source of Okinawan students and scholars for participation in EWC activities.  I hope to continue to expand Okinawan programs in light of the need for more non-security related ties between Okinawa, the United States, and the rest of the region.


The Asian Studies Development Program for colleges and universities and the AsiaPacEd Program for elementary and secondary exchange, originally intended to introduce more of Asia and the Pacific into U.S. institutions have been internationalized with many new activities to strengthen teacher exchange and collaboration, both around Asia-Pacific studies and best practice methods.


For more than 40 years, the East-West Center had education programs, but did not address education policy as a critical issue of concern to both Americans and their Asia and Pacific counterparts.  Education 2020, a 21 st century project addressing quality issues in higher education, begins to fill this gap.


Journalist programs have been greatly expanded, by about 6 fold in the past ten years, with numerous bilateral and sub-regional exchanges.  Two years ago, we launched the Asia-Pacific International Media Conferences as a venue where journalists from the entire region can meet for interchange similar to the ones at this alumni conference.


I cite these activities because you may not know of them.  But please be assured that the Center continues to have a vigorous degree studies program, with approximately double the number of students as a decade ago and still growing, and it continues its excellent research work in such areas as population, energy, and the economy.


A few years ago, I had a chance to meet one of today’s wise men of the East, Manmohan Singh, prime minister of India.  He fondly recalled how, as a young economist, he attended a trade meeting at the East-West Center in 1964, his first trip to the United States.   And he was most emphatic in saying that what the Center does – its mission of building relations and understanding – is even more important today than it was in the 1960s.


I absolutely agree.  The unprecedented changes in our region have created vastly increased demands for cooperative study, research, and exchange in the Asia-Pacific region on a wide variety of complex issues.  There is increased need for Asia-Pacific and American leaders of tomorrow well trained in the issues of the region and in the global setting.


And we need to fill that need, but in partnership with others.  There is one thing that has not happened in the past 50 years – no other East-West Center has been created.   A lot of national and issue-specific institutions now exist that are our very good partners, but we remain unique in our geographical scope, our central position, our international and multilateral character including governance, and comprehensiveness of our programmatic activity.  


Looking toward the future of enhanced needs in U.S.-Asia-Pacific research, education, and exchange, glancing down at the record in our open book – and at all of you, the best products of the East-West Center – I have no doubt but that our past is prologue.  A solid foundation has been laid, and a challenging but rewarding agenda lies ahead.   We have, we can, we will make a difference.



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