Remarks at Opening Ceremony by U.S. Ambassador Marie T. Huhtala
The Istana Hotel
Tuesday, July 2, 2002 – 9:00 a.m.


Honorable Dato’ Dr. Siti Zaharah, Minister of National Unity and Community Development;

Honorable Governor George Ariyoshi, Chairman of the East-West Center Board of Governors, and other distinguished Board members;

Dr. Charles Morrison, President of the East-West Center, and members of the East-West Center staff;

Dr. Daniel Berman, President of the East-West Center Association, and members of EWCA;

Tuan-tuan, puan-puan, ladies and gentlemen…


Good morning. It is a great honor for me to help launch the East-West Center and the East-West Center Association’s international conference in Malaysia.

You have chosen a wonderful location for this event, and an excellent theme that ties in so closely with what you can see all around you in Malaysia: “The Impact of Globalization on Building an Asia-Pacific Community.”

Just a few blocks from this meeting site, the world’s tallest buildings – the Petronas Towers – symbolize the incredible progress Malaysia has made in becoming a vibrant, growth-oriented 21st Century economy.

And just a few hundred kilometers away, the ancient port cities of Malacca and Penang remind us of the rich diversity and history that made Malaysia into the nation it is today. In fact, trading centers like Malacca and Penang helped take the entire world into the first real ear of globalization – the Age of Exploration.

Six hundred years ago, Malacca was a sleepy little Sultanate of a few hundred people, but by 1480 it had become a center for East-West trade and a port city whose riches drew famous explorers like Ferdinand Magellan, Saint Francis Xavier and Sir Francis Drake.
Malacca’s wealth also inspired Christopher Columbus to try to reach the East Indies by an alternate route, westward across the Atlantic, so America’s own history owes a lot to Malaysia’s too.

Like Columbus, many of you here in this room have traveled a long journey to reach Malaysia today. I know that the challenges of jet lag and airport security these days can make that kind of journey daunting, but I am glad you all have come to attend this conference.

For you are all explorers and adventurers in the mold of Columbus. Many of you received, at some point in your life, a grant or scholarship or research offer from the East-West Center, just as Columbus received a commission from the King and Queen of Spain.

And each of you bravely set forth to explore a new world and to learn more about another culture. I hope that most of you returned home with as many new discoveries as Columbus did 500 years ago.

Today, globalization has changed how we do business, how governments work with one another, how we travel and communicate and how we live. We use high-speed Internet connections to send messages around the world in less than one second. We fly vast distances in a matter of hours. International investors and merchants move their funds and trade goods around the world in a fraction of the time that it took Columbus in his day.

But the one thing that the speed of globalization cannot replace is the value of person-to-person contact. That is why programs like the East-West Center’s many exchanges are so important. And why maintaining the networks of friendship and interpersonal exchange through groups like the East-West Center Association are so vital, too.

Networks like the EWCA are the East India Trading Companies of the modern ear. You help turn the first discoveries of other cultures that come from exchange and scholarship programs into lasting linkages that bring benefit to societies on both sides of our ocean.

Over 46,000 people have participated in East-West Center programs since the U.S. Congress established the Center in 1960. That is a powerful armada of understanding that can overcome the geographical distances and cultural differences that could keep the East and West from coming closer together.

As Mark Twain wrote in his novel Innocents Abroad, about his own journey around the world, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

As the terrorist attacks and other events of the recent past have shown, there is still much work to be done to banish narrow-mindedness from the world. There was a backlash against the Age of Reason and the Industrial Revolution, too, with some groups attacking the symbols of progress, rather than trying to deal with the change itself. And so, today, do we find some who would prefer to freeze the wheel of time in its tracks.

But that cannot be done. As Malaysia’s Minister of Trade and International Trade, Rafidah, said last year, “Globalization is like aging. One may not like its effects, but it is inevitable, so we might as well try to do it gracefully.”

Globalization today is bridging the technical and physical gaps that hold back a faster flow of ideas, capital and products around the world. But we must work equally hard to bridge the intellectual and cultural gaps that could keep us apart.

It is up to us all, and the courage of our efforts, to determine whether the 21st Century will usher in a new Age of Exploration, an era when we are able to banish ignorance and narrow-mindedness forever. Let us pledge to work together to make East and West meet, and to cross together the promising frontiers of the future. Thank you, and bon voyage!