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Opening Remarks by Dr. Charles E. Morrison
EWC/EWCA International Conference
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
July 2, 2002

Alumni and friends of the East-West Center. Aloha and Selamat Datang. Welcome to the East-West Center in Malaysia.

For 25 years now, East-West Center alumni chapters have been organizing meetings that have brought hundreds of alumni, associates, professional colleagues, and friends of the East-West Center to the gathering places of our region. This Kuala Lumpur meeting, organized by our Malaysia chapter, follows in a tradition of East-West Center international conferences that have taken place in Seoul, Singapore, Jogjakarta, Bali, Bangkok, Okinawa, Southern California, New Delhi, Manila, and Honolulu. I want to express a special thanks to Dato Saleh Ghazali, Poh Kok Kian, Hyacinth Gaudart, and all their colleagues from the Malaysian chapter who worked so tirelessly over the past year and a half to make this meeting happen. You are a great chapter and you have given us a super warm welcome in this beautiful country and city.

I know of no other meeting series quite like ours. All of us who are alumni or associates of the East-West Center also have affiliations with many other great educational organizations. But do any of you know of any other institution that regularly hosts large alumni conferences involving hundred of participants and presentations, organized by its alumni chapters in different international cities?

I remember the look of astonishment from the former dean of my graduate school, the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies or SAIS, when I told him of the 800 alumni from all over the world who came to our 40th anniversary conference two years ago. He said SAIS could never have done that. As proud as I am of my graduate school, I know that is true.

So we have something very special, very magical here. We who are here, who have been at other alumni conferences in the past, feel it, know it, but it is often difficult for us to communicate it to others.

As the president of the East-West Center, I am frequently asked by both public and private funders to justify the value of the Center. Put sympathetically or sometimes rudely, the questions boil down to these: Why should the East-West Center be funded when there are so many other very important needs and worthy activities to be supported? How do we measure our performance in fulfilling our mission?

It impossible to capture for me the full value of the Center in the number of our participants, the descriptions of activities, or the lists of tangible products, important as all these may be. So when I am asked the question, I am reminded of the motto of an American state -- Missouri – which is “show me.” This is because I want to able to show the Center as you and your colleagues show it to me through your voices and stories, your spirit, your dedication, and your presence at meetings like this one.

What could I show?

Perhaps the delighted look of a prominent Malaysian consumer advocate whom I met on an airplane on another trip to Kuala Lumpur. I had mentioned working for the Center, and he began to tell me of his short fellowship in Honolulu. It was only been for two months and it was twenty years earlier. But he said that it had critically influenced his thinking and he asked me questions about EWC staff he had met and known as if it had been yesterday.

I would want to share of emotion of an alumnus in India who told me earlier this year of an e-mail exchange between he had with a Pakistani alumnus following the terrorist attack on the Indian parliament. Each man expressed concern for the people of the other country as both countries sought to cope with problems stemming from international terrorism Coming at a time of great tensions, this message from an old friend in Pakistan meant a great deal to our alumnus in India.

I would want to show the alumna from Bangladesh, who earlier today told our Board member what an important role the Center had played in her life. Or I want to show the unsolicited mail I receive almost daily from people whose lives have been touched one way or another by the East-West Center. Dr. Gina Kranitz, President of the Paradise Valley Community College in Phoenix, Arizona, writes that the Center is a “rich source of expertise, resources, assistance and inspiration to our faculty and to the faculty of many other community colleges and universities throughout the United States.” We are helping her school and two hundred and fifty others in the United States to infuse Asia into their curricula.

Former prime minister Mahendra Chaudhry of Fiji writes to thank the Center for promoting national reconciliation and political dialogue in his country during an incredibly difficult era in Fijian political history. Two years ago Mr. Chaudhry was held a hostage at gunpoint for 56 days in a coup attempt. Now, leading the opposition, he and current Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase are using the Center’s dialogues as the venue for intense discussions and hopefully consensus on important land and constitutional reform issues. Dr. Sitiveni Halapua, director of the Center’s Pacific Island Development Program, is the organizer and moderator of this dialogue process.

Most poignantly, Dr. Abdul Rashid writes about the death in early June of my colleague and friend, Bruce Koppel, for many years an eminent scholar and dedicated program leader at the Center. Rashid tells of Bruce’s support for him when he was seriously ill as a PhD student in Hawaii and his education program was suffering. Rashid says that without Bruce’s understanding and support, he would have never been able to complete his doctoral degree, help his country of Pakistan professionally upon his return, or become an EWC Distinguished Alumnus. “No wonder,” he writes, “my wife and myself remember Bruce as an extremely kind, caring and considerate individual – one who remained always supportive to a Muslim student from an underdeveloped country.”

These are only a selection. Behind each letter is a story. And each story is about people and their human interactions -- East and West. About people united by their common humanity, caring for and helping each other, sharing ideas and knowledge, and through their interactions enriching their lives and contributing to their institutions and nations. Collectively we know many, many other such stories. No single story in itself may seem very big, but like the fibers of a rope, when entwined together, they are a powerful force.

Today the ropes we have built East and West are being tested as never before. Had this conference taken place five years ago we certainly would have discussed the many challenges facing our region, but we would have done so with a strong sense of accomplishment in the past and optimism about the future. But five years ago was on the very eve of the Asian financial crisis. Since July 1997, a series of wrenching internal, regional and global events – economic, political, and social – have tested public confidence in many of our institutions and, some would say, in our modern civilization itself.

In the wake of national and corporate economic collapses, turmoil in some of our political systems, increased ethnic and religious tensions, the reemergence of dread diseases we once thought conquered, the reversal of reduced rates of poverty, the spread of mass terrorism directed at innocent lives, the spiral of violence in Palestine and other areas, our world seems spinning dangerously out of control. Will we be passing to the next generation a better world than the one that we inherited? The question is neither frivolous nor idle.

We should not be pessimistic about our world. But we do need to be realistic. The vast array of integrating forces we broadly characterize as globalization are a defining feature of modern civilization. To many of us, globalization has provided us with unparalleled opportunities to improve our lives and empower us as human beings. Indeed participation in East-West Center programs is an example of globalization in action.

But globalization has accelerated processes of change that many people in our countries find threatening of traditions, values, status and jobs and thus very frightening. In one form or another globalization can be associated with many of the most serious problems countries face – the Asian economic crisis, for example, or the spread of HIV/AIDS, or increased drug trafficking, or international terrorism. Many are unprepared to adjust to or benefit from globalization. Some may react with feelings of hopelessness while others may react in violent opposition or become passive sympathizers of those opposing change.

That is why our work remains so critically important. The events of the past few years have reinforced the validity and significance of the mission and programs of the East-West Center to build international understanding, relations, and community through cooperative study, training, and research on issues significant to our contemporary world. Globalization issues stand at our heart of all our work.

One of our cooperative projects is to remake the East-West Center itself. Your international Board of Governors led by Governor George R. Ariyoshi, East-West Center Foundation led by Kenny Brown of Hawaii and Haigo Shen of Taiwan, the International Advisory Panel, the East-West Center Association Board and members, the staff, participants, and many friends are rebuilding the new East-West Center. Our hallmarks remain what they have been for more than four decades – dedication to community-building, cooperative partnership and mutual respect in the spirit of aloha in all our work, and a strong sense of dedicated public service. Within these enduring guiding hallmarks, our Center must be constantly renewed and reshaped to meet the changing character and needs of our region. This is not change for change’s sake.

Our Board approved a first strategic Action Plan in 1998. We are now beginning a new phase with an updated Action Plan 2002. And what have we done?

We have integrated the research program and rejuvenated the staff. Overall, the professional research staff more diversified in age, gender, and ethnicity, and ever reflective of our region as a whole. We have diversified into some new areas – such as conflict reduction, disaster management, and international health issues. We have diversified into new locations – Washington and Maui. We seek to ensure that our research and other activities bridge not just East and West, but also between the world of ideas and the world of action. The political dialogue program in Fiji that I mentioned earlier is a prime example. So too are the expanded dialogue and training activities, such as the Jefferson Fellows and other media programs, the New Generation Seminar, our new Asia Pacific Executive Forum, and summer teacher workshops. These reach out and involve groups who shape broader public attitudes – journalists, political leaders, business leaders, and educators, who bridge to the youth in our countries.

Speaking of education, this year we have initiated a conceptually new and different program, the Asia Pacific Leadership Program, to stand along side our traditional scholarship program for degree studies at the University of Hawaii. Our new program provides a shorter education focused on regional issues, challenges, and leadership. It is designed to complement degree studies in home institutions by providing an experience home institutions hardly ever have – cooperative study with colleagues and faculty drawn from all around our region. For students in the leadership program and for all degree students as well, the EWC educational experience is different from any other because it is not just an American educational experience but a truly Asia-Pacific experience. With the new program, student numbers at the Center are now increasing for the first time in many years.

We are building stronger partnerships at home and abroad. Our main partner is, as it always has been, the University of Hawaii. Many of you, perhaps most of you are also alumni of this great university, which hosts us on the Manoa campus. The UH is also a dynamic institution under new leadership. It is more than symbolic of our partnership that for the first time in these alumni meetings the president of the University of Hawaii system, my good friend Evan Dobelle, is with us.

In addition to the University of Hawaii system, the East-West Center in any one year interacts with as many as 400 institutions from the U.S. mainland and all over Asia and the Pacific.

We seek to rebuild the East-West Center on a sounder financial basis as a true public-private partnership. And today, our appropriation from the U.S. Congress stands at less than half of our overall budget. Much of the other 50 percent comes from public funds or tax-sheltered foundations, but in these cases we compete for that support with other institutions. An increasing share comes from the contributions of alumni and other friends and supporters of the East-West Center. We are grateful for this continuing and essential support.

Alumni are critical to the future of the East-West Center. The institution cannot achieve its mission nor even survive without the active participation and support that you are demonstrating in many ways, including coming to this meeting. We cannot effectively help build an Asia Pacific community unless our international East West Center community is strong. A very major thrust of the Board’s Action Plan is to ensure that alumni are fully integral part of the East-West Center. The East-West Center is not just a few building and staff in Hawaii and Washington, but a vast network organization covering our entire region. You are every bit as much the East-West Center as any current staff or participant. Your chapter activities are activities of the East-West Center. You are not only the Center’s finest products, but also its eyes, ears, and face in your respective cities and countries.

I sometimes hear that the 1960s were golden years at the East-West Center. This is obviously true, but it is not the whole truth. Because the 1970s alumni say that the 1970s were also golden years. I find that as the years pass and our hair becomes thinner and more tinged with silver, our memories become more robust and more and more tinged with gold. Those burning irritants of our youth – for example, meal coupons, or small dorm rooms, or an even an overly ardent admirer or two – somehow seem less important and more and more overshadowed by our cherished long-time friendships and shared experiences. So I am convinced that for each generation of East-West Center participants, if the years with the Center are not already golden, they will eventually become so.

We are the stewards of the East-West Center’s future, but more than that, we need to be stewards of the future for our nations, region and world. In a world in need of understanding and community, those of us who have directly and personally benefited from the Center must be even more dedicated to sharing our knowledge and expertise with others, and of making sure that we do hand to our successor generations a safer and more prosperous region for all.

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