Remarks by Robert O. Blake, U.S. Embassy Chargé D'affaires at Opening Session
India Habitat Center, New Delhi

16 November 2005

EWC President Morrison, Mr. Das, Dr. Shankardass, EWC alumni and friends: Aloha!
On behalf of Ambassador Mulford and all of us at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, let me warmly welcome you to New Delhi and to this important international gathering. I understand there are attendees from virtually all EWC alumni chapters in South Asia plus several other Asian countries and the United States.

Let me also welcome EWC President Morrison back to India. Charles, I'm glad that this time you brought such a large, impressive delegation from Hawaii. This is clear evidence of the Center's interest in not only staying in touch with its many alumni throughout South Asia and working to build new partnerships but also of its recognition that in today's changing world South Asia is playing an increasingly important strategic and economic, as well as social and cultural, role.

I am also very pleased to see my good Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) friend, Tarun Das, here this morning. I want to wish him well as a new and very distinguished member of the Center's international Board of Governors.

The timing of this gathering focused on "building a South Asian community within a global context" could hardly be better. Remarkable social, economic and technological transformations are taking place throughout this vital region, particularly in India, and much serious political and scholarly attention is being given to issues and concerns, such as terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and the need to improve disaster management and foster greater economic prosperity, that impact on community-building for a secure, peaceful and democratic future.

Recent developments in the region have highlighted both the tremendous opportunities that exist for greater regional integration and cooperation in this vital region, but also the challenges that remain. The SAARC countries concluded their first summit in two years on November 13 with a reaffirmation of the imperative to accelerate regional trade and integration in South Asia. But India and other countries also focused on the need for all countries to unequivocally confront terrorism.

Cooperation to counter terrorism is also a key part of the growing Indo-US partnership. Our two countries not only are working to arrest terrorists, identify and dry up their sources of funding, but President Bush and Secretary Rice attach great importance to working with India to promote democracy. India's success in building a multi-ethnic and multi-ethnic society is an example to the world because few if any of India's 150 million Muslims have joined international terrorist groups or formed their own indigenous terror groups in India. Of course our partnership encompasses a comprehensive range of other activities ranging from expanding cooperation in civil nuclear and other energy areas, to space, science and technology, agricultural research, HIV/AIDS and many other spheres. President Bush's visit to India early next year will provide an important opportunity to move the U.S.-India agenda ahead on a number of forward-looking initiatives that enhance both our nations' converging interests.

But partnerships are not and cannot be just between governments. People and their educational institutions, businesses and the non-governmental organizations are at the heart of effective community-building at local, regional and global levels. Engagement by people is what will propel and sustain the formal ties between governments. An institution like the East-West Center -- with its longer-term research and education programs -- is uniquely well placed to foster dialogue and engagement.
Looking at your conference theme and U.S. policy towards this region, let me say that the United States has very active and productive relationships with every country in South Asia. President Bush has made clear his intention that we build on these already strong relationships and move to the next level.

There are significant challenges to overcome, but the rewards -- for South Asia and the United States -- definitely make the effort worthwhile. Greater prosperity and economic integration will buttress stability and moderation. We support efforts by the SAARC countries to establish the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA), and we are cooperating with nations in the region to develop democratic tools through which the fundamental problems of extremism, security and development can be addressed. Success on these fronts will bolster stability throughout the region, and progress in South Asia will have consequences for the global community.

Your conference is significant not only because of its theme but also because it occurs during International Education Week, a time we set aside each year to celebrate international education and exchange. Educational cooperation is a particularly important area for U.S.-India relations. According to the just released annual IIE "Open Doors" report on foreign student enrollment in America, India for the fourth year in a row is the largest provider of international students to U.S. universities. More than 80,000 Indian students are studying our campuses. We certainly welcome them, as well as students from all of your countries, because we know how much they contribute to America's economy, academic excellence and cultural diversity.

It is no exaggeration to say that everyone in this room has benefited significantly from international education and exchange in one way or another. The East-West Center has done much in this region to demonstrate how people of different nationalities and disciplines can benefit through an exchange ideas. The Center has long shown that when people from different societies come together to study, train and conduct research they not only gain professionally and personally, but they also contribute to a more peaceful, stable and tolerant global community.

I am sure many others have said that if we did not have an East-West Center, we would have to create one. Those government officials and scholars who founded the EWC back in 1960 knew what they were doing. They had a vision of the importance of people-to-people ties and dialogue that is as relevant today in this shrinking, post-Cold War world as it was 45 years ago.

With globalization, the information revolution and other developments, South Asia and the United States have changed much over the years, but the need for people to understand one another's society, to share ideas and work jointly on common problems remains a priority for the Center and for those many individuals, governments and organizations who partner with it and care about the wider community. Let me congratulate the Center for its unstinting efforts over the years to strengthen relations in the region by bringing scholars and professionals together and serving as such an effective resource for information and analysis on Asia and the Pacific.

Let me note, too, the role that the U.S. Educational Foundation in India (USEFI) -- our Fulbright commission under binational board chairman Adnan Siddiq and Executive Director Jane Schukoske -- and our embassy's public affairs section under one of your own alumni -- Mike Anderson -- have played in helping make this event possible.
USEFI has long been the valued representative of the EWC in India, and it has done much to promote education about the U.S. in India and about India in the U.S. And our Embassy's Public Affairs Office, which every day strives to promote people-to-people ties through public diplomacy, has been pleased to provide a grant to the EWC alumni association so that the South Asian alumni chapter leaders could come together for a special one-day training meeting before the start of this conference.

It is great to see East-West Center alumni from throughout the region voluntarily taking time out from their busy lives to come to New Delhi to reconnect with the Center and with old friends, make new contacts, and exchange views.

I know you comprise only a fraction of the 50,000 people who have participated in Center programs since 1960, but you are a vital segment. Pro-active alumni leadership is a crucial ingredient to ensuring that the work of the Center is disseminated and multiplied. The making of better relations and mutual understanding in today's world is not easy. The world -- and this region in particular -- is challenged by age-old problems like poverty, injustice, pollution, and natural disasters and but also relatively newer challenges like HIV/AIDS, global terrorism, trafficking in persons, climate change, demographic changes, and energy shortages. Individually and collectively, these concerns cry out for urgent solutions and for exactly the kind of multinational, collaborative work that the Center has long been known for and that its alumni can encourage.

In closing, let me thank the organizers for their good work in making this event possible, and wish all of you a most successful conference and stay in New Delhi. EWC alumni -- as individuals, chapters and an international network of concerned professionals -- can make a difference. Those with the EWC experience -- the "aloha spirit" -- can contribute much by fostering understanding, encouraging more cross-cultural interaction and finding ways of working together so that community service can be encouraged and the region's many challenges can be met.
Thank you, and aloha!