East-West Center: Unity in Diversity by Charles E. Morrison, President, East-West Center

Delivered at the

2008 EWC/EWCA International Conference

"Building an Asia Pacific Community: Unity in Diversity"

Bali, Indonesia

November 12, 2008

Terima kasih, selamat pagi, and aloha. It is great to be here in Bali, among more than 500 fellow alumni, spouses, and friends.

Two decades ago, in 1988, the East-West Center and East-West Center Association held our Sixth International Conference here in Bali, and now we are back. This is the first time we have come to the same place twice, except, of course, to Honolulu. Our return says much about the beauty and warmth of Bali, and about the initiative, commitment, and energy of our alumni chapters in Bali and Jakarta. Thank you, Indonesian alumni, and thank you, Bali. Again, I want to express appreciation to the Governor, the Ambassador, and the Coordinating Minister. And about thirty student volunteers from here in Bali also deserve our special thanks.

Bali has had some tough times. Ten years ago it was hit by the devastating Asian financial crisis, and then six years ago by the tragic Bali bombing. But Bali provides a model of resiliency and hope.

Today, we gather at yet another time of extraordinary and immediate challenge. This time, the world as a whole remains in the grip of a financial and economic crisis more threatening than any in since the 1930s, and with enormous consequences, especially for the poorest in our societies, and potentially for national political stability and international relationships.

However, it is also time of opportunity, because often in crises, with wise leadership, we see our vulnerabilities more clearly and can make needed changes.

Many of our countries have new leaders at the highest levels, for example, Australia, South Korea, Taiwan, Nepal, Japan, and Pakistan. Others, including the United States and New Zealand, have just held elections and will soon have new leaders.

The election in my country, the United States, was long, exhausting, and historic. We had two fine candidates. People watched around the world, and many wondered whether the American people could elect a man like Barack Obama, who was so different from any previous nominee because . . . he is the son of an East-West Center alumna. He is a native son of Hawaii, the son of two University of Hawaii students, and, if you will, an adopted son of Indonesia. And none of that hurt him.

The other former candidate is a very dedicated and experienced leader, with a genuine interest in Asia and the Pacific. Senator John McCain will continue to be an influential and needed voice in the Senate.

One of the most happily anticipated features of U.S. elections is the honeymoon that follows. This year it began on election night when Senator McCain gave an eloquent concession speech, emphasizing that he would seek to cooperate with and serve the new president. Shortly after, President-elect Obama promised to be a president for all Americans and reached out to the world. President Bush called the victory a triumph of the American story.

It is an American story, and also a global story. Perhaps the most remarked-upon feature of president-elect Obama is his extraordinary family background – father, a foreign student from Africa, mother, who had ancesters from 1635 in North America, and a step-father, a foreign student from Asia, more specifically from Indonesia, also, by the way, on an East-West Center award.

That election is over, and I believe it is truly the aspiration of both former candidates and of the American people for a less partisan, more cooperative approach to policy issues. Our world wants uniters, not dividers, and especially at a time when the costs of division and the need for cooperation are so great.

In this context, the theme of our conference, “Unity in Diversity,” could not be more appropriate. The title is an English translation of the national motto of Indonesia. The actual words of the motto, “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika” are ancient Javanese, coming from a poem written more than 600 years ago.  The poet was referring to the two main religions of the Majapahit Empire – Buddhism and Hinduism. He tells us that although they are different religions, the basic truths are the same. There is “no duality in truth,” one translation reads.

It is a beautiful thought – to respect and treasure diversity, while being united by fundamental values and principles. And it is timeless – as relevant to our world and times, as it was to the ancient Majapahit Empire.

What are the common values of modern civilization? President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, listed these as he led a ceremony in Bali memorializing the innocent victims of the Bali bombing a year after that tragedy. He pledged that the perpetrators would be brought to justice, and indeed some have been. He added, however, that the best honor and greatest justice for the dead lie in holding high the values that bind us together as a “grand family of nations and peoples. . . Freedom, religiosity, tolerance, diversity, unity, democracy, compassion, fraternity, and humanity.”

The concept of unity in diversity was also embodied the creation of the East-West Center. East and the West represent our diversity; and Center our willingness to come together. For us, East and West are not geographical directions, but metaphors and symbols for different perspectives, perspectives that can be brought together, shared and enjoyed, sometimes blended, and always enriching each other.

Since 1960, the Center has been a place where students and leaders of academia, government, business, and the media come together to learn from each other and to address critical issues of mutual concern. We come together with pride from many different backgrounds. But we study and we work together as citizens and leaders of our region and the world, addressing common vulnerabilities, issues, and potentials.

There are three basic categories of East-West Center programs – solid research, carefully crafted dialogue and exchange, and quality student education, the last mostly done in close partnership with the University of Hawaii at Manoa. These are diverse activities, but united in purpose. They reinforce each other, all contributing to our public mission.

I thought about all this as I walked around our campus on election night. I knew that the students in the Asia Pacific Leadership Program had just arrived in China, beginning three intensive weeks of field study. I thought about the forty-five teachers I had just met from Indonesian pesantran boarding schools; they were in Hawaii, having just completed a program meeting teachers and visiting schools across the United States. Our Jefferson Fellows journalists were probably sitting in their hotel in Ohio, still glued to the reports of the election results long after midnight. I thought about the Center’s research director, Nancy Lewis, who was in Malaysia where she was organizing a future meeting of the Pacific Science Association. And Sitiveni Halapua, director of the Center’s Pacific island development program, who was in Fiji, where he had just helped organize the first meeting of the interim prime minister with political party leaders in order to find an early path back to democracy.

But I was in Hawaii, and it was a lovely evening with a half moon in the western sky and a gentle Manoa breeze. As I left Burns Hall, I walked though the award-winning garden of native Hawaiian plants and stone walls, and the student activity area there that has replaced the aging wooden cottages. The evening was alive with the noise of the many student voices and laughter coming from Hale Halewai and the balconies and kitchen areas of Hale Manoa, the Center’s high-rise dormitory. These are the sounds -  the music if you will -- of our vibrant and diverse Asia Pacific community at the EWC.

Farther on, from the front of Jefferson Hall, I could see the newly rebuilt golden Thai pavilion, or Sala Thai, sitting majestically on the hillside in front of Hale Kuahine. This architectural gem was rededicated this spring by her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn. A group of students were enjoying the evening. Turning to the back of Jefferson Hall, I greeted another student group, who were in earnest discussion beneath the building’s elegant arches.

From the edge of the Jefferson Hall balcony is the view over the Japanese garden that I always find breath-taking, no matter how often I see it. At night it glows in soft lights. Straight across, at eye level, sits the nine-story stone pagoda and tea house. Beneath them, the small, splashing waterfalls and a stone pathway both tumble down the hillside to the garden below. There I could clearly see the Japanese lantern and the meandering stream that forms the Chinese and Japanese character for “heart.” Students, we agree, are at the heart of the East-West Center. All these are diverse elements that human imagination has formed into the coherent unity of our garden.

Some of you still hold this scene forever in your memories. The garden was built in the earliest years of the Center. If its trees, rocks, pagoda, and waters could reflect the sounds and images from the past, some of the voices and the faces would be yours.

If you were a student, they might reflect your anticipation when you first arrived, your jubilation when you received an unexpectedly good grade or your heartache in perhaps getting a letter from home and missing a relative. Or perhaps – perhaps even - they might reflect a stolen kiss in the garden, or a lover’s spat. And there would have been the contradictory emotions of your last days there – the celebration of graduation, sadness in saying goodbye, nervousness of moving on to a new stage in life.

Other voices and faces from the past include those of many research scholars, teachers, diplomats, journalists, young women leaders, artists, judges, members of the Board of Governors, Pacific island leaders, and other professionals, enjoying a break from intense discussions or engaged in quiet dialogue with a few colleagues in the open air. There was the chief U.S. non-proliferation negotiator strolling with his Chinese counterpart to discuss North Korea. Farther back, the young Japanese couple, now Emperor and Empress, planting a tree in 1964. A still young King and Queen of Thailand as they dedicated the original Sala Thai in 1967. The talkative junior senator from Delaware in 1981, now the vice-president elect of the United States. The grief-stricken group of twenty family and friends who came to the garden for a small memorial service thirteen years ago for Stanley Ann Dunham, late mother of the now president-elect Obama.

These are images from the past. But the voices and faces I saw on election night were those of the present. And there are more now than ever before.  The East-West Center staff is not as large as it once was, but there are 510 students, the largest number in thirty-four years, and more than 100 journalists a year and several hundred teachers, far more than ever in the Center’s history. More participants now mean more alumni later. All these program participants make the East-West Center in Honolulu and East-West Center in Washington with its own broad range of programs, an alive and growing institution.

In previous conferences, I discussed with you the importance of evaluating our work and maintaining our relevance through dynamic activities meaningful to contemporary issues and generations. Evaluation is one of the most difficult tasks for any organization or government. How do we know, for example, if a new warship is really needed, since we cannot foresee every contingency in which it might be used or when its best value may come from never being used in combat? Compared to the cost of building one modern warship, the East-West Center can be operated at its present level for more than a century. But how also do we measure its impact when the results often take years to realize?

For me, among the most important measures of our success are your achievements, your participation, and your support. The intellectual and policy contributions of the East-West Center are not simply those of its own staff, important as these are. They are also your accomplishments in your own societies and professions and those of the other 55,000 alumni such as Dr. Pachauri, who last year received a Nobel Prize as chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Your continuing engagement in our activities confirms the relevance of our institution and its expanding network. I can think of no other Asia Pacific organization that compares with the East-West Center in the breadth of reach of its chapter network or in the size of its reunions.

As alumni, you know better than anyone the value of the East-West Center experience. And we are convinced that Asia, the Pacific, and the United States will continue to need, in ever growing numbers, individuals with a broad understanding of our region and the world, with sensitivity to each other’s cultures, traditions and interests, and with the professional competencies needed in the 21 st century. These competencies are innovation, critical thinking, teamwork, a life-long capacity for self-learning, and, most importantly, the ability to unite diverse interests in common purpose.

It isn’t easy. Especially in times of rapid change or crisis, people become anxious and even xenophobic. There are and always will be those that will want to lead the way backward, toward a less free, less open, and less tolerant region.

Leadership that unites, rather than divides, does not mean pleasing everyone.  It does mean showing a higher purpose, a rationale, and a realistic path forward, combining vision, logic, and implementation, and leading step-by-step, toward a better region and world.

Today, the United States government, through Congress and the Department of State, continues to provide the majority of support for East-West Center degree student and leadership programs. The Asian Development Bank and Ford Foundation also make large contributions. And you, alumni and private donors, are making a critical and growing difference. This is why I want to recognize by name those who have established scholarship funds, and they include many of you. These are the 1960s and 1970s generations of East-West Center alumni, Amanda Ellis, Buddy and Melga Torre Gendano, Stephen Haus, Pat Loui and Michael Schmicker, Ashok Kumar Malhotra, Sumi Makey, the Pacific Rim Society, Jean Rolles, the Royal Sala Thai Scholarship Committee, Toufiq and Ulrike Siddiqi, and the Worldwide Uchinanchu (Okinawan) Network. I regard these individuals, couples, and groups as “path-finders,” lighting a road for later contributors. We thank them all for their commitment to the future of this region.

We are committed to the kind of leadership that can truly be characterized as unity in diversity. You can see it in our East-West Center Board of Governors.  They are ethnically and professionally diverse, strong individualists, united in purpose to our mission and institution. You alumni here are 500 strong from more than 30 countries, leaders in many walks of life, and united in your dedication to building an Asia Pacific community.

Two years from now we are going to celebrate our 50 th anniversary. The boards of the East-West Center, the staff, and the chapter leaders have been discussing how to do that, and do in real style. We will have different events in different countries and diverse ways to engage and contribute, but we're all going to work hard together to have a tremendous celebration of our Golden Jubilee. The highlight of the conference will be our alumni conference in Honolulu in 2010. We will meet then, along with many others, as we do now, to renew our friendship and rededicate ourselves to the on-going tasks of building our Asia Pacific Community. I'll see you there!