Navigating a Future for the East-West Center


Navigating a Future for the East-West Center

By Charles E. Morrison

Keynote address at the EWC/EWCA International Conference

Naha, Okinawa
17 September 2014

Arigato gozaimashita. Thank you for this honor. I am truly touched, and I accept this degree on behalf of the East-West Center as a whole. As an institution, we enjoy strong bonds of friendship and cooperation with the peoples and partner institutions of Okinawa, especially the University of the Ryukyus. Our relationship dates from our earliest days and it will continue into the future because it is rooted in common interests, in the direct human connections of our participants and alumni, in our understanding of and appreciation for the contributions and sacrifices Okinawans have made and continue to make for regional peace and security, and in the deep links between our home host community in Hawaii and the people of Okinawa. Some of us are uchinanchu in ethnicity, but through your hospitality and friendship we all become uchinanchi in spirit as we meet you, experience your rich and distinctive culture, partake of your Okinawan cuisine, and, of course, drink aomori.

The peoples of the Ryukyus were traditionally mariners and traders. They traveled far and wide in Asia from mainland Japan to the Korean peninsula, China and Taiwan, Vietnam and Indonesia, and perhaps beyond. The first peoples of Hawaii, the Polynesians, literally meaning the people of many islands, were also master navigators and explorers, discovering and inhabiting tiny points of land across vast ocean distances in probably the most remarkable feats of long distance voyaging before the era of modern sail.

In a sense, we are all navigators. As individuals we have to navigate a world of change. We draw for guidance upon the values and precepts taught by family, teachers, other mentors and religion. They may give us direction, but because the world is constantly changing, the specific routes we take must be our own. As EWC alumni and associates, you have been navigators, undertaking voyages of discovery into new worlds. You acquired products – intangible products – in terms of experience, knowledge, skills, and networks that were different from the ones you might have acquired at home. And some of you, actually quite a few of you, also acquired a quite tangible product in the form of a partner to join you for the journey ahead.

But today, I want to talk to you about a different kind of navigation, the navigation of your institution, the East-West Center. Just as an individual comes to critical junctures where she or he HAS to make a decision and WANTS to chart a new course, so too must institutions adjust to changing circumstances and WANT to address new needs and pursue new opportunities. What the institution was doing may become less needed, or not needed at all, and the pursuit of institutional mission and goals may require new visions, new programs, new crew, and new pilots.

The EWC now stands at one of these critical points where it needs to look ahead to consider its course forward. It has been a decade since we have last engaged in strategic planning for our institution, and our world is changing rapidly. But unlike an individual, the future of the Center will not be determined by one person, or a couple, but by many voices – our voices, and those of other friends, supporters, stakeholders, critics, and maybe by people who may not know us now but understand our mission, our region, and its needs.

Let’s start by briefly reminding ourselves of where we came from. Then I want to share some of my broad ideas about possible courses for the future. And finally I want to briefly outline to you a collective process for exploring the EWC’s future and becoming institutional navigators together.

When the EWC was born in 1960, it was born in a different world, a world of much greater conflict and poverty. Most of Asia was very poor. The countries of Asia and the Pacific islands, from Pakistan eastward, had over half the world’s people, but produced less than a fifth the value of its goods and services. The region was still recovering from the ravages of the Pacific war and the experience of colonialism, and it was divided by the Cold War. There were no diplomatic or economic relations between China and the United States, nor did Japan, China, or South Korea recognize each other. There were also virtually no regional organizations – no Asia Development Bank, no ASEAN, no Pacific Island Forum, no South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC), no APEC, and no East Asia Summit.

Asian students attending universities in the United States numbered in the hundreds. The first students who came to the EWC were literally “fresh off the boat,” and they had limited communication with family and friends back home during their studies. They required the full scholarships and stipends the Center provided, and the Center required the full U.S. government support that came through an appropriation from the Congress.

Today, of course, our world looks very different. Some Asian-Pacific countries are among the richest in the world, and most maintain higher than average economic growth rates. China has become the world’s factory, and it has by far the world’s highest foreign exchange reserves. Intra-Asian trade flows are enormous, exceeding those within North America, and trade flows across the Pacific far exceed those across the Atlantic. The harsh Cold War division is gone except in Korea, but other political conflicts remain. There are more foreign students in the United States from China alone than from Canada, Mexico, the rest of Latin America, Africa, and Europe all combined. The city of Seoul sends more foreign students to the United States than any other single city in the world, and altogether more than half a million Asians study each year in the United States, most with their own funding.

The East-West Center has also been changing. In the 1970s, the 1980s, into most of the 1990s, the student program was confined to graduate students, and several development-related, problem-oriented research institutes were created, each with its own team of interdisciplinary scholars and administrative support structures. Later, at the beginning of this century, other major changes took place as a result of strategic planning. With the Action Plan of 1998, Asia-Pacific community-building was declared the explicit institutional goal around which education, research, and policy dialogue and exchange activities were organized. The research activities were consolidated into a single, smaller but more flexible program. Non-resident fellows joined the research staff, and new work was pioneered in areas such as the rule of law, innovation, climate change, higher education policy, and philanthropy development while other work was phased out. In recognition of the importance that communicators and thought leaders play in community-building, East-West Seminars was created to host short-term professional exchange and enrichment programs for those whose views reach a large public audience – politicians, policymakers and journalists. And in recognition of the importance of bringing the Center’s expertise to Washington, a vigorous Washington office and program was established.

Later planning also led to two new explicit strategic objectives in areas where the East-West Center had already been working. One objective was to assist in the development and deepening of multilateral regional cooperative institutions and processes such as ASEAN and APEC. The other was to help prepare the United States for an era of even greater engagement with the Asia-Pacific region through projects to strengthen the awareness in the United States of its stake in the region and to enhance Asia-Pacific studies in U.S. secondary and tertiary institutions. As a multilateral institution focused on Asia and the Pacific, the East-West Center supported regionalism and encouraged the rebalancing of US society toward Asia and the Pacific far in advance of the U.S. government policies.

Amidst these changes, the basic mission and values of the East-West Center did not change. The basic mission remained to build understanding and relations across and around the vast Pacific and Indian Ocean regions. And the Center strengthened its commitment to the essential values you see inscribed on all our materials and on the columns outside Burns Hall – collaboration, expertise, and leadership.

Collaboration – the East-West Center was never an institution for Americans to study the Asia-Pacific region, but for Americans and Asia-Pacific counterparts to study about and work together on issues of common concern. All of our programs involve individual and institutional collaborations, literally hundreds a year. Expertise – we strive to bring the highest measure of quality to all our activities and to be an authoritative, trusted source of information on our region. Leadership – we seek to empower people to be better leaders of their communities and the region, and we seek to be leaders ourselves in providing information and analysis needed to deal with regional issues and developing regional cooperation.

In pondering our future, we must begin by asking whether the East-West Center is still even needed. The answer is a resounding YES. It is true that the economies of the region have developed, that human interaction, including educational exchange, flourishes across the Pacific as never before, and that numerous regional institutions have been established. But looking out upon the sea-scape of the future, we see rough waters and numerous storm clouds. Within the region, there are still unresolved issues of history and borders, especially those in the ocean. There are still injustices, especially toward minorities, women, and children. Even where there has been robust economic development, this has come with new challenges. Income inequalities have grown in many countries. Demographic change creates new economic and health system challenges. More intensive resource use associated with higher incomes raises stark issues of the sustainability. Land, water, clean air, and our climate systems are all under stress. Changes in diet are associated with more water-intensive agriculture and new long-term or chronic health risks. Urbanization increases vulnerability to natural and manmade disasters. Changes in land-use patterns in peri-urban areas may be associated with increased pandemic risks.

Beyond our immediate region we see a world that some describe as falling apart or terrifying: fragile states, internal and international conflicts, and vicious terrorism in parts of the Middle East and Africa; blatant, atavistic intimidation of one state by another in eastern Ukraine, and economic stagnation and discontent in other parts of Europe.

The East-West Center, of course, cannot solve all these problems, but I believe it has a critical and catalytic role to play in continuing to help build a peaceful, prosperous, and just Asia-Pacific region capable of providing the global leadership needed of our region in the future. Over time our work becomes less regional in nature and more global simply because our region has become so important in global governance.

Some believe that because of Asia’s rise, we are on the threshold of an “Asian” century. Asia’s rise relative to the rest of the world is likely to continue, and it is welcome. But I think of this coming century less as an Asian century and more as a global century in which the major axis of global power or core area of the global system has shifted from the Atlantic world to the Pacific and eastern Indian Ocean regions. The United States, China, and Japan are currently the world’s three largest national economies. India will join them as a leading global power, and so will ASEAN.

While Asian power collectively is on the rise, power is also going to be more diffusely spread among the countries. No one country, not even China, will be as dominant in the international system as the United States has been in the past several decades. And this means that international cooperation becomes all the more important and that global responsibility must be shared.

If there is to be credible global leadership in the world of the future, it must surely come from our region. But it is not inevitable. To provide effective global leadership, the countries of the region must be stable with governments accepted as legitimate by their peoples and capable of making and keeping commitments. They will need to surmount the bitter legacies of history and the burdens of current disputes. And they will need cadres of women and men leaders, rooted in their own cultures but with cross-cultural skills, who understand the requirements of sustaining regional and global systems.

Providing quality educational training for a region destined for global leadership, I would suggest, is a first critical and compelling function for the East-West Center of the future. There is simply no multilateral training platform for the region focused on future collective needs of global responsibility. And Hawaii, in the middle of the Pacific, so far from any national capital but with many links to major capitals, and with a welcoming host community, is an ideal place for young women and men to study on the basis of mutual respect and equality.

Let me draw an analogy to Europe in the earlier phases of its integration process. The new Europe needed young people who thought not just from a French, Italian, or British perspective, but also from a European perspective. The two main early centers for such education were the College of Europe in Bruges and Johns Hopkins-SAIS in Bologna. The most remarkable achievement of the international relations of the 20th century is that these Europeans, with the assistance of trans-Atlantic institutions such as NATO and the OECD, transformed western Europe from a cockpit of conflict during in the early part of that century into an area where French, German, British, and other western European young people cannot even imagine their countries in military conflict with each other. None of these countries do any defense planning against each other. A dream and challenge for the early decades of the 21st century is to bring the same kind of transformation, transformation in attitudes and thinking, to the international relations of Asia and the Pacific. As in the case of Europe, U.S. engagement will be critical with Asia and the Pacific.

A second and continuing function for the East-West Center is to help strengthen the fabric of Asia-Pacific relations through weaving of tighter nets of interaction, and especially helping bring local areas outside the main economic and political centers more fully into the mainstream of regional and global society. Okinawa is only one such area. Okinawa is incredibly vital to the peace and security of region, but as Governor Nakaima noted just now, Okinawa continues to strive to broaden and strengthen its links with the region. The East-West Center through the Obuchi program, with assistance from Worldwide Uchinanchu Business (WUB) network and now the Okinawan Prefectural Government, provides opportunities for young Okinawans to become degree or leadership student participants at the East-West Center and increase their regional links and regional influence. Elsewhere, the Center has developed several programs, including its signature Asia Matters to America, America Matters to Asia project and its Asian Studies Development and AsiaPacificEd programs to deepen knowledge of the impact of the region throughout our societies and strengthen educational and other partnerships. We work to build expertise on Asia-Pacific cultures and issues in institutions of higher education and high schools in many local areas of the United States and other countries of the region.

A third role is that of innovative, policy-relevant research and analysis. There are now many specialized research institutions around the region, and I suspect that the highest value-added research at the East-West Center will not lie in fixed structures working continuously in sharply focused areas of research. The comparative advantage of a small and flexible institution, capable of drawing upon the best intellectual resources to bear throughout the region and the world, is to be quick in identifying new needs and exploring frontiers for analysis in cross-cutting, interdisciplinary research. We should strive to anticipate the breaking waves, conduct pioneering analyses and, then, when ready, pass it off to larger and more specialized institutions.

Finally, I think the East-West Center, which is headquartered on a Pacific island, will continue to play a critical role in bringing regional attention to the Pacific islands and their issues and in integrating those very small states and territories more firmly into broader regional and global affairs. We appreciate the great partners we have in this endeavor in the University of Hawaii at Manoa, the University of the Ryukyus, and those few other institutions in the Pacific Islands, Australia, and New Zealand with a deep and continuing interest in the island region.

These thoughts are not intended as conclusions, but simply a starting point for a conversation, a conversation I hope we will all have, about navigating the future of our Center. During the coming few months, we will engage in a new strategic planning process, and through the generosity of a private donor, we are hiring a strategy team from a credible outside firm to work closely with us. We will review how our mission and institutional goals should be formulated to meet the needs of the 21st century. We need to address program focus and effectiveness, including the alumni program. Are our programs best aligned strategically with the mission? How do we measure success and impact? We will examine our governance structure, and how it may need to be changed to befit an institution that has moved from full government funding to a public-private partnership and where Asian influence in the funding and direction of the Center is on the rise. We must look at our fund-raising strategy – how can we resource more robustly the activities that we need to do? We must also assess the kind and desired characteristics of the next generation of leadership the Center will need. These are very fundamental areas for review, and I believe the recommended changes will be critically significant to a healthy East-West Center of the 21st century.

In the course of this strategic planning, the Center and its consultants will want to draw upon the tremendous experience and the thoughtful and innovative ideas of our greatest asset – you alumni. Our consultants will set up a website where you can contribute, and you can feel free to approach them. Don’t be shy and don’t mince your opinions.

This meeting, too, over the next three days, will provide you with opportunities to interact with those members of the Center’s governing board and Foundation board who are here. You will have chances to talk with Center staff and renew your fellowship with each other.

One thing we past and present participants know for certain is that the Center is a very special place. The very first student to step off the boat in 1960 was the late Abdul Zia, a devoted alumnus. Mr. Zia once observed that at the East-West Center there are no foreigners. I always found that very apt, both as a description of a reality and as an aspiration for how we want it always to be. As our Chair of our governing Board and as our President of the EWC Association Executive Board have both just now said, we are ONE family. We share a dream; we share a boat, and we must paddle together as we navigate toward a destiny of a better region and better world.