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Obama: Southeast Asian Youth Will Shape Region's Future

Published on 28 April 2014

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by Merle David Kellerhals Jr.


Washington, D.C.

Saying the youth of Southeast Asia will shape the region's progress and future, President Obama told young people in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, that Asia likely will define the “contours of the century ahead.”

For that reason, Obama said, the United States is focused on promoting a vibrant U.S.-Asia relationship.

“We have been moving forward on our rebalance to this part of the world by opening ties of commerce and negotiating our most ambitious trade agreement; by increasing our defense and educational exchange cooperation, and modernizing our alliances; by participating fully in regional institutions like the East Asia Summit; building deeper partnerships with emerging powers like Indonesia and Vietnam,” Obama said April 27 during a town hall meeting with about 550 young Southeast Asian leaders at the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur.

The young people represented member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as part of the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI), which is Obama’s signature program to strengthen leadership development and networking in ASEAN. He first announced the leadership initiative in a video message in December 2013 during the LEAD ASEAN Youth Summit in Manila, Philippines.

The young leaders initiative is aimed at deepening engagement with young leaders on key regional and global challenges and strengthening people-to-people ties between the United States and young Southeast Asian leaders, according to the White House. Obama regards young people in the region as a crucial element in the United States’ rebalance of its relationship with the Asia-Pacific region.

More than 65 percent of ASEAN’s population is under age 35, and Obama sees the young leaders initiative as an important investment in the next generation of Southeast Asian leadership. Obama launched a similar program in Africa five years ago, and a major conference of young African leaders will be held in two months in Washington.

In the coming months the U.S. State Department will host YSEALI Generation Workshops aimed at developing a regional network for youth in ASEAN countries to collaborate on solving common challenges and also for creating new opportunities, the White House says. In addition, at YSEALI Youth Summits, cross-regional teams will present proposals to tackle economic, environmental, education and civic engagement challenges to leaders in business, government and civil society and share their perspectives on regional issues.

Funding for many of these teams to implement their ideas will be made through YSEALI Seeds for the Future. The full scope of the YSEALI initiative is explained in a White House fact sheet.

ASEAN is a political and economic organization that is focused on accelerating economic growth, social progress and regional peace and security for its 10-member countries — Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Obama said that since President Lyndon Johnson’s 1966 visit to Malaysia there has been no region in the world that has changed as dramatically. “Old dictatorships have crumbled. New voices have emerged. Controlled economies have given way to free markets,” he said.

“The 10 nations that make up ASEAN are home to nearly one in 10 of the world’s citizens. And when you put those countries together, you’re the seventh-largest economy in the world, the fourth-largest market for American exports, the Number 1 destination for American investment in Asia,” Obama added.

Obama said he is proud to be the only American president to have met regularly with all 10 ASEAN leaders, and he intends to continue that every year he remains in office. Malaysia, which assumes the chairmanship of ASEAN next year, plays a central role in the region, he said. And that role will keep growing over time, “with an ability to promote economic growth and opportunity, and be an anchor of stability and maritime security,” he said.

The American strategy in the Asia-Pacific region is not only about security or trade agreements, Obama told the young leaders. It’s more about building relationships between the people of Asia and the people of the United States, the president said.

Obama was in Kuala Lumpur for meetings with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak at his residence earlier in the day, and the two world leaders reaffirmed a shared commitment to enhance the Malaysia-U.S. engagement across a broad range of issues. And Najib thanked Obama for U.S. support and assistance in the search for the missing commercial passenger flight MH370.

Najib and Obama also elevated the Malaysia-U.S. relationship to a “comprehensive partnership” that broadens talks across areas that include political and diplomatic cooperation, trade and investment, education and people-to-people ties, security and defense cooperation, and collaboration on environment, science and technology, and energy security. The president’s visit to Kuala Lumpur follows stops in Tokyo and Seoul, Republic of Korea, and ahead of a visit to the Philippines.



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Posted 2014-04-28 10:57:00