Tara Sonenshine
Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs
Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University
Beppu City, Kyushu, Japan
November 15, 2012

Thank you, Professor Rothman, for that introduction.

I’d like to thank President Korenaga for his hospitality, and Professor Rothman for making this event possible – and allowing me to use his class time to come together.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak to all of you – and to visit Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University today. It is an extraordinary campus. That view of Beppu Bay is so beautiful.

As Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs at the United States Department of State, I work to build meaningful relationships and mutual understanding between citizens of our country and others. That is what we call public diplomacy. And we do this by joining and expanding a global conversation with people everywhere – both face to face, through educational and cultural exchanges, and through social media.

Of course, digital and social media are central to public diplomacy. Our connective technologies and our innovation have changed the conditions for just about everything – from the way we communicate and share strategic information to the way we trade or invest. It has become the predominant mode of global conversation.

Under the leadership of Secretary Clinton, we have evolved a policy of what we call 21st Century Statecraft. Now, what do we mean by this term? It’s about taking our traditional foreign policy tools and giving them deeper reach and dimension. We do that with newly innovated and adapted instruments of statecraft.

The result is, we can retrofit our traditional tools, methods, and practices with cutting edge technology, and we can fully leverage the networks, technologies, and demographics of our interconnected world.

All of these things are important and mutually reinforcing as we work to make sure America stays involved, connected, and active. We have to find the balance between telling you about our values and interests, but also hearing what you have to say. This is how we can create a dialogue among people all around the world.

That includes sustaining a dialogue in the region. That’s what brings me here today. I would like to talk about the importance of the Asia Pacific to the United States – and also your futures in it. Both are important. I would also like to talk about some of the ways we are working to support emerging leaders like you.

Let me start by drawing your attention to something. I am speaking to you in English – without a translator. Just by being here, you are demonstrating that you understand its central importance to our globalized world.

You know that English fluency is one of the best tools to have, if you want to build a successful future. And when you make yourself more competitive in the global marketplace for labor, you expand your horizons, and you, your country, and this entire region benefits enormously.

Many people reflexively think of the United States as an Atlantic power. That has a lot to do with so much of the history of the past two hundred years. But of course, we have two coasts. We have never lost sight of that. We are a Pacific nation as much as we are an Atlantic one.

Furthermore, a growing number of Americans have their roots in this region, including the first U.S. senator ever born in Japan, Maizie Hirono of Hawaii, who was elected last week. And so we have always been aware of the growing importance of the Asia Pacific, especially in the 21st century.

President Obama, who was born in Hawaii and spent some formative childhood years in Indonesia, has been called America’s first Asia-Pacific president. And under his leadership, we are undertaking a strategic rebalancing toward the region, as well as reaffirming our presence and participation in it.

This is one of the most vital and dynamic regions in the world, with more than one third of the global population and almost one half of the world’s economic production. So if we achieve productivity and prosperity here, it will raise the standard of living and create new opportunities across the world.

We have long-lasting strategic alliances in the region, with Japan and South Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, and Australia. These alliances have deepened over more than 50 years and have contributed to much of the region’s stability and growth over the past decades.

We have key trading partnerships throughout the region, including China, Japan, and South Korea, and we are building new ones with emerging economies such as India and Indonesia. And we are working to build new relationships.

This weekend, President Obama will travel to Bangkok, Thailand, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and Rangoon, Burma. Recognizing Burma’s remarkable opening in the past few years, he will be the first U.S. President ever to visit that country. This symbolizes a remarkable change for the better in cooperation among the nations of South East Asia and between the United States and that key region.

And through these and other relationships – bilateral and multilateral – we are working to create free, fair, open, and transparent markets for everyone. We are also asking all of our regional neighbors to strengthen their human rights, rule of law, intellectual property rights, and protection for workers.

I don’t want you to think you walked into the wrong classroom. Yes, I am talking about economics. But it is connected to this discussion because, ultimately, we measure progress by the conditions of peoples’ lives.

That’s one of the best metrics of public diplomacy. When we remove economic barriers and political corruption, when we enforce the rules and human rights, we create more opportunities for people to build businesses, work in dignity, earn decent wages, and raise healthy families. More people can take hold of the opportunities to improve their own and the next generation's fortunes. More can live safely, freely, and happily.

Now we come to the second part of my speech: Your role.

We can’t just create environments of freedom and possibility and wait for success to happen. People need to develop the capability and the tools to take advantage of opportunity.

Education gives them that capability and those tools. Learning English is part of that. It’s the language of international law and business, of international diplomacy, and of international education. It’s the predominant language of the Internet and the entertainment sector. And if you want to take advantage of the resources and opportunities of American colleges and universities, English is essential.

So are educational exchanges. Walking through this campus and looking around this room, I can see educational exchanges are alive and well. I am so impressed to learn that almost half of the students at APU are foreign exchange students from 83 countries, including China, the Republic of Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia. You get the principle. You are living it.

But what I do want to underscore why we invest so much time and resources into scholarships, programs, and exchanges. We believe they are essential to promoting mutual understanding between cultures and nations.

When we create opportunities for young people to spend time with families in the United States, build networks and contacts, and get the skills and training they need to compete in today’s job markets, they become energized. And the stories of their successes speak for themselves.

Masayoshi Son, the founder of Softbank, attended the University of Southern California. Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei went to the Parsons School of Design. Lee Kun-Hee, the chairman of Samsung, studied in both Japan and America. Mohammad Yunus, the Grameen Bank founder and Nobel Peace prize winner, was a Fulbright scholar at Vanderbilt University.

Of course, we all know about Gangnam Style. Well, the man behind it – Psy – went to Boston University and the Berklee College of Music.

Six of the top ten countries sending students to the United States are in Asia. And over the years, our exchange programs with Japan have been among the most successful anywhere.

Our Fulbright program has brought American and Japanese students into meaningful engagement with both our cultures for 60 years. Today, the program counts among its alumni no fewer than six Nobel laureates, eight Pulitzer Prize recipients, and a wealth of renowned scientists, journalists, policy makers, and scholars in both countries.

But let me be honest: more needs to be done. And this is the third thing I want to talk about: What we are doing.

The latest Open Doors Report, which tracks the number of international students coming to and going from the U.S. has just come out. And we are seeing an increase of more than six percent in the number of students who applied to U.S. colleges last fall around the world, many to take intensive English or the sciences. In fact we reached a record high of about 765,000 students. And in the other direction, American students studying abroad have more than tripled over the past two decades.

Yes, we are seeing increases in the students coming to the U.S. from China, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Malaysia. But we have also seen a decrease in the numbers of students coming from Japan, India, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Thailand.

In Japan, that decrease has been significant, from about 50,000 a year ten years ago to just under 20,000 now. The number of Japanese students choosing to study abroad anywhere, not just the U.S., has declined at an equivalent rate.

Here in Japan, there are a number of factors contributing to that – the recession, lack of English language proficiency, and differences in our academic calendar. While APU is a sterling exception, Japan as a whole is losing out in the race to develop an internationally-minded population with the skills needed to prosper, and enjoy life, in this ever more globalized world.

So we need to do more. One of the biggest ways in which we in the U.S. Government are working to do this is through the “TOMODACHI Initiative.”

This initiative leverages private sector support to invest in the next generation of young people in Japan, through educational, academic, sports, music, arts, entrepreneurship, and leadership programs. The goal is to touch individual lives and cultivate a new generation of global leaders on both sides of the Pacific.

It was inspired by the joint U.S. military-Japan Self-Defense Force U.S. rescue and relief operation of the same name following the Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear accident of last year. And it’s a remarkable partnership that includes the United States Government, the U.S.-Japan Council, a nongovernmental organization, and a number of major Japanese and American private sector firms.

Thanks to TOMODACHI and other programs, we’re bringing ten times as many Japanese students to the U.S. as we did last year on U.S. Government-sponsored exchanges.

We are also creating continuing opportunities for Japanese young people to visit the U.S. for short-term stays.

That allows them to become familiar with our country, to get a sense of the American college or university experience – to build connections with young Americans.

Now, if you’re interested in learning more, I commend you to the TOMODACHI Initiative website, at, to see if there are any programs you might be qualified for.

Across the region, we are reaching out to young people in many different ways. For the past four years, high school students and teachers from ASEAN member countries have come to the U.S. for three-week exchanges that focus on civic education, leadership, diversity, and volunteerism.

Later this month in Hanoi, we are convening exchange program alumni from Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam to share ideas and experiences.

In Jakarta next month, for the first time, 150 alumni from the Southeast Asia Youth Leadership program will meet at a U.S.-ASEAN Young Leaders Summit. They’ll create and implement their own community service projects.

We are also connecting American and Australian high school students to engage with one another about water resources.

Last Tuesday, we held the world’s largest international online education fair. More than 180 colleges and universities from the United States made themselves available online – so that students around the world could find out more about opportunities in community colleges, small private schools, and large state universities. The virtual fair will still be accessible online through Sunday. So, please take a look.

You can find out about other opportunities at the Fukuoka American Center. I urge you to visit. You will be able to speak with an expert who can tell you about undergraduate and graduate school programs, scholarships, and financial aid. It’s free of charge, and only a phone call or email away.

These are just some of the ways that the United States is betting on people like you. We are betting because we have already seen what the alumni of our educational exchanges go on to do. They work for better communities and stronger economies. They work to influence their governments in democratic directions, to support and guarantee freedom of religion and expression, to fight for political and economic transparency and equal opportunity.

Those are the kind of global citizens we need to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Challenges like the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, or climate change or natural disasters – like the triple disaster that struck Japan last year. Or religious intolerance, gender inequality, lack of economic opportunity for so many young people out of work – as many as 25 percent in some countries.

When this university was created 12 years ago, its founding statement expressed the aspiration to create a university where future leaders from countries and regions throughout the world could come to study together, live together, and understand each other's cultures and ways of life.

That’s you right now – standing at a unique moment in human history. Never before have young people been so empowered by technology and opportunity to make a difference. What you do online in your dorm room or in the Pacific Café, and later in life, could make enormous differences.

But you have to connect the dots yourself. It is your creativity and commitment that will pursue investment projects in other countries or create partnerships that foster greater cultural understanding or collaborate on scientific projects that cure illnesses or solve social problems or work for peace, tolerance, and democratic freedoms.

With your multicultural education, your command of English and global outlook, we will look to you and to others like you around the world to lead us in the 21st century. We have high hopes for you.

Thank you.