[AUTHENTICITY CERTIFIED: Text version below
transcribed directly from audio]
Thank you. Thank you.
Everybody, please have a seat.
Well, thank you so much,
Mar [Aung], for your introduction and for your example and your commitment to
build a free and open press in Myanmar, and all the hope that you
represent. Please give her a big round of applause. She did an
Well, to all of you, welcome
to Washington. Welcome to the White House. And while I know that
youíve been here a few weeks, let me just say again, on behalf of the
American people, welcome to the United States of America. We are
thrilled to have you here.
Iím not going to give a long
speech because what I really want to do is have a conversation with you
like the one that I had when I was in Myanmar. So this is a town hall
meeting; the less I speak the more questions you get to ask. But I do
want to take a few minutes to explain why I believe so strongly in the
work that brings us together today and why your presence here is so
I think all of you know I
have a special attachment to Southeast Asia. As a boy, I lived in
Jakarta. My mother spent years working in villages to help women
improve their lives. So Southeast Asia helped shape who I am and how I
see the world. And as President, Iíve made it a pillar of my foreign
policy to make sure that the United States is more deeply engaged in the
Asia Pacific region, including Southeast Asia. And I want to welcome
the ambassadors from across ASEAN -- thank you for being here and for
your partnership. Give them a big round of applause.
So Iíve deepened Americaís ties with Southeast Asia because your region
is critical to our shared future. There are more than 600 million
people who live in the
ASEAN countries, and you reflect an incredible
diversity of faiths and ethnic groups and backgrounds and cultures. And
that diversity has to be celebrated and it has to be protected. We have
incredible economic engines like Singapore. Weíve got growing economies
like the Philippines and Vietnam and Malaysia. And we can see growth
that is lifting people out of poverty and creating more jobs and trade
and opportunity for all our countries.
Weíve seen a historic
democratic transition in Indonesia. Weíve got elections coming later
this year in Myanmar. Communities in Laos and Brunei are working for
development thatís sustainable and protecting the environment. And
weíre seeing new commitments to the education of young women and girls,
as is true in Cambodia. The people of Thailand played a critical role
in the global response to the earthquake in Nepal. And we are mindful
of the King of Thailandís health issues lately and we wish him the best,
and our hopes and prayers are with him. So Southeast Asia is stepping
up. Itís on the move.
And today, Americaís
relationship with the region is stronger than ever. Iím proud to be the
first American President to meet regularly with all 10 ASEAN leaders. I
will continue to do so until I am no longer President.
Weíve strengthened our
alliances, including with the Philippines. Weíve forged new
partnerships with Indonesia and Malaysia and Vietnam. Our trade with
ASEAN has been growing. Weíre pursuing the
Weíre working with ASEAN to bind the region more closely together and
confront shared challenges, and uphold international rules and norms,
including freedom of navigation, and to ensure that disputes are
resolved peacefully. At the moment, several of our nations are working
to rescue desperate
Rohingya migrants who are at sea, which reflects our
commitment to the security and dignity and human rights of every human
But despite all the work
Iíve been doing and the ambassadors have been doing, building these
stronger ties is not just the work of government. They have to be
rooted in partnerships between our peoples -- and especially young
people like you.
All across Southeast Asia, almost two-thirds of the population is under
35 years old. So this is a young part of the world. Technology is
giving you more power to communicate and organize like never before. In
Vietnam, tens of millions of people are connected on Facebook. Across
the region, you are civil society leaders working for democracy and
human rights and religious tolerance. You are entrepreneurs who are
turning your ideas into new businesses; activists fighting for the
environment and against climate change. And thatís the power that young
people have, and the spirit of optimism and idealism that you
represent. So you're inspiring to me. And Iíve made it clear that
America wants to be your partner. We want to help you succeed.
So two years ago, we
Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative -- YSEALI -- to
help empower young people like you, to give you more of the skills and
resources and networks that you need to turn your ideas into action.
And since then, weíve offered workshops, online networking, exchanges,
professional development, hands-on training. And today, the YSEALI
network includes nearly 35,000 young people like you.
Last year in Myanmar, at the
town hall meeting that Zin Mar mentioned, I announced our fellowship
program to bring young leaders from across the region to the United
States to help develop their skills. And for this first class of 75,
more than 1,000 people applied. The competition was intense.
Iím proud to welcome you as the first class of
YSEALI Fellows. Weíre
very proud of you. And Iíve had a chance to read about some of you and
the amazing things that youíve been doing. And I suspect that Niema
Remejoso, from the Philippines -- there she is right there -- she spoke
for a lot of you. She said, ďAm I dreaming, or is this really
happening?Ē So itís really happening.
You come from all
nations, from capital cities and rural towns. You represent different
faiths and backgrounds, and different beliefs. Obviously, there are men
and women here -- in fact, the majority are women -- because one of the
best measures of a countryís success is whether it empowers women and
girls. And youíre all bound together by a common belief that you have
the talent and the drive and the power to improve the lives of your
fellow human beings.
So for the last five weeks, youíve been all across America. Youíve
experienced state legislatures and city councils. Youíve seen how our
day-to-day democracy works. Youíve worked at nonprofits, learning how
to organize and advocate for change. Youíve interned in some American
companies, seeing how to build and manage a business. And I want to
thank all of our leaders and partners who are here -- weíve got
universities and academic institutions, weíve got businesses -- all who
have been very generous in their support of this overall process.
So youíve been experiencing
America. Some of you were very lucky and had a chance to go to my home
state of Hawaii. I heard that some of you tried to hula dance. Some of
you went to my hometown of Chicago, and you saw American ingenuity at
its best, including -- I hear that you saw ATMs that give cupcakes.
And I also know that
Americans have learned from you as well. You shared your culture and
traditions and foods. You discovered American foods like Jell-O. I
hear somebody had Jell-O, which -- I was very excited about that. And
the friendships and the understanding that you have forged will help to
bring our countries together for a long time.
And soon youíll return
home. Each of you has developed a project, an action plan, and youíll
take what youíve learned here and put it into practice. And weíre going
to be with you during this process as you build your ventures, expand
your networks, and -- mentoring young people that are coming behind
you. Weíre going to welcome 500 Fellows like you every single year. So
this may be the end of your visit to America, but youíve really begun
this process of building partnerships that will last a lifetime.
And we want you to make sure
that you are realizing your dreams. I just want to take a couple of
examples. Weíve got Seth Suonvisal. Whereís Seth? Hereís Seth. So in
Cambodia, Seth works with parliament. So in Tulsa, he witnessed city
government at work, the legislative process in Tulsa, Oklahoma. And,
Seth, weíre proud to be your partner as you strive to ensure that
governments deliver for all of the Cambodian people.
We have Muchamad Dafip. Whereís Muchamad? There he is. He is an
advocate for the environment in Indonesia. Apa kabar? And at the
East-West Center -- there arenít two of you, is there? So at the
East-West Center in Hawaii, he learned new ways to empower citizens and
effect change. So weíre proud to be your partner. Together, we can
promote sustainable development and help our -- help the next generation
meet the urgent challenges of climate change.
Weíve got Khine Muang --
thereís Khine, and -- is a doctor in Myanmar where she offers free
surgeries to children for cleft palates and lips, and gives them a new
smile and new confidence. So weíre very proud. At the Oklahoma
University School of Community Medicine, she focused on ways to expand
outreach and free clinics. And we are so proud to be your partner,
working for the health and dignity of children across Myanmar.
Although, I have to say that you are the youngest doctor Iíve ever
seen. I mean, she looks like sheís 14. Itís very impressive. So
And where is Pern Phansiri?
Thereís Pern, from Thailand, a tireless fighter against human
trafficking. And at the city managerís office in Leeís Summit,
Missouri, she saw how a community takes a comprehensive approach to
social services. So weíre proud to be your partner in standing up for
the rights of women and children. We have to end the outrage of human
trafficking, and we so appreciate the work that you do.
So this just gives you an example of the incredible talent and
commitment that these young people represent. And I want to close with
a quick story that captures the spirit of our work together. Thongvone
Sosamphan is here from Laos. Whereís -- please, stand up. So sheís
here from Laos. In Atlanta, she visited the memorial and center
honoring the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And she was struck by
one of Dr. Kingís quotes, which says, ďLifeís most persistent and urgent
question is, ĎWhat are you doing for others?íĒ
And that prompted her to
think about the true meaning of leadership. And she wrote something
very beautiful that I want everybody to hear. ďLeadership is inside
you,Ē she said. ďEveryone can be a leader, because everybody can
serve. You donít have to have a college degree to lead. You donít need
to know more than the others. All you need is a heart full of grace, a
soul generated by love.Ē Thatís pretty good.
So thatís what I see in all
of you. Thatís why I believe so strongly that youíre going to keep
answering that question Dr. King asked: What are you doing for others?
Itís why Iím confident that all of you will be extraordinary leaders.
Already youíre doing great work in your communities and your countries,
with hearts full of grace and souls generated by love. And you will
continue to have a friend and partner in the United States of America.
So we are very, very proud
of you. And with that, letís -- I want to hear from you, both questions
or you can tell me a story about the exciting food that youíve had --
all across the country.
So we have some microphones
in the audience, and what Iíll do is Iíll just call on people and Iím
going to go boy, girl, boy, girl so that itís very fair. So weíll
start with this young lady here. Please introduce yourself and tell us
where youíre from.
Question: Hi, Mr. President. I am
an elected representative from Malaysia. My question to you is, what is
your view on the democracy in Malaysia with the recent jailing of
Ibrahim, the opposition leader, and the crackdown on opposition? Thank
President Obama: Well, Malaysia has
a history of democracy that has to be preserved. And I have a very good
Prime Minister Najib and we are close partners and
cooperating on a whole host of issues.
I think that Malaysia, like all our countries, not just ASEAN countries
but countries here in the United States, have to recognize that
democracy is not just elections but itís how open and transparent and
accountable government is between elections. And itís important that
free speech, freedom of the press, an independent judiciary, the right
to assemble peacefully -- that all those rights are observed to make
democracy work. So as a general rule, I donít comment on even
individual cases in this country, much less another country, because I
think itís important for the legal system to work.
But I do know that it is important if an opposition leader who is well
known has been charged with a crime, that that process of how that is
adjudicated and how open it is, and how clear the evidence is, that that
is all subject to scrutiny. Because what you donít want is a situation
in which the legitimacy of the process is questioned. That has an
adverse impact on democracy as a whole. And I think we all have to
guard against making sure that thereís not a chilling effect on
potential opposition in government.
So as I always point out, democracy is hard. I mean, I think that many
of the things that are said about me are terribly unfair. But the
reason American democracy has survived for so long is because people --
even if theyíre wrong -- have a right to say what they think. George
Washington, our first President, he complained terribly about some of
the foolishness that was said about him. But part of the reason he is
considered one of our greatest Presidents is because he set an example
of recognizing that if democracy was to work then you had to respect the
rights of even those people who you disagreed most with, because
otherwise thereís no way that a democracy can flourish over the long
So these are things that I said publicly when I was in Myanmar -- when I
was in Malaysia, rather. I had an opportunity to meet with some
community activists and civil society leaders there. And this is
something that I say everywhere we go. And itís important for America
to recognize that weíre not perfect, either, and so we have to make sure
that we are constantly seeing how do we improve our democracy. I mean,
the amounts of money, for example, that are involved in our elections
these days is disturbing because it makes it seem as if a few people
have more influence in the democracy than the many.
And so I will continue to speak out about these issues, even with
friends. Maybe sometimes we are even more willing to say something when
itís friends because we know that they can do better. Thank you.
Question: Hello, Mr. President. I
am from Indonesia. I am working with the ministry of finance. My
YSEALI theme is economic empowerment. My question is, what is your
expectation about economic relationship between United States and ASEAN
countries in the future? Thank you.
President Obama: Well, we already
have a very strong economic relationship. As I pointed out, this is a
region that is growing fast. It has a big population. You have very
hardworking people, entrepreneurial people. I expect it will continue
to grow. And the United States wants to be a partner in all sorts of
Trade is the most obvious and important relationship, economically. And
so one of the reasons why I think the Trans-Pacific Partnership is so
important is because it sets up a set of principles to ensure fair trade
between countries. It calls for higher labor standards for all
countries, higher environmental standards for all countries. It makes
sure that countries are being treated -- companies are being treated
fairly when they are operating in a foreign market.
And thereís the potential, I think, if we get this right and completed
in the next few months, to be able to ensure that the United States and
ASEAN countries that already have a massive amount of trade, that thatís
able to increase and that thereís more opportunity for everybody. But
itís at a high standard rather than a low standard.
Part of the goal for ASEAN countries, most of them are now entering into
a stage of development where they donít want to just be sending raw
materials to someplace else to have them developed, they want to be
creating value starting their own businesses, making sure that they are
part of the 21st century economy. And that requires upgrading skills,
education for their populations. We think we can be helpful in those
And we want to encourage high educational levels in ASEAN countries
because then itís less likely that workers are exploited. And that
means then that youíre competing with us because you have the best ideas
and the best products, as opposed to just you have the cheapest labor.
And if all that ASEAN countries are offering are cheap labor, then what
happens is U.S. workers get hurt and you donít necessarily see an
improvement in standards of living for those ASEAN countries.
If everybody is operating at a higher level then weíre all competing on
an even playing field, and over time that will result in more growth and
more development in ASEAN countries. But I think skills training is
the most important thing. I think that the power of the Internet to
access markets and ideas will be particularly important for ASEAN
Infrastructure is something that still needs to get done. I think there
is still under-investment of infrastructure in that region. I know
there was some controversy a while back because China wanted to start an
Asia infrastructure bank; we havenít yet signed on to participate.
I want to be very clear -- we actually want China to invest in
infrastructure in that region. We want to make sure that the
investments are actually good for the people in those countries, which
means transparency in terms of how decisions are made at this new bank.
But weíll continue with the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank
and other institutions, and try to encourage not only investment in
human capital, but also the infrastructure thatís needed.
And finally, I think sustainability is going to be critical. I worry
about the great forests of Indonesia and Malaysia. If those all just
become palm oil plantations, and deforestation continues at the same
pace it has, then the prospects of additional accelerated climate change
are very powerful, not to mention the loss of species and biodiversity.
The oceans, if you get overfishing, thatís a problem; pollution. Given
how populated these areas are, it's very important that economic
development ties in with sustainable development. Otherwise, I think
weíll all have problems.
Okay. Thatís good. So, young lady right here.
President Obama: Mabuhay.
Question: Mabuhay, Mr. President.
I'm a city council member of Davao City, the Philippines. There are a
handful -- or a there are a few elected officials, some are YSEALI
fellows. I really would like to know what is your word of advice for a
young, budding political leader, young legislator, elected official like
me in a developing democracy like the Philippines? Thank you.
President Obama: That's great. Well, I think -- my first advice is don't be shy, and obviously you're
okay. I think you're doing to do great.
I think that when I think about my own political career, when I look at
other political careers that I admire, I think the most important thing
is to have a sense of principle and why you're in public service. I
think sometimes people want to be in public service just because they
like seeing their name up in lights, they like being important. And
that's a bad reason to go into politics; you should be like an actress
or a singer, or make a lot of money.
But if you're going into politics and public service, thereís only one
good reason to do it, and that is because you want to help people. And
you should know what it is that you stand for and what you believe in.
It doesn't mean that you wonít have to compromise. It doesn't mean that
you might not change your mind about an issue as you go forward and you
learn more and you have more experience. But you should have something
inside of you that says, these are the things that are really important
to me that I will not compromise on, all right?
So for me, throughout my political career, even before I was in politics
and I was just working as a community organizer, I knew that I wanted to
work to create more opportunity for all people; that my orientation was
always how does this help the poor or the marginalized, or somebody who
has less opportunity then me; how is this going to help them if they
work hard to get ahead.
I know that one of the important principles for me has always been
treating everybody fairly. So whether that's women or people of
different races or different religious faiths or different sexual
orientations, that one of my core principles is that I will never engage
in a politics in which Iím trying to divide people or make them less
than me because they look different or have a different religion.
That's a core principle. That's not something I would violate, right?
So if you have a clear view of what you stand for, then as you move
forward, youíll have setbacks. There will be times where you didn't
succeed. There will be times where you're frustrated. There will be
times you might even lose an election sometimes. But at least youíll
know every morning when you wake up and you look at yourself in the
mirror, I know who I am and why Iím doing what Iím doing. And I think
those are the people who eventually end up having successful careers
because people sense that integrity and that leadership. Even if they
don't agree with you, at least they know you believe in something.
And unfortunately, too many politicians, they're just climbing the
ladder but they don't know why. And when they get there, then they're
not very effective leaders. Or they become much more subject to the
temptations of corruption because all they're worried about is I want to
hang on to my power, and Iím willing to give up anything in
You have to be willing to lose something for your principles. You have
to be willing to lose an election because you think that thereís
something that's more important than you just winning an election. And
if you do that now -- but you have to -- you should try to win. Iím not
saying you should try to lose. But you have to stand for something.
That's my most important advice.
Gentleman in the gray suit right there. Yes, you.
Question: Thank you. I come from
Vietnam. Like many others, I look forward to seeing you and the First
Lady visiting my country, Vietnam, in the near future. I have a
question. Mr. President, what do you expect the young people in the
Southeast Asian countries doing in dealing with the current challenges
to the peace, stability, respect to international law like the
[inaudible], while promoting the cooperation between the 10 countries
with others, including especially with the United States? Thank you.
President Obama: Especially
with? Iím sorry, the last part?
Question: Especially with the
President Obama: Oh, with the
United States. Well, look, I think that -- Iíve seen already
significant progress with ASEAN countries over the last six years that
Iíve been attending the ASEAN meetings and the East Asia Summit. And I
think initially the meetings would oftentimes just be symbolic, and
there would be a lot of pleasantries and a lot of meetings and cultural
events. But we didnít always have an agenda. And I think one of the
things that youíve started to see is people working much more concretely
on what are we trying to accomplish here. How do we develop more
capacity, for example, in the region around disaster relief so that if,
heaven forbid, thereís another typhoon of the sort that we saw in the
Philippines, or if, in fact, that we see some other natural tragedy that
all the countries assets can be brought to bear, and weíve done the
training ahead of time to know who can help and how they can help?
I think the -- trying to work on coming up with standards around
maritime law is a big challenge. And obviously, thereís significant
tension right now between many of the ASEAN countries and China, as well
as the United States with China, around the South China Sea and how
those issues are going to be resolved. ASEAN has been very constructive
in trying to put together a code of conduct that all countries should
abide by so that disputes around maritime boundaries are resolved
through law and an impartial process, rather than just based on whoís
the biggest. And that I think is going to be very important. ASEAN can
play an important role in those areas.
Environmental issues Iíve already mentioned. This is a very
fast-growing region, and it is important to make sure that thereís a lot
of cooperation between countries because small fisheries, et cetera --
those donít always observe national boundaries. And so, working
together, you can accomplish more.
And then human rights issues, and democracy issues, reinforcing good
habits among the countries is very important. I think itís fair to say
that the elections that will be taking place in Myanmar would not have
happened if it hadnít been for the good example that Indonesia set with
its transition, and other ASEAN countries showing the path from military
rule towards democracy, and how, through all the lessons that have been
learned, that could be accomplished. And that I think created more
space within Myanmar to -- and President Thein Sein to feel that this is
So part of the goal here is to make sure that each country is
reinforcing the best habits and laws, and observing human rights, and
being critical when one country slips but in a constructive way that
allows for a path to improvement. And I think ASEAN can do that
And the United States will be a partner. We have, obviously, bilateral
relationships with each of these countries, but we also want to be a
partner with the group as a whole to encourage this cooperative model
Okay. Young lady right there, yes.
Question: Good afternoon, Mr.
President. Iím from Indonesia. I work as a data analyst in the World
Bank Indonesia Country Office. My YSEALI theme is civic engagement. My
question to you: Now that your second term in the office is about to
end, how do you want the world to remember you? Thank you.
President Obama: Fondly, I hope. I
still have 20 months in office so Iíve got a lot of work still to do
before I can start thinking about looking backwards. Iím still very
much focused on whatís in front of me.
But obviously there are things that Iíve been proud of. When I came
into office, the United States and the world was going through a
terrible economic crisis -- the worst, really, since the 1930s. And it
was hard but we ended up avoiding a terrible depression. And within a
year, the economy was growing again. Here in the United States now,
weíre back to the pre-crisis employment levels. Our auto industry was
saved. But also, internationally, we averted a much worse crisis
because of, in part, the leadership the United States showed along with
international institutions and central banks managing -- that was very
important. Thatís an important legacy for me.
I think that the work that Iíve done to provide health insurance for
people here in the United States and to provide more educational
opportunity is consistent with the principles that I talked about, the
reason I got into politics.
Internationally, weíve reinvigorated diplomacy in a whole variety of
ways. People donít remember -- when I came into office, the United
States in world opinion ranked below China and just barely above
Russia. And today, once again, the United States is the most respected
country on Earth. And part of that, I think, is because of the work
that we did to reengage the world and say that we want to work with you
as partners with mutual interest and mutual respect. Itís on that basis
that we were able to end two wars while still focusing on the very real
threat of terrorism and to try to work with our partners on the ground
in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. Itís the reason why we are moving
in the direction of normalizing relations with Cuba. The nuclear deal
that weíre trying to negotiate with Iran. Our efforts to help encourage
democracy in Myanmar.
I think the people of Myanmar deserve the credit for this new opening.
But my visit there didnít hurt in trying to reinforce the possibilities
of freedom for 40 million people. And so that direct engagement, the
work that weíve done to build and strengthen international organizations
-- including on issues like public health and the fight against Ebola is
just the most recent example of that -- I think weíve been able to put
our international relationships on a very strong footing that allows us
then to work more cooperatively with other countries moving forward to
meet the important challenges ahead.
But Iíve still got a lot of work to do. So maybe in 18 months, Iíll
check back with you and Iíll let you know.
All right. Gentleman right here with the sash.
Question: Hello, Mr. President
Obama. Iím from Burma. And firstly, I would like to say hello on
behalf of my family. And my question is, I work in tourism business in
Burma, and my question is that -- what do you see critical areas in
where the U.S. can contribute economic development in Burma? Thank you
President Obama: Well,
Myanmar, you know, it lost a lot of time over the last 40 years because of the
very tight controls on the economy and the discouragement of
entrepreneurship and new businesses. Part of the reason why I was so
struck when I traveled to Myanmar was it reminded me of when I first
arrived in Indonesia back in 1967 -- whereas when I go to Jakarta now,
or Singapore or Bangkok, it looks completely different. This looked
like the past.
So thereís a lot of catching up to do. The good news is, though,
countries that are still at those early stages of development, they can
grow very fast because thereís so much pent-up energy and opportunity.
And I think the most important thing is going to be establishing rule of
law and systems and practices where if you start a business, you can
feel confident that you donít have to pay 100 bribes and you donít have
to hire somebodyís son, and that you can make a profit; that if thereís
a foreign investor, that they can invest and be treated fairly, and that
their rights and their intellectual property and their property are
Those basic systems of law where those are established, those countries
can do well because the natural talents of the people and the incredible
resources and hard work of the people then pay off.
I mean, look at Singapore. Singapore is a tiny, little place. It has
really nothing -- no resources to speak of. But today, when you travel
to Singapore, it is as prosperous as any place in the world. Why is
that? Well, part of it is that itís set up a set of systems where if
businesses were started or investors came in, they knew that they could
find a very skilled workforce; they knew that the rules were
international-standard rules in terms of operations.
So it will take some time for I think Myanmar to move in that
direction. But you have your own models even in -- among the ASEAN
countries. You donít have to look to the United States; you can look at
just your -- some of your neighbors to see what is required for
success. And what the United States will try to do is to provide
technical assistance, and we will also try to provide direct assistance,
particularly around building skills and education. Because one of the
keys is to make sure that you have a workforce that can add value.
In the age of the Internet, when companies can locate anywhere, the most
important thing is to find someplace where there is security -- so
thereís no conflict -- where thereís rule of law, and the people are
highly skilled. And if you have those three things, then people will
Yes, go ahead.
Question: Good afternoon, Mr.
President. Iím from Thailand. And now I work on the
anti-human-trafficking issue in Thailand and neighboring country. So
today, I would like to ask you if you were a Rohingya, which country
would you prefer to live with and why? Thank you so much.
President Obama: Thatís an
interesting question. Let me speak more broadly, and then Iíll answer
We were talking earlier about whatís required for Myanmar to succeed. I
think one of the most important things is to put an end to
discrimination against people because of what they look like or what
their faith is. And the Rohingya have been discriminated against
significantly, and thatís part of the reason theyíre fleeing.
I think if I were a Rohingya, I would want to stay where I was born.
Iíd want to stay in the land where my parents had lived. But Iíd want
to make sure that my government was protecting me, and that people were
treating me fairly. Thatís what Iíd want. And thatís why itís so
important I think, as part of the democratic transition, to take very
seriously this issue of how the Rohingya are treated.
One of the things about discriminating against people or treating people
differently is, by definition, that means that people will treat you
differently, and you never know when you will find yourself in a
situation in which you are a minority, where you are vulnerable, where
youíre not being treated fairly. And right now, obviously, our focus is
on making sure that those who are being subject to human trafficking and
are, in some cases right now, still in a very perilous situation out in
the open sea, that they are relocated. I want to commend Indonesia and
Malaysia for their willingness to take on thousands of these displaced
persons. The United States, as part of our refugee process, will take
some. We put over $100 million over the last several years in Burma to
make sure that minority groups, including the Rohingya, are protected
But, ultimately, this is going to be a great test for the democracy of
the future. Not just in Burma and Myanmar, but in areas all throughout
the country. When I was -- and I know this directly because when I was
young and I was living in Indonesia, there were times where there were
anti-Chinese riots that were very violent and vicious. And, in fact,
sometimes the Chinese Indonesians were treated very similarly to how
Jewish Europeans were treated in Europe, and subject to stereotypes and
And the truth of the matter is, one of the reasons that Singapore, I
mentioned earlier, has been successful, is that it has been able to
bring together people who may look different but they all think of
themselves as part of Singapore. And that has to be a strength, not a
weakness. But that requires leadership and government being true to
To their credit, the Indonesian government when I was growing up was
very good about not discriminating on the base of religion despite the
fact that it was 98 percent Muslim. And I think that the tolerance
towards other faiths historically in Indonesia has been part of whatís
contributed to progress there. You havenít seen the same kind of
sectarian animosity that youíve seen in parts of the Middle East.
But the one thing I know is countries that divide themselves on racial
or religious lines, they do not succeed. They do not succeed. Thatís
rule number one. Rule number two is nations that suppress their women
do not succeed. They donít succeed. Not only is it bad because half of
the country is not successful -- because theyíre not getting education
and opportunity -- but itís women who teach children, which means the
children are less educated, if youíre not teaching the moms. So there
are some -- each country is different, but there are some rules if you
look at development patterns around the world that are pretty
consistent. And those are two pretty good rules.
Donít divide yourself on religious and ethnic lines and racial lines.
And donít discriminate against women. If you do those two things,
youíre not guaranteed success but at least youíre not guaranteed
Iíve got time for one more, two more. I definitely donít have time for
30 more. Two more. Iíve got time for two more. Itís a gentlemanís
Question: Good afternoon, Mr.
President. Iím from Malaysia. I work at Department of Irrigation and
Drainage in Malaysia. My YSEALI theme is environmental sustainability.
And my question for you is, what have you learned about leadership and
life as being President in comparison to what you have might not learned
if you were not a President?
President Obama: As President you
-- I think probably what makes this job unique is that you are the
ultimate decision-maker. So there are other people who work as hard as
I do. My staff works very, very hard. They're just as smart or smarter
than I am. They care just as much or more than I do. They have
But the one thing as President is that ultimately thereís nobody you can
pass it on to. Harry Truman, one of our best Presidents, once said, the
buck stops here. He meant at his desk. And itís true.
And usually by the time a decision comes to my desk, you know that itís
a very hard problem because if it was easy somebody else would have
solved it. And so probably the thing that I uniquely have had to learn
in the presidency that is -- I hadnít learned as well in other jobs is
the ability to look at all the information that you have, listen to all
the advice that's there, and the different viewpoints that may exist
about an issue, to try to make a decision based not on what is easiest,
but what I think is the best long-term solution; and then feel
comfortable in the knowledge that I may be wrong, and that there will be
significant consequences if I am wrong, to have to have the courage then
maybe six months later or a year later to admit this didn't work, and
then to try something new.
But being willing to take responsibility for making hard decisions, not
be paralyzed because you know there are big consequences to them, and
then being able to adapt based on the evidence as to whether it worked
or not I think is the most important lesson Iíve learned. And that's
not something that you have to -- is just unique to being President.
I think in whatever your job is you should be willing to take
responsibility for getting the best information, to listening to
everybody, but then you have to just -- you have to make a decision and
understand then that you have to continue to evaluate it. And I think
that that's been very important.
The second lesson, which is something that you just learn more of as
President, but all of you have already learned in some ways in your work
is to surround yourself with the best people. Your most important job
is to create a team of people, some of whom have talents that you don't
have, to make up for your weaknesses; and then to want to make them
better, and make them successful.
Because if they're successful, then the team is successful. So you're
not a good leader if you don't want somebody who is smarter than you
because you think, oh, well, maybe theyíll shine more than you do. Then
you're not a very good leader because your team wonít succeed.
So Iím always looking for -- who are people who are much smarter than
me, or much more organized than I am, or much better analysts. And my
job then is just to be able to weave them together so they're all
working together effectively. And if you're doing that, then you're a
good leader. And you should be constantly thinking how can I help this
person do their jobs even better.
And the good news is if you do that and people recognize that you care
about them being successful, then theyíll work harder, and theyíll want
to do even better. And theyíll appreciate you because they know that
you're helping them, instead of trying to keep them subordinate to you.
Last question. And all the men should put down their hands because itís
a womanís turn. No, all the guys have to put their hands down. This
young lady in the yellow right here, right in the corner, right here.
Question: Thank you, President.
Good afternoon, sir. Iím from Vietnam. Currently, Iím working for the
Da Nang Institute for Socio-Economic Development. And first of all, I
would like to say thank you to you for giving us this unique opportunity
to come to the United States and to meet you today. My question for you
is, what is your opinion about disputes and Chinaís action in the East
Sea or so-called the South China Sea?
President Obama: Well, as I already
mentioned, what has allowed all of Asia to prosper over the last two,
three decades -- including China -- is thereís been relative peace and
stability, freedom of navigation, freedom of commerce. And all of that
has been underwritten, all of that has been because there have been
certain rules that everybody has followed. Freedom of navigation
requires that people observe basic conduct about, this far off, your
territory is your territory; after that, itís international waters. If
thereís a dispute, then thereís international mechanisms to adjudicate
If you start losing that approach and suddenly conflicts arise and
claims are made based on how big the country is or how powerful its navy
is instead of based on law, then I think Asia will be less prosperous
and the Pacific region will be less prosperous. And thatís why weíve
said directly to China and to other claimant countries, we donít have a
claim to these areas. Weíre not parties in the dispute. But we do have
a stake in making sure that they are resolved peacefully,
diplomatically, and in accordance with internationally established
And for that reason, we think that land reclamation, aggressive actions
by any party in that area are counterproductive. And we will continue
as an Asia Pacific power to support all countries who are prepared to
work with us to establish and enforce norms and rules that can continue
growth and prosperity in the region. And the truth is, is that China is
going to be successful. Itís big, itís powerful, its people are
talented and they work hard. And it may be that some of their claims
are legitimate, but they shouldnít just try to establish that based on
throwing elbows and pushing people out of the way. If, in fact, their
claims are legitimate, people will recognize them.
I will say this, though, that I am very confident -- much more confident
in the future of Southeast Asia, the Asia Pacific and the world, because
Iíve had the opportunity to spend time with you. I think all of you are
going to do outstanding work. And I want to make sure that you know
that not only will this administration and the United States government
continue to support the work that you do, but I personally, even after I
leave office, will continue to have a great interest in seeing not only
you succeed but those coming behind you -- young people like yourself
succeed. And I think you should be interested in making sure to promote
YSEALI and the network and try to provide similar opportunities to other
young people as you become more important in whatever your fields are in