Seal of the Department of Defense U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
On the Web:
Media contact: +1 (703) 697-5131/697-5132
Public contact:
or +1 (703) 571-3343

Remarks at The Asia Foundation
Remarks to Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, The Asia Foundation, Thursday, June 17, 2004

William L. Ball [Chairman of the Board of Trustees of The Asia Foundation]:  It is now my great pleasure to introduce to you a person who has had a distinguished career in public service.  He has contributed in so many ways to key developments in U.S.-Asian relations and has personally been a great supporter of The Asia Foundation and a friend of many of us here tonight, going back many years. 


            Paul Wolfowitz was sworn in on March 2, 2001 as the 28th deputy secretary of defense.  This is Paul’s third tour at the Pentagon.  Prior to his appointment, he was dean at the SAIS [The Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies] for seven years where he presided over remarkable growth and expansion of programs for that school, especially in the area of Asian studies.  Paul’s contributions to reform and development in Asia span several decades, starting with his service as ambassador to Indonesia during the Reagan administration. 


While the road to democratization was slow, many of the efforts that Paul spearheaded at that time laid the groundwork for Indonesia’s democratic transition in the late 1990s.  Representatives of The Asia Foundation worked closely with Paul at that time.  And during his subsequent service as assistant secretary of state for East Asia and the Pacific, this was especially so during the transition to democracy through people power in the Philippines in the mid-1980s, which resulted in the end of the Marcos presidency. 


We are proud to say that Paul served as a member of this board of trustees of the foundation for seven years, ending his term in 2001.  And we are very pleased to welcome him here this evening, as we celebrate our 50th year in Asia.  Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in a warm welcome for the deputy secretary of defense.  [Applause]


            Wolfowitz:  Will, thank you, and thank you for inviting me to this very pleasant occasion to say farewell to a wonderful head of the foundation and to join in welcoming his outstanding successor.  It is, I have to tell you quite honestly, a pleasure to be, if only briefly, back dealing with Asian affairs.  [Laughter] 


In fact, I recall, I guess it was a little over 20 years ago now, when George Shultz nominated me to be Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs.  And I had spent most of my time in the year and half before that, as the head of the policy planning staff, dealing 80 percent of it, with problems in the Middle East.  And the impression that hit me almost in the first week in the job was how nice it was to be dealing with people who solve problems instead of merely creating them.  And I’m afraid it hasn’t changed too much in 20 years.  [Laughter]


I’ve been given the challenge, I think, of trying to keep my remarks short enough so that you don’t starve before I finish.  But I guess the alternative was to give you the challenge of staying awake during my remarks, if I let you eat dinner first.  Neither is quite as great a challenge as the one I encountered shortly after I first became assistant secretary of state. 


And some of you may know, this is memorialized in George Shultz’s memoirs.  I went with him on my first official visit to Asia and we arrived in Japan for an elegant, long ceremonial dinner—all of us kind of dropping with jet lag.  And I faced the challenge of staying awake during a George Shultz toast. [Laughter]   And I flunked.  [Laughter]  I nodded off and Ray Seitz, who was an experienced foreign service officer and the secretary’s special assistant, poked me and passed me a note that said, “Rule number one for new assistant secretary:  Never fall asleep during the secretary’s toast.”  [Laughter]  Now I was conscientious and determined to learn a lesson from this experience so I asked Ray, “How did you manage to stay awake?” And he said, “Diplomacy is a crafty art—I was sitting on my fork.”  [Laughter]


As a veteran of this crowd, I know how polite you are, so I trust you’ll bear with me, no matter the quality of my remarks tonight.  And I know you won’t have to count the silverware when I’m finished.  [Laughter] 


I must say that impression of Asia as a region where people solve problems is a historical change, at least viewed in the perspective of a mere century.  That phrase “oriental fatalism,” which we don’t hear much about anymore, which seemed to be so characteristic in the 19th century, I think represented a landscape where tomorrow was not going to be any better than today and where nothing changed.  That is absolutely not what Asia is now.  And indeed, I think The Asia Foundation deserves some part of the credit for being a catalyst in that remarkable change. 


One of my first introductions to The Asia Foundation was through meeting an extraordinary alumnus—an alumnus who would be turning 80 this November, if he were still with us.  I think his wife Estelle Sigur is with us tonight.  Estelle, are you here?  [Applause] 


I’m talking about Gaston Sigur who was an absolutely wonderful human being, with an extraordinarily profound understanding of Asia and extraordinarily dedicated public servant.  He served for The Asia Foundation in Afghanistan from 1962 to 1966; in Japan, from 1966 to 1968; and in Washington as the representative for three years up until 1972.  I knew Gaston as Jim Kelly knew him, because in President Reagan’s first term, Gaston was over at the NSC.  I was the Assistant Secretary for East Asia at State and Rich Armitage was the Assistant Secretary for almost everything over at the Pentagon.  But his real love was, of course, East Asia. 


In fact, the three of us would get together about once a week to work through the finer points of Asia policy.  And Jim Mann’s book describes how Rich Armitage’s staff would get the tip-off that we were planning one of our regular meetings if they noticed that on Rich’s daily calendar there was a notation of “haircut.”  Even back then Rich was what you might call “follicly challenged.”  [Laughter]  And in the interest of full disclosure, I have to say Jim Mann chose another word.  But since we diplomats have learned to be delicate about such things, let me just say that’s the “bald” truth.  [Laughter]


            Well, those weekly gatherings drew some attention.  And we came to be called everything from a “triumvirate” to the “Gang of Three.”  But those meetings, in no small measure, thanks to Gaston’s wisdom and insight, helped to work out many tough issues at our level.  And as I look back, certainly one of the most exciting developments that I’ve ever been privileged to be involved in, was the period leading up to 1986 and the democratic transition, the peaceful democratic transition in the Philippines. 


I recall—and I think Jim Kelly was there also—one Sunday morning in February, when Gaston and Rich and I gathered at George Shultz’s house with the Secretary of State and Secretary [of Defense Caspar] Weinberger for a critical meeting to decide our policy after the elections in the Philippines.  That was the moment when Corazon Aquino appeared to have been democratically elected, but when it looked very much like Marcos might not accept her victory.  The consensus that emerged from that meeting—and I’d like to think the three of us in our ability to coordinate had something to do with it—was that the United States should “accelerate the succession” and take a stand for democracy.  Of course, we did and to oversimplify, the rest is history.  There were other remarkable transformations in Asia that began during those years, especially in Korea and in Taiwan. 


Estelle, I know that Gaston is here with us in spirit tonight, as he’s been with us over these many years.  And I think he would be smiling appreciatively at the stunning developments that Asia continues to turn in. 


It’s often been noted that among other claims to fame, Asia has Indonesia, the world’s largest archipelago and the largest Muslim majority nation in the world; it has, in China, the most populous country in the world; and, in India, the world’s largest democracy.  But I think what is even more important is that dynamism that I referred to—that Asia for half a century has been a region on the move.  And when a region that big begins to move, the consequences are enormous. 


One other thing that has come to our attention after the events of September 11th, is that roughly half of the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims live in East and South Asia in the countries from Pakistan to the east.  And those 600 million Muslims represent, in many respects, probably many of the most tolerant Muslim populations of that entire Muslim world.  And indeed, in the case of India, it was pointed out to me by no less a person than a senior official of the Pakistan government, that the large Indian Muslim community—somewhere in the neighborhood of 125 to 150 million—this Pakistani official said, has produced almost no members of al Qaeda, which is quite a distinction for one of the largest Muslim communities in the world. 


Even more remarkable, perhaps, is the explanation offered to me by this Pakistani minister—I thought it was remarkable enough that he was calling attention to India’s success.  He said that he attributes a large part of that to the fact that India is a democracy, and Indian Muslims can find a place in their own country. 


It wasn’t necessarily the obvious course at the end of World War II.  Asia was recovering not only from a devastating World War, it encountered another war in Korea.  In economic terms, the region was, to put it mildly, underdeveloped and in political terms, democracy was virtually non-existent, except for the democracy that Douglas McArthur was imposing, if we may say that, on Japan.  There was a real need for a guiding force like The Asia Foundation.  But over the half century since, the story is quite different.  Democracy, which they once said was impossible in most of East Asia, is beginning to blow strong throughout the region. 


Twenty years ago when I became Assistant Secretary of State, I heard people say that Korea has no experience of democracy and would be incapable of it.  Or that the Philippines really couldn’t do any better than the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos.  Or that the Taiwanese, with their Confucian culture, somehow liked being ruled by dictators.  In the past 20 years, not only South Korea and the Philippines, but Taiwan, Thailand and Indonesia have joined the democratic ranks.  In fact, consider this lead of this good-news story on March 11th.  More than a billion ballots will be cast and counted in 11 different Asian elections this year, as democracy becomes slowly entrenched in the world’s most populous region.  And certainly during the last 15 years, under Bill Fuller’s inspired leadership, that story has been enriched with numerous examples of this foundation’s engagement in encouraging democracy and pluralism. 


Actually, I’ve known Bill for a very long time—long before he became head of The Asia Foundation.  He was the extraordinary—as you may imagine—dynamic director of the large AID [U.S. Agency for International Development] mission in Jakarta that I was fortunate enough to inherit as ambassador.  I knew from his leadership of that organization that he would do an outstanding job taking on this one.  I also knew from my experience in Jakarta just how valuable it can be to have this foundation.  Bill, I think it was when you had already left and Dave Merrill had succeeded you, that the head of a small Muslim organization—I say small—called Nahdlatul Ulama, with a mere, what was it, 35 million members [approached us].


A gentleman named Abdurrahman Wahid [former President of Indonesia] approached us and said he would really like to get a grant from the U.S. government.  Well, we proceeded a little bit and we discovered that because I guess some poor, lost, long-forgotten AID director had tried to give a grant once upon a time in the 1950s to a Buddhist organization in Burma, AID was prohibited from having anything to do with religious organizations.  I may have the facts slightly inaccurate, but that was the spirit of the case.  But David Merrill said, “Don’t fear, there is an alternative; there is The Asia Foundation.”  And in fact, we turned to The Asia Foundation and thanks to that ability to work around our bureaucracy at times, we were able to give the first-ever U.S. grant to the largest Muslim organization in the world. 


I remember when Wahid came to the embassy to sign the document and I expressed a little bit of surprise that he would want to be so openly associated with the United States as to have this signed in the embassy.  He just gave one of those Wahid belly laughs.  I learned later that he had it already figured out because the next week the newsletter of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) announced two things:  a large grant from the U.S. government through The Asia Foundation for economic development efforts by NU; and right next to it, a large grant from the government of Saudi Arabia for religious studies.  [Laughter]


            Bill Fuller in the last 15 years has had extraordinary achievements.  I think many of you in this room are more familiar with him even than I.  But one thing has been his recognition long before September 11th, that those half billion Muslims in East and South Asia could be key allies in moving the rest of the world into modernity and are now key allies in the fight against terrorism. 


The Asia Foundation has provided support for those strong moderate forces in Indonesia and other parts of Southeast Asia who have to be our allies in bridging what I’ve called sometimes the dangerous gap between the West and the Muslim world.  Equally, understanding that a government that does not respect the rights of half its citizens cannot be trusted to safeguard the rights of any, the foundation under Bill Fuller’s leadership has actively encouraged programs to promote women’s rights and greater participation by women in society.  And understanding that the integrity of the structures of democracy can better facilitate representative government, the foundation under Bill’s leadership, has found ways to apply information technology to improve democratic governance and counter corruption—a phenomenon which has sometimes properly been called the greatest enemy of democracy since communism. 


The Foundation has found other innovative ways to support the movement towards stable and prosperous societies, such as rapid response to needs in frontline states, like Pakistan where no other U.S. assistance was provided in the early ‘90s, or to Afghanistan immediately after the fall of the Taliban. 


The Foundation is perfecting the art of global reach.  One of its most successful ways has been reaching millions through its book program.  In fact, The Asia Foundation book program is now supplying two-thirds of the books in the library of the Hanoi School of Business, shipping tens of thousands of books to Afghanistan and North Korea.  It’s kind of becoming the of developing Asia. 


All of this fits into a larger context since September 11th, where we have to apply our resources—not just military resources, but as importantly, financial and diplomatic and law enforcement resources—to finding ways to prevent any future terrorist attacks, not only in our country, but in others around the world.  As Bill Fuller has pointed out, real long-term prevention can be significantly furthered by the activities of nongovernmental organizations like The Asia Foundation.  These so-called “quiet forces,” books and films, education for girls, the promotion of democratic governance and the rule of law, can literally change the world.   And they have. 


As if all of that weren’t enough, with Bill at the helm, The Asia Foundation was rated among the top 10 charities in America by Money magazine.  That is no small accomplishment.  Bill once said. “When you’re in the development business you are, by definition, in the business of optimism.  Otherwise, you wouldn’t be in business.”  That same optimism that’s overcome centuries of oriental fatalism is there throughout Asia today, and The Asia Foundation is one of the instruments of planting it.  Its assignment remains hugely important. 


So Bill, it’s been a great run for you.  And it’s tough, I know, for everyone to say goodbye.  I’m sure you’ll continue to be in the thick of these issues in the future and we’ll be grateful for that.  But we’re also grateful that a real statesman, a real expert on the region, [Congressman] Doug Bereuter has decided to give up all the pleasures of commuting from Nebraska to Washington [laughter] to give up the prairie view that you must have from your home in Nebraska and to put up with that dreadful scenery out in San Francisco. 


You know, one of George Shultz’s two favorite jokes—I think he had two jokes, and this was one of the two—was about the typical Boston lady who visits San Francisco.  I don’t know if she was a Cabot or a Lodge.  She was asked how she liked San Francisco.  And her comment was, “Oh, it’s a beautiful city, but it’s so far from the ocean.”  [Laughter]  George told that to remind us of how sometimes the eastern establishment of this country had forgotten that there were two oceans [laughter], and was unaware of what was going on out on our western frontier. 


Well, what has been taking place on our western frontier, if we can call it that, over the last half century is something remarkable, something positive, something from which our country has derived enormous benefit and something to which The Asia Foundation has contributed immeasurably.  So to Gaston Segur, to Bill Fuller, to all the people who brought The Asia Foundation this far, let me say “thank you.”   And to Doug Bereuter, let me say “congratulations.”   What a great assignment, and I know you’ll carry it out magnificently.  Thank you all very much.  [Applause]