Opening Remarks at the Conversation With ASEAN Young Leaders

Press Conference

By:  John Kerry
Date: Oct. 9, 2013
Location: Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei

MODERATOR: All right. So good afternoon, again, Mr. Secretary. On behalf of the group, I'd like to thank you for making the time to join us this afternoon. We have a separate event and we'll be gathering much more young leaders there. We've been here since yesterday, and we've been talking about how to make that experience meaningful. So the leaders that you met, they've been talking about how to strengthen ties among our ten countries in ASEAN. We actually kept your presence a surprise to them. So they learned that you will be joining us only yesterday, and since last night they've been thinking about the questions that they want to ask you and maybe some of the stories that they want to share, some of the insights that they learned yesterday and today. So I won't take much time for this, but maybe just to get our discussion started, we'd love to hear from you first before we come in with our own thoughts and questions.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, thank you. Well, first of all, thank you. It's wonderful to see all of you. I read every one of your biographies, so I know all about you. (Laughter.) And I have to tell you I was incredibly impressed. All of you are doing amazing things. You really are. So I was very excited about being able to come here and have this conversation, and I really want the conversation to be your conversation. But let me just say something very, very quickly to you. I have been coming out to this region for many, many years now, a long time, and I love the energy of the region, and the possibilities of the region are unbelievable. I think you know that. There's an amazing transformation already taking place, and what's really interesting is that 65 percent of ASEAN is under the age of 35 years old.

So when you think about that, the future really belongs to you. You're going to define it, and you're going to live it, and what happens, whether it's issues like human trafficking or environmental degradation or climate change or just economic growth, how we share that growth with everybody and who benefits and what happens to a community as you develop, and in all of these kinds of issues -- are fascinating, challenging, and they are really the heart of public life and of the social fabric of all of these -- of each of your countries.

Everybody is going through a different experience in many ways. Some countries have been slower to come to the table, other countries have developed much faster. They're already clashing with modernity in many ways, and everybody lives now not just with their history and their culture, but you also live with Facebook and Twitter and Google and just a whole different level of communication and of possibilities. So young people traditionally have made a huge difference in history. I can tell you in our country young people define each of the great moments of our history, many ways from the very beginning. Thomas Jefferson was only 32 years old or something like that when he wrote the Declaration of Independence and the famous words that founded our country that all men are created equal.

And if you look historically -- Joan of Arc, Alexander the Great -- there are enormous examples of the way young people have defined things. And in our country, in the 1960s when I was your age, when I was growing up, we had a huge clash over civil rights, the Civil Rights Movement, as we called it. And it was really young people in college who were the voice of that. They were the conscience of that movement, and they changed history in our country. It opened the right to vote for more people, and it created a whole set of breaking down barriers, to people being able to have equal access and equal opportunity. So even 200-and-some years after our founding, we were still fighting and struggling with the shape of our country. So don't get impatient even as you're fighting and struggling and watching things change. You have to keep doing it, and it takes time.

But I want to hear from you. I saw on the boards as I was coming in here a couple of your members here had done some work that you did yesterday, I guess, thinking about how do you define your interests and your concerns. What's the way to bring people together? What's the -- what things do you want to engage in, and what's important to you?

So I really would like to hear that. I'm here for a U.S.-ASEAN Summit today, and tomorrow we have an East Asia Summit, and we're going to be talking about the future and talking about the security concerns. So what do you see? I really want to know what each of you sees. And I've been to almost all your countries. I'd like to know what you see now as the greatest challenges. What do you want people in my position to be thinking about? What should we be trying to achieve together? Tell me whatever is on your mind, and we'll have a good conversation.