Ambassadors arrive at UCSD

    United States ambassadors to Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam discussed democracy, combatting global terrorism and the Southeast-Asian economies in a panel hosted by the Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies on Monday evening.

    Anna Rios

    The ambassadors are touring several U.S. cities as a part of the tenth annual U.S. ambassadors tour. The purpose of the tour is to promote U.S. interest and investment in the ten countries of Southeast Asia. About fifty people attended.

    “”We believe that more Americans need to know about what’s happening in this ten-country region of 500 million people,”” said Ernest A. Bower, president of the U.S. Association of Southeast Asian Nations Business Council and tour organizer.

    “”It’s a really important area for the United States. It’s our third-largest overseas market, but it seems that knowledge of the region is not on par with what our real strategic and economic interests are.””

    The five countries represented on the panel are Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar (Burma) and the Philippines. All five members a part of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. ASEAN is a multinational group that was established to promote commerce and the international trade interests of its members.

    U.S.-ASEAN is an American group based in Washington, D.C., that seeks to promote U.S. business interests and investment in the ASEAN region.

    Monisha Chandanani, a senior at Thurgood Marshall College, found the panel informative.

    “”I thought it was great,”” Chandanani said. “”It gave a good perspective about what’s going on in the area.””

    Ralph L. Boyce, the U.S. ambassador to Indonesia, cited examples of how democratic conditions are improving in Southeast Asia as well as the status of efforts working to help the region recover from the financial crisis it suffered during the mid-1990s.

    “”In this group of ten countries, there are widely differing economic and political development models to look at,”” Boyce said. “”You clearly have a first-world economy like Singapore at one extreme and then you have Laos at the other extreme, which is one of the more underdeveloped, most slowly developing countries in the world.””

    Boyce noted that democracy is growing even in countries like Myanmar. He cited specifically the May release of National League of Democracy leader and 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest after nearly two years of confinement.

    One question from a graduate student sought the ambassadors’ opinions on the escalating India and Pakistan dispute over Kashmir.

    “”First of all, I think that the conflict between India and Pakistan would be a disaster for not only them but for the region,”” he said. “”In terms of a direct effect on Southeast Asia, it really depends on how big and how long.””

    Another question addressed anti-American sentiment in the region following Sept. 11.

    “”I think right now at this point in history it is useful to draw a distinction between countries that are majority Muslim, and those that are not,”” said U.S. Ambassador to Malaysia Marie Huhtala, who noted that Malaysia is mostly Muslim.

    Huhtala also discussed how her office has been working to address these perceptions Malyasians have of U.S. foreign policy.

    “”They have the view that we are completely biased for no reason toward Israel,”” she said.

    Similarly, the ambassador to Indonesia addressed misperceptions Americans have toward Indonesia, a country that is mostly Muslim.

    In reference to reports in the American news media, he said jokingly to the audience, “”Well, if you watch TV, you know that Indonesia is a rampant, radical Islamic anti-American state.””

    He went on to describe how limited the demonstrations were and pointed out that the demonstrations were not about being anti-American.

    “”Frankly, those demonstrations that you saw so frequently [on TV] were really more about Indonesia’s domestic politics than they were about Afghanistan or Sept. 11,”” Boyce said.

    Vanessa Golding, the outgoing president of the IR/PS Southeast Asian Student Organization, was hoping to hear more about economic topics related to ASEAN.

    “”I think probably due to 9/11, a lot of the focus on political and terrorism issues seems to be somewhat of a trend,”” she said. “”I don’t think there was enough time to move past that into the more of the business and economic issues.””

    The ambassadors are also scheduled to visit Los Angeles, Seattle, Detroit, New York City and Washington, D.C., over the course of the two-week tour.

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