Secretary Antony J. Blinken at Town Hall with YSEALI
ANTONY J. BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE
KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA
DECEMBER 15, 2021
MR SINGH: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to our warm, fantastic YSEALI leaders, who are creating impact across Malaysia and ASEAN, joining us physically and virtually.
Our guest of honor today needs no introduction. The Secretary of State of the United States of America, Mr. Antony Blinken, is here with us.
Now, from our humble team, from Biji-biji in America, I must say thank you very much for joining us over here. Loved the play, Lissa (ph). The Beatles selection was fantastic, and the songs from Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand on point.
Now, without further ado, may I have a big round of applause for the Secretary of State, Mr. Antony Blinken. (Applause.)
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. Thank you so much. And thank you for overseeing the playlist on Spotify. We – it’s been a wonderful process of discovering, for me, new music from countries and – around the world, and we’re happy to try and put a little spotlight on it, as well.
But let me just say, first of all, Rashvin, to you, thanks for the introduction. But thanks especially for hosting us here at the Me.reka. It’s really a remarkable space, a remarkable place to bring people together in a powerful way, something I know we’ll have a chance to talk about.
And I’m really mostly looking forward to having a good conversation with all of you, with some of our friends who are coming in virtually. But let me just say a few words, if I could, at the outset before we get going.
As I think you all know, in 2013 President Obama announced the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative, which we all know as YSEALI. And it is amazing, amazing, how it has grown in that short period of time, in eight years. Today we have a network of more than 150,000 people across Southeast Asia. But I have to tell you, 10,000 members in Malaysia alone. And the energy of the Malaysia chapter is truly extraordinary. The independent YSEALI Council of Malaysia that I know some of you helped to establish, hosting events, taking this country’s YSEALI network to a new level, is powerful evidence of that. And I’m so grateful for the extraordinary participation that we’ve had in Malaysia from – for YSEALI.
The common denominator is, as young leaders, you are bringing a spirit of teamwork and dedication to community to everything that you’re doing. I’ve gotten a sense of some of the work that you’ve been engaged in. Some of you founded social enterprises that create job opportunities for young people. Some of you helped provide meals and protective equipment for frontline workers dealing with COVID-19. Some of you are restoring rainforests, raising awareness about threats to coral reefs. Some of you are supporting inclusive economic development for rural farmers, refugees, low-income communities. You’re improving access to education, so that all young people across Malaysia can actually pursue their dreams.
In short, you have dived straight into some of the most challenging issues that we all have to grapple with, deal with. And I think the results will stretch far beyond Malaysia, because the truth is this: Whether we achieve equitable growth, whether we protect the environment, whether we strengthen education, whether we end the pandemic and put ourselves in a better position to deal with the next one, that’s going to shape the future for the entire region in the Indo-Pacific, including the United States, and, more broadly, for the world. So the stakes couldn’t be higher, but I also think the opportunities are real. And I’m so impressed that so many of you are seizing them, finding them.
But I think the other common denominator for all of these challenges is that they’re almost, by definition, challenges that we have to face together. None of them have a solution that any one country or any one group or any one business can deal with alone. And through YSEALI, this is one way, and I think a powerful way, that the United States is able to partner with you. We’re organizing professional and educational exchange programs between our countries to give young people in Malaysia and the United States the chance to learn from each other. We support many of your projects directly with grants. We host workshops and boot camps to learn practical skills, and to find solutions to regional problems.
One thing is this. I hope some of you will consider applying for next summer’s regional YSEALI workshop on digital connectivity and diversity and inclusion. We would really benefit from your participation.
Ultimately, what we’re trying to do is, simply put, to support young leaders like you however we can because we think you’re doing great things. You’re going to do great things. And if you have some of the support that you need, there’s really no limit to what you can achieve. And mostly, the work that you’re doing is actually making a difference. It’s having an impact on people’s lives. It’s having an impact on your communities. It’s having an impact on your country. It’s going to have an impact beyond your country.
And this space, I think, is a really terrific example of that. As I understand the history of it, it was started by young people who wanted to create a place where others could learn useful skills, skills that could lead to jobs like metalworking, or actually take entrepreneurial ideas and have them take flight with some seed funding, or access to tools, from – everything from sewing machines to 3D printers. I’ve heard from our embassy what a particularly special place this is. And we’re really grateful to everyone here for hosting the YSEALI seminars, the boot camps, and events like this one.
So I also know this. I know that a lot of this work is not easy. It comes with hurdles, with frustrations, with obstacles, and of course, the last few years have only added to that, especially with COVID-19. But we’ve seen, your communities have seen, your friends have seen everything that you can accomplish, that you have accomplished. And that is what gives me real optimism about the future.
Back in 2016, when President Obama – at the time – spoke with a group of YSEALI members – this was in Laos – here’s what he said. He said, “While presidents and prime ministers can sometimes help lay the foundation, it’s going to be young people like you who actually build the future of this region and the world.” And that’s especially true here in Southeast Asia, almost 60 percent of the population under the age of 35. And I see here in this room and on the screen, yours is a rising generation that has innovation, that has creativity, that has talent, and that is going to make a difference.
So I was really looking forward to getting together with each of you this afternoon, really to have a conversation, to hear any questions, to hear your ideas, your thoughts about how we can not only build back from where we are, but, as we like to say, build back better. You’re the ones who are doing so much of that building. I’m eager to get started.
So over to the conversation. (Applause.)
MR SINGH: Let me just – here for a moment.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: A transition?
MR SINGH: Just down here. We’ll do a quick —
MR SINGH: All right. Good afternoon again. So we’ve got some very interesting questions for you, some difficult ones, some meaningful ones, all very important ones. So first and foremost, let me start with Jasmin Irisha. Over to you, Jasmin.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Jasmin, how are you?
QUESTION: Hi. Hi, Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good to see you.
QUESTION: Good to see you, too. How are you? (Speaks Malaysian.)
SECRETARY BLINKEN: All the better for being here. Thank you.
QUESTION: Great. (Speaks Malaysian.) Welcome to Malaysia. My name is Jasmin Irisha, and I’m currently the climate and environment consultant at UNICEF Malaysia, the United Nations Children’s Fund. I am a 2014 YSEALI alumni.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Great.
QUESTION: Part of the pioneering cohort. And I was based at East-West Center Hawaii, academic fellow on environmental issues.
So more and more young people are mobilizing to tackle the climate crisis. Internationally, globally, you have really young individuals and very prominent figures such as Greta Thunberg, and also movements such as Fridays for a Future. Locally, as well as here in Malaysia, we have the Malaysian Youth Delegation, MYD, and Klima Action Malaysia, who are doing really, really meaningful and impactful work in mobilizing climate action.
Now that COP26 is behind us, how do you see the U.S., the United States, play a key role in keeping towards a limit of 1.5 degrees target, as set by the Paris Agreement, as well as achieving the NDCs, the National Determined Contributions, in an equitable manner? Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you so much. And first, it’s great to hear that you’re one of the original alumni of the program. That’s terrific.
Second, I was in Glasgow myself, briefly. And one of the things I heard loud and clear were young voices speaking up and speaking out about the challenge we face, and about the imperative of actually – of taking action. And I think there are a lot of things that we have to focus on, but let me just point to a couple.
First of all, this is maybe the most powerful example of a challenge where we have to all be in this together. It doesn’t work any other way. The United States, we historically have contributed the most emissions over time that have accumulated. Right now we’re about 15 percent of global emissions. Even if we did everything right at home, everything, that still doesn’t account for the current 85 percent of emissions coming from other places. So we have a stake in making sure that other countries are stepping up, just as they have a stake in making sure that we’re stepping up. So that’s one part of it.
Second, when you look at Glasgow, when you look at COP26, you can look at it, I think, in two ways. And both, in a sense, are accurate. There’s a glass half full and there’s a glass half empty. The glass half full is this: If you look at some of the pledges and commitments that were made, first, countries representing 65 percent of world GDP made commitments that, if implemented – and that’s a big if, and we’ll come back to it – would keep warning to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Now, that doesn’t account for the remaining 35 percent that – of GDP that hasn’t signed up to those commitments, but that is not insignificant.
Second, if you look at what was done, for example, with the global methane pledge, we started with a handful of countries willing to take the pledge to curb methane emissions by 30 percent of 2030. By the time we got through COP26, more than 100 countries had signed up. And if a couple of big countries that are not yet there, like China, join in, and again, people implement these commitments, these pledges, that would be the equivalent, by 2030, in terms of emissions, of taking every airplane out of the skies and every ship off the seas. That’s not insignificant. The work that was done and the commitments that were made on deforestation – one of the most important contributors to climate change in the negative, but also, potentially, with reforestation, one of the biggest pluses we can have.
So I say all that, just because it’s important to show that there was progress made. But the glass half empty is this: It’s not enough, and it’s not fast enough. And it also depends on countries that made pledges to make good on those pledges. So we have a lot of work to do, going forward, to try to ensure that that happens.
But also, two other things: We have to keep raising our ambitions, and we have an obligation to make sure that countries that need assistance in making the transitions that are necessary – adapting, building resilience, bringing in new technologies, et cetera – have the support they need. And this is something that President Biden feels very strongly about. When he came to office, we doubled our commitment to the different funds that provide for developing countries to have access to resources to do adaptation, and then he doubled it again. There’s an international commitment to have $100 billion a year available for adaptation, and at COP26 an agreement to even go beyond that, but we have to make good on that.
So it’s long way of saying that I think we’ve seen progress. We have a coherent plan that, if put into effect, and if everyone really signs on and does it, I think can still get us to where we need to get. But we’re not – we’re certainly not there yet.
And we have to speed things up, because here’s the final point: Many countries have set goals for 2050. But if we don’t take action now, in the next decade, in this decade, it’ll be too late. We won’t be able to achieve the goals we’ve set for 2050.
Last point is this: It is hugely important that this generation, which was so vocal at Glasgow, and has been vocal before that, continues to be, that you continue to push, to insist on action, that you hold leaders in every country accountable because, ultimately, the decisions we’re making now will affect you more even than they affect us, because we know the urgency of dealing with climate change, but we also know that, as challenging as things are now, we see these events on an almost regular basis, including here in Malaysia. If we don’t do what we need to do by 2040 or 2050, when you really will fully inherit this earth, it’ll be too late. So keep at us, and keep at it.
MR SINGH: Thank you, Jasmin.
Next up we’ve got Siti Fatimah, who’s joining us virtually – and Siti, over to you – you can view Siti over there.
QUESTION: Hello, Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good to see you.
QUESTION: I am Az-Zahra Alex, a YSEALI boot camp participant from Team Listen to Me, advocating for mental health. Many of the issues we will discuss today, whether the pandemic, financial instability, or climate change, are really impacting the resilience and motivation of our youth. What can we do to inspire young people to take an active role in helping address all of these issues? Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. Well, in a sense, part of what we can do is what you’re already doing, because each and every one of you is, in some way, engaged. You are leading. You’re looking to find solutions. And in that very action, in your very engagement, you’re inspiring other people in ways that you may not be able to even see or fully appreciate. But it’s incredibly powerful. When people – when young people see their peers, people like you, actually doing things, organizing, innovating, finding solutions, bringing other people together, building networks, that’s going to inspire them.
So I would just say the most important thing is to keep doing what you’re doing because, more than anything else, I think that’s what will have an impact on other young people, and on giving them some sense of hope or optimism that they, you can make a difference.
And I don’t want to be naive about this. I know how hard so much of this is, and it’s almost never in a straight line. It – and sometimes it’s one step forward, two steps backward. But the fact that each of you is here and on the screen, I think, is evidence of your own resilience, your own determination. But I just can’t begin to tell you how what you’re doing as individuals has a ripple effect in showing others that, you know what, there is a way for me to be involved, there is a way for my voice to be heard, there is a way for my actions to make a difference. So I think you’re the best role models possible.
For those of us who are in government or other positions of responsibility, my hope is that we can create more and more opportunities for people to give expression to their voice, to their passions. That’s what YSEALI is all about. We have other initiatives that are like that. Our embassy here is involved in a lot of different programs. But you’re the ones who are not only making the change, you’re the ones who are showing other young people that change is possible, and that they can make it. So keep doing what you’re doing.
MR SINGH: Thank you. Thank you, Siti. Thank you, Mr. Secretary.
Next we’ve got an in-person question. Shane Choo is here with us. Over to you, Shane.
QUESTION: Hi, Mr. Secretary. My name is Shane Choo. I am from LifeChamp. So we teach financial literacy. So I participated in YSEALI program in 2014.
So my question is, now, one of the biggest challenges for young graduates in developing country is the disparity between the rising cost of living and the wages. So many Malaysians, fresh graduates, are barely making enough to make ends meet. So the COVID-19 pandemic has even exacerbated the situation, so inflation is real. So my question is, what is your advice to young people, so we can overcome this acute economic predicament and thrive in this pandemic world?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. Well, first of all, if you’re teaching financial literacy, I might want to sign up for your course – (laughter) – because I could probably use a little help myself. And it actually also goes to the answer to your question.
Look, there are extremely challenging economic hurdles that we have to overcome that have been, in some part, created by or made higher by the pandemic, and all of the powerfully distortive impacts that it’s had on our individual economies and on the global economy. And when we’re coming out of it, there may be, as you would know better than I, even more distortive effects, including effects that lead to inflation and higher prices, because there’s a mismatch between supply and demand. That takes time to even out.
And all of this is challenging. It’s challenging for the policy-makers, the budget makers, the reserve banks that are making policies. I don’t have a good near-term answer for you. I think a lot of this will play out over the next six or nine months. And I am – I believe we’ll get to a better place, but we have a challenging transition.
The good news, assuming – which is an assumption that we really are going to get beyond COVID-19 in a meaningful way, that we’ll either continue to find ways to live with it and deal with it as we overcome it – the good news there is we are seeing, for example, growth rebound significantly in countries around the world, even with the constraints that still exist. And of course, we have real questions that we have to answer about the newest variant, Omicron.
But again, even when growth is coming back, it may be happening in a way that is creating – that is, nonetheless, having distortive effects, including on inflation. We’ve seen, in many countries, wages are rising. But prices are rising, especially in key areas.
Now, there’s one thing that I think we are working on and can do, besides overall fiscal and monetary policy, which is dealing more effectively with supply chains. One of the reasons that we see a jump in prices in so many places is because supply chain disruptions have really wreaked havoc. And when we had this meeting of the leading economies, the G20, in Rome a few months ago, President Biden got a lot of countries together to talk about what we can do in the near term, as well as in the long term to smooth out some of the problems that we have in supply chains and, over the long term, build more resilient supply chains so that we don’t – when we have some kind of major disruptive event, like a pandemic, the supply chains can be resilient, and not be disrupted.
He asked me, and he asked my good friend and colleague, our Secretary of Commerce, Gina Raimondo, who was here in Malaysia just a short while ago, to follow up on that, which we’ll be doing early in the new year. And we have some very practical ways around the world of trying to smooth out the supply chains, make them function more efficiently, effectively. That will have an impact on prices and this unfortunate gap between people’s rising wages but higher prices.
Very last thing is we have to make sure, all of us, that especially younger generations are getting the skills that they need, the training they need, to really make their way in what is a very new and different economy, especially in a digital economy. And there are things that we’re working on to help in different parts of the world develop a young workforce so that it really can compete for the best jobs that will pay a genuinely living wage, not a wage that makes it very difficult to get by.
So it’s an imperfect answer to a really challenging problem, but it’s something that we’re very much focused on. Thanks.
MR SINGH: Thank you, Shane. Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I love the way you put it, that we have a lot of important work to do together.
Next up we’ve got Aimy Lee, joining us virtually.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Very good.
MR SINGH: And Aimy, over to you.
QUESTION: Thank you, Rashvin. Hi, Mr. Secretary. Nice to e-meet you. I’m Aimy from Penang Science Cluster, and we host the American Tech Corner in Penang. So I participated in the YSEALI future workforce regional workshop in the YSEALI 2021 summit.
So my question for you is, how much of a role do you think scientists and engineers play in driving change in the world, and how might we do better in communicating that to young people, especially to girls? Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you very much. It’s a great question, and one that is, in many ways, near and dear to my heart. Here’s why.
So my job, as Secretary of State, is to try to be responsible for our relationships, our partnerships with other countries, and to deal with challenges around the world on behalf of the United States. And most of the people who do what I do, who work in foreign policy, most of us are not brought up in scientific disciplines. We tend to be brought up in the humanities. Probably, if you looked – and this has changed a bit – but probably, if you looked, way too many of us were trained as lawyers, myself included.
But one of the things that really struck me, especially the last time that I was working in government, which was – before President Biden was elected, I was last working in government for President Obama – one of the things that struck me, even working on foreign policy and national security issues, was that so many of the things that we were working on probably had, as part of the answer to the problem we were trying to solve, science and technology and innovation.
And it got to the point where, as I was chairing a meeting in our White House, the National Security Council, it dawned on me that I needed a scientist or technologist in the room just to tell me if I needed a scientist or technologist in the room, because we needed to identify what is the aspect of this problem that has a science and technology response. We’re trying to write a new arms control agreement. Where does science and technology fit into making that agreement work? We’re trying to get rid of land mines around the world. How might science and technology help? We have a global refugee crisis. What’s the role of science and technology in trying to deal with that problem? Global hunger, electrification, and so on down the list.
And one of the things that led me to do, again, when I was last in government, was really to try to bring more scientists and technologists into the work that we’re doing. And that’s something that we’re now very focused on at the State Department. I’m convinced that that will have a profound impact on our ability to actually solve problems.
A really great experience that is also, I think, directly relevant to your wonderful question is this. Again, back in 2015, 2016, we started with Stanford University in California, a class, and we called it Hacking for Diplomacy. And the idea was to take to a class of really smart students at Stanford these problems the State Department was working on. And 20 of our offices submitted problems, here’s what we’re trying to figure out, and the class split up into teams. And over the course of a year, they came up with ideas and answers to these problems. And I went out there to listen to the final presentations and it was amazing.
And here’s why it was amazing. It was amazing because if you put a younger generation onto a problem set, by definition, it’s going to have a different approach than I would have. That’s the power of generational change. And then having students who are more educated in science and technology, they also brought a different perspective to solving these problems than someone who was educated purely in the humanities would have done. And the result was we got a lot of great ideas that we probably wouldn’t have thought of ourselves.
So I hope very much that you will share that with other people because it’s just evidence of the fact of how important it is that we have people who are trained in science, interested in technology, but who bring that special skillset to bear on problems of public policy, problems of foreign policy. It’s going to make a huge, huge difference. And needless to say, if that doesn’t include women and girls, then we were – we’re going to be dramatically, dramatically short-changing ourselves and the – probably most of the good solutions are going to come from there. So if women and girls are not involved, we’re making a very, very big mistake. We want to see more young women go into STEM, go into STEAM, and bring their perspective, their talents to bear on this.
MR SINGH: Thank you, Aimy. Thank you for sharing those insights with us.
Next, we’ve got Kuhan who is joining us here. Over to you.
QUESTION: All right. Thank you, Rashvin. Good afternoon, Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good afternoon.
QUESTION: I’m Kuhan, the co-founder of Masala Wheels, a social enterprise changing lives of at-risk youths through food entrepreneurship. I’m also a ACYPL-YSEALI alumni in 2017, where I was attached to the Tennessee State General Assembly.
All right. So my question would be: During President Obama’s administration, they created an Office for Social Innovation within the White House, and we have been consistently advocating for a similar institutionalization in Malaysia. Now, how do youths like us influence change in the highest administration of the nation? Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you, and it’s great to hear about your experience. And look, my own bias is we have to find ways, including institutionalized ways, for young generations – for their voices to be heard within government, and not just their voices; for their skills to be brought to bear on, as we were just talking about, actually solving problems, including social innovation.
So I can only speak for my own country in that we continue to look for ways to do that, including within our administration. And my hope would be that other countries would do the same. I think by speaking up, speaking out, by hopefully making as well the right connections, and hopefully there will be leaders who see the benefits of that approach and who create space for that to happen and to institutionalize it.
There are a number of countries that I visited recently, for example, that have formal institutionalized youth councils within government. That’s powerful. Another country I visited recently that basically stood up a youth national assembly where people run for office under the age of 25 so that their voice collectively can be heard and help shape policy and help shape the future of the country.
So there are all sorts of initiatives that are going on out there, and maybe one of the things that we’ll find ways to do, including through YSEALI, is to share some of what we’re seeing happening in other parts of the world. Because we certainly don’t have all the answers, and different countries are doing different things, including better than us, in finding ways to institutionalize that participation and that voice.
So we’ll look for ways to do more. That’s a great question and we’ll follow up on it. Thank you.
MR SINGH: Thank you, Kuhan.
Next we’ve got Freeda Jane, who is joining us virtually, and Freeda, over to you.
QUESTION: Okay. Good afternoon. (In Malaysian.) My name is Freeda, one of the YSEALI boot camp participants representing Team “Bah, Connect Lah” on improving internet accessibility, and it is an honor to receive this opportunity to ask a question to the U.S. Secretary of State.
So Mr. Secretary, can you share some ideas of how we can facilitate development in technology and innovation within the rural and indigenous communities without impacting their natural livelihood and lifestyle? How can we make a hybrid of traditional culture and modern society? Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: That’s a great, great question, and a challenging one. And I think it starts with listening and it starts with understanding before anything else – listening to the voices and the perspectives of the community in question, finding ways to use technology to be responsive to what they want to do, where they want to go, how they see the futures of their community, including many traditions that could get swept away in a modernized world.
And I’m convinced from the many places I’ve seen this and the examples that I’ve seen that not only is technology and tradition compatible; in fact, I think they can be mutually reinforcing, if done the right way – if, for example, someone who is in a rural community isn’t engaged in traditional farming practices or trying to make a living by carrying on a tradition. But technology can also help create or bring to market the work that that person is doing. That’s a wonderful way of keeping alive a traditional pursuit, enterprise, product, but making it economically viable and making the community economically viable in a way that respects the tradition but also takes advantage of technology to allow it to be a living tradition, not something that people will just look on as a relic of the past.
But it all starts, I think, with listening and understanding. And ultimately, technology, development, needs to be in service of people’s needs and desires, including – including the dignity that is attached in pursuing very meaningful traditional enterprises, traditional customs, traditional practices. Again, I think this is compatible, but it takes – it really takes having an open heart, an open mind, and open ears.
MR SINGH: Thank you, Freeda, and thank you, Mr. Secretary.
Next we’ve got Melisa who is just here. Melisa.
QUESTION: Hi, good afternoon, Mr. Secretary. Thanks (inaudible).
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good afternoon.
QUESTION: I’m Melisa Lim. I’m a co-founder of a social enterprise called Langit Collective. And we work with rural indigenous families to market their heirloom produce such as rice and spices.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Yeah.
QUESTION: Yeah. Over here to open markets —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: You may be – you may – you’re the answer to the last question. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Not necessarily. (Laughter.) I was also part of YSEALI’s regional workshop in 2017. And so following up to some of the things that you’ve mentioned earlier, some of the challenges we face as impactory when enterprises are worked is we get scrutinized more deeply, come back to a traditional business. When we report about our impact work, people expect even more, come back to, say, a large corporation that’s CSR work. So it’s always a David versus Goliath sort of situation.
So I was just wondering if you’ve seen any good examples on methods that may have worked in the U.S. for us smaller organizations. Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: That’s really – yeah, that’s a really, really interesting question. And you’re right. In a funny way, sometimes less is expected of larger enterprises because that hasn’t necessarily been what they’ve done in the past or how they’re seen. And of course, everything you’re doing is part of that expectation. That’s – you’re almost defined by social impact in your enterprise. And so you’re right, you probably have greater scrutiny.
It’s a – I think it’s a question where the answer to some extent is going to vary from country to country, from culture to culture. And so – and I don’t pretend to speak for, certainly, other cultures or other countries. But in the United States, we have over many years developed a very strong and widespread civil society engaged in all sorts of pursuits.
There’s also, I think, something really interesting that I’ve seen, which is that for all of our challenges – and we have many – there remains a spirt of volunteerism that I continue to find throughout my own country. People do step up and engage and devote themselves, devote their time to something other than what their normal pursuit is.
So to some extent, you’re right, there is this additional scrutiny. But I think it’s also part of – in a way, part of our own expected culture. I want to think about that question because it’s a really good one, and maybe we’ll come back to you through my colleagues because it’s something that deserves more – something I haven’t really thought about, but I’d like to think about it and come back to you with an answer. Thank you.
MR SINGH: Thank you, Melisa. Thank you, Mr. Secretary. We’ve got a few more left and —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good.
MR SINGH: — virtual and physical, so next one is virtual again, and we’ve got Adzmin Fatta joining us, and Adzmin, over to you.
QUESTION: Thank you. Greetings from Sabah, Mr. Secretary. I’m currently working full time as a program manager for Reef Check Malaysia. I’m also a co-founder of a relief organization called Green Semporna. I’m working closely with local coastal communities in Sabah.
So my question to you, Mr. Secretary, is that given the fact that many island communities in developing countries are particularly vulnerable to climate change, what is the United States, as a resourceful and developed country, is doing to help this vulnerable community, especially the youth, to be more resilient to the impacts of climate change? Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. Well, first of all, I’m really envious of your backdrop. I’m looking at it.
MR SINGH: It is beautiful. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I think – everyone here, I think, has the same reaction, so – but it’s also a very good reminder. It kind of brings to life your question. And you’re exactly right to put the spotlight on countries, and particularly on small island nations that are the ones that are most immediately, most urgently, and most existentially affected by climate change.
When we were at COP26, I had a meeting at – that went on for a couple of hours with the leaders of small island nations, and hearing firsthand about some of the challenges they’re facing right now as a result of climate, and projecting out the truly existential challenges that some are facing going forward. And of course, in the Indo-Pacific writ large, especially for all of the maritime countries, this is a powerful, powerful, powerful problem and challenge.
But especially for the small island nations – I mentioned this earlier – we have – I think we have an obligation, and that obligation is to contribute significantly to two things: the resources that they need and may not have in order to build resilience against the effects of climate change, as well as adapting their own economies, but especially building resilience, which is why we are making major contributions; but also making sure, to the best of our ability, that they have access to the technology, the techniques, the knowledge, the skillsets to actually build that resilience. And so we have a number of important programs that we put in place to do just that – not only make resources available, but actually with technical advice, assistance, the transfer of skills, the transfer of knowledge, help them build the resilience that they have to build, and really do it in real time, because there is no time to lose. We’re already seeing the effects. It’s especially dramatic for the small island nations. And so we’re very focused on making sure resources are there, and making sure the knowledge and skills and technology is there to build that resilience and hopefully at the same time deal with the effects of climate change in a lasting way so that, over time, that the curve shifts and the problem starts to go down instead of continuing to rise.
MR SINGH: Thank you, Adzmin, and thank you, Mr. Secretary.
Two more, and we’ve got Zaim Mohzani over here. Zaim, over to you.
QUESTION: Okay. Hi, Mr. Secretary. My name is Zaim. I happen to be the co-founder of YSEALI Council of Malaysia, so thank you. Thank you for being here, and thank you for the U.S. embassy for inviting me.
Before I ask my question, I really love your amateur guitar videos on YouTube. They’re not amateur at all. I think they’re pretty good.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: And I think if you want a second career, I think that’s something you should really consider is really good music. Everyone should listen to the YouTube videos.
My question is about – nothing to do with guitar. It’s about AI, artificial intelligence. And artificial intelligence is being adopted by American companies and supported by the U.S. Government, which has driven automation and elimination of many, many jobs worldwide. And we foresee that in the next 20 years, half of the jobs that we have now will be gone, but if you’re a guitarist, you’ll be fine. (Laughter.)
Now the question I have is: What is the U.S. Government doing to support developing countries, including Malaysia, to future-proof the workforce and economies that will be disrupted by technologies like AI? So thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you very much. It’s one of the most profound and important questions that we have to deal with, and something I can tell you President Biden is extremely sensitive to. When he was vice president, he commissioned some very important studies that were really looking at the impacts of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, as it’s called, particularly the transformative impacts on labor markets, on employment.
And here’s the big picture as we see it, and it goes to your point: I think that as with previous transitions, major transitions, fundamental transitions, the story for the most part in history has been that when you get to the other side and that transition is complete, in the aggregate, you’re likely actually to have more jobs than you started with: new industries, new technologies, new products, all of which have to be filled with people.
But there are two problems. One problem is the transition itself, because what we’ve also experienced in transitions – and something we’ve gotten wrong in the past – is the fundamental problem that some people, who are losing their jobs as a result of an industry going out of business because of modernization of some kind, may not be the ones who fill the new jobs that are created by new industry. And so our obligation to support them, to bring them along, and hopefully to reskill people, is profound. And that’s something we’re working on and focused on, because if we don’t do that, if we don’t get that right, it’s, I think, morally wrong, but it’s also very practically wrong because it’s going to create tremendously disruptive effects in our societies. And that’s a problem.
The second thing is – and this is where it’s even more challenging – it’s possible that the nature of this particular transition, based on information technology, based on automation, based on technologies of one kind or another that can take the role of human beings, it’s possible that that will have different effects than previous transitions have had in terms of the aggregate number of jobs for human beings that remain on the other end. And that’s something that people are studying very, very carefully to make sure that, to the best of our ability, we understand that.
If this transition is like previous ones, again, I think at the end of the day, you’re going to come out in a better place. It’s the getting there that’s really hard and disruptive and where we have an obligation. But we have to be attentive to the possibility and make sure we understand whether the particular nature of this transformation is going to leave too many people behind in ways that they can’t be brought ahead again.
So it’s a long way of saying there’s a lot of work that is going on to try to get this right, and something that my own boss is very focused on because it’s something he thought a lot about over the last 10 years. And we have a lot of people who are working hard on that and trying to make sure that we get this right to the best of our ability.
MR SINGH: Thank you, Zaim. Thank you.
Last but not least, we’ve got Parzeen Shazila joining us virtually. And Parzeen, over to you.
QUESTION: Hi. Good afternoon, Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good afternoon.
QUESTION: I am Parzeen Shazila, 2021 YSEALI boot camp participant from G1FT Community Program. We help underprivileged women to climb out of poverty.
My questions to Mr. Secretary: How can Sabahan youth-led social activists acquire support and mentorship from U.S. social movement to lift barrier for women participations in the economy, subsequently break the poverty cycle, and improve the community livelihood, particular within women in marginalized community? Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you very much. And thank you so much for your participation in YSEALI. That’s wonderful to hear, too.
Look, my hope would be that YSEALI, among other things, can help to do some of that, in two ways: By connecting you to people in the United States who have been thinking about and working on this problem, but also connecting you to people throughout the YSEALI program who have also been looking at ways to deal with this challenge, to overcome that particular obstacle.
And one of the things that, at least in my own experience, I’ve found is that virtually every problem you can think of, somewhere, somehow, someone has probably found a way to overcome it. But if you don’t share that information, then you’re constantly in the process of reinventing the wheel in each new place. And the power of something like YSEALI and other programs that we have that bring people together are that it’s a way of actually sharing information, sharing ideas, sharing solutions.
So I hope that the question you asked, which is a really important one, you’re also asking in the context of what you did in YSEALI as well as what hopefully you’re doing in remaining connected, because I think connections are then made with different people, different groups that may have found good ways forward in answering that.
I would also say that here in Malaysia, we have a terrific embassy that also has programs, ideas, ways of connecting you to others. And I hope that you take advantage of that. We want to welcome as many people as we can. Obviously, we have COVID to deal with right now, but we still have ways of connecting online.
So raise that question as well with people that you’re in touch with as a result of YSEALI, as a result of the networks that you’ve built since then. And I would bet you that you’ll find some good answers to carry this forward.
MR SINGH: Thank you. Thank you, Parzeen. Mr. Secretary, on behalf of my comrades virtually, physically, that was a really meaningful session. We take to heart your points on empathy, balance, working together, and using technology to solve our biggest challenges. A big round of applause to you, Mr. Secretary. (Applause.)
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. Thank you.
MR SINGH: Any final words?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. Yeah. My final words: This is just wonderful to be with each and every one of you. It’s just inspiring to see so many people be engaged, working on things that go beyond even your personal needs that are making yourselves part of something bigger than yourselves in what you’re doing. And that’s really how all of our societies, our species, makes progress. It’s thanks to what you’re doing.
So I’m so glad that you’re all engaged. We are honored to have been able to partner with you through YSEALI and other programs. I hope you’ll encourage others to take part. And mostly, I’m really looking forward to seeing the amazing things that I know each and every one of you is going to be doing. So thank you for that in advance. Thanks. (Applause.)
MR SINGH: Thank you so much. If you can just step over here for a moment.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you.