(As Prepared for Delivery)
Excellencies, Tan Sri-Puan Sri, Dato-Datin, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. Salam sejahtera dan selamat petang. A very warm welcome to all.
Thank you for joining us to celebrate the 238th anniversary of the independence of the United States—a holiday known to all Americans simply as the 4th of July.
Now, the quicker among you may have noticed that we have a small problem here. This is not, in fact, the 4th of July. It’s not even July. Well, there’s a simple reason. Let me explain.
As you may have heard—or observed—we Americans are not the most patient of people. The 4th of July is traditionally celebrated with a day-long picnic, with hamburgers, hotdogs and water melon. I assure you it’s hard enough getting my fellow countrymen to hold off until 6:00. If we held this party on July 4, we would have to wait until at least 7:30 to eat! The last time someone tried to get Americans to hold on like that they started flinging barrels of tea into Boston harbor. Our British friends know what happened next. So, better to call it the 4th of July 10 days early than to start a new American Revolution!
As many of you know, the 4th of July celebrates the signing of the American Declaration of Independence in 1776, making us the first colony to set ourselves up as a self-governing state—and the first state to base itself not on birth or ethnicity, but on the shared quest for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Of course, it wasn’t that easy. Just as for Malaysia, it took years of struggle to realize the dream of freedom. But in 1781, the United States had achieved independence as a nation. Four years later, we began to rebuild ties with the former mother country when former revolutionary leader John Adams became America’s first Ambassador to the United Kingdom.
And 172 years later we were proud to send the first U.S. Ambassador to newly independent Malaya—a country that shares with us both a British colonial past and a rich ethnic, religious and regional diversity.
That diversity is the theme of our dinner tonight: “From Sea to Shining Sea.”
Around the room you will find the foods of the Atlantic States, with their roots in the seafarers of England, Ireland, Italy, and Holland; of the South, with its rich African and French traditions; of the Midwest, whose flavors spring from Germany, Scandinavia and Bohemia; of the Spanish- and native American-influenced Southwest; and of the Pacific Northwest, where Asian immigrants have joined generations of Americans moving westward to create their own distinct fusion of tastes.
We urge you to visit all of these regions tonight, creating your own melting pot of flavors. Diversity always poses challenges, but choosing what to eat from all these regional feasts is a challenge you can’t lose.
The term “from sea to shining sea” comes from the song “America the Beautiful,” written by Katherine Lee Bates some 100 years ago. But it also is the perfect metaphor for the blossoming of our relations with our friends across the Pacific Ocean, particularly with Malaysia.
Since our Independence Day celebration last year, six U.S. cabinet members have visited Malaysia, crowned by President Barak Obama coming here in May.
During his 3-day visit President Obama met with Prime Minister Najib and key members of the Cabinet, had an audience with the King, and toured the beautiful Masjid Negara. He delivered remarks at the Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Center, participated in the Young Southeast Asian Leaders town hall at the University of Malaysia, and witnessed three commercial signings valued at nearly $2 billion.
In recognition of the growing cooperation between our two countries, President Obama and Prime Minister Najib agreed to elevate the U.S.-Malaysia relationship to a Comprehensive Partnership, committing us to closer political, diplomatic, trade, security, education, and environmental collaboration.
We are building, however, a relationship that extends beyond governments to encompass close ties with all parties, with civil society, with industry, with students and academics, with scientists and researchers. People-to-people contact between our two countries is growing stronger. We have extended the dynamic Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) program for three years, so that each year, 100 bright, young Americans will live in Malaysian communities and assist in the teaching of English, as they serve as cultural ambassadors between our two peoples. Last fall, I hosted an event to help launch the Malaysia-America Foundation, which seeks to promote more exchanges and interaction.
When the last U.S. President visited Malaysia—that was Lyndon Johnson back in 1966—he could hardly have imagined that in less than 50 years that young federation just emerging from colonialism would become the shining country of skyscrapers it is today.
U.S. business has been a full partner in the story of Malaysia’s extraordinary economic growth. We remain Malaysia’s number one foreign investor. Hundreds of U.S. companies employ over 150,000 Malaysians in well-paying jobs, train many hundreds of top managers, transfer technology, and build local capacity.
Tonight, many of those business leaders are among us. I want to thank the generous support of more than 50 American and Malaysian companies, whose names you saw as you came in. Look around. Their representatives are the people wearing the red, white, and blue star lapel pins. Let’s together give them all a big round of applause.
I also want to thank our Embassy team, led by Hilde Pearson, Jared Webber, Elisabeth Socolow and Samantha Elfmont, who have done such an excellent job of in organizing today’s events. Of course, none of this would be possible without our friends in JW Marriott.
Lastly, I want to thank all of you here for making our first year in Malaysia so memorable. My wife Melanie and I have felt so welcomed here, not just in Kuala Lumpur, but in our travels throughout peninsular Malaysia, Sabah, and Sarawak. Your openness has drawn us in and your ideas have inspired us. We look forward to further strengthening our friendship with the people of Malaysia over the next years.
In just a moment we’ll hear Caitlynn and Caleb Savari sing the national anthems of Malaysia and the United States, which is fitting since their mother is from the U.S. and their father is Malaysian. They’re one more beautiful example of our strong bi-lateral relations.
But first, ladies and gentlemen, it is my honor to introduce the United States Marine Corps Color Guard – Gunnery Sergeant Le!