Opinion

The role of civil society
in building a stronger,
peaceful world

Well, let me start by thanking you for joining us this evening, and to reiterate the greetings from President Obama, who feels such a special kinship with the Indonesian people and with a country that influenced him so deeply as a young boy.

He has said many times that his experiences here have helped to shape his values and his vision of a world where people of different backgrounds, identities, and faiths could unite around their common human aspirations. And that certainly is a message for all peoples and nations to remember now as we confront the urgent global challenges of this century.

When I was last here 15 years ago, I was privileged not only to visit Jakarta, but also to travel outside of Jakarta. I remember a visit that I made to a local maternal health program in Yogyakarta, where mothers took their newborns for routine medical checkups and other basic health services.

The program wasn't housed in a clinic or a hospital. In fact, it wasn't in a building at all. It was under a tree in the village where the mothers gathered once a week to meet the health practitioners who came to weigh the babies, distribute information about nutrition, and offer counseling about family planning.

I'm often asked as I travel around my own country, why should the United States or other nations support development and civil society in other countries than their own; why should a program offering health services under a tree in a village in Indonesia matter to people working in a factory in Indiana or Islamabad or the Ivory Coast? Well, my answer and the answer that you will hear from the Obama Administration is that building civil society and providing tangible services to people helps result in stronger nations that share the goals of security, prosperity, peace and progress.

There are really three stools on which democracy sits: the government, the private business sector, and civil society. If one of those legs on that stool get out of balance, then the whole system does as well. And it's important in today's world, where we face old challenges like intolerance and discrimination and poverty and despair with new challenges that come from our interconnectedness that we do all we can to support those three stools.

Now I will have a lot of government-to-government engagement. That is our traditional foreign policy approach. And we post ambassadors in other countries, we send cables to foreign embassies, we hold bilateral meetings and summits and negotiate agreements and treaties. Diplomacy will remain very important. But by itself that is not sufficient to make the kinds of changes we need to meet the challenges that we face together. So I hope that one of the messages that I will be able to leave behind is that the US will of course pursue government-to-government engagement. But we want to engage more with people of the countries with whom we seek partnerships.

Now the US may be the oldest functioning democracy in the world, but we could have a meeting just like this back home, where people who are struggling for human rights and education and good governance and healthcare or climate change and environmental possibilities that would improve our situation, as well as clean energy, would be equally engaged and just as passionate as all of you are, because the work of democracy never ends. Even though we've been at it for a long time, I would not tell you that we are by any means perfect..

We were talking at our table about elections. When you have an election, some win and somee lose. In a new democracy, that is sometimes hard to accept, because all of a sudden, you believe, well, we have a democracy, I have a political party, so I have people telling me they're for me, therefore I am going to win, and it doesn't turn out that way. Well, I've had that experience and I know how important it is that you accept the results of elections and you work continuingly inside of the system, or outside, to bring about the changes in a peaceful way.

And how also, in a democracy after an election, you have to find common ground. People may get elected that you have great differences with or small differences, but you seek for ways to work together and to build a stronger democracy. I was the most surprised person in the world when President Obama asked me to be the Secretary of State. But I knew that it was part of my commitment to my country and my belief in our shared agenda that led me to say yes, what an honor and a privilege.

And so as we chart our new Administration, we are reaching out to the rest of the world with humility. We know we don't have all the answers. We believe strongly in our country and in our values. But we want to find common ground with likeminded people around the world.

When I think about the challenges that we face - and global climate change is a perfect example - I think about the need to protect the forests and the coral reefs of Indonesia. That's a long way from the United States, but it is a problem that will affect our children and our children's children. Protecting forests and coral reefs in Indonesia helps our whole planet get healthier.

And as I was listening about the efforts here in Indonesia to continue the tradition of a tolerant, embracing Islam, I was reminded of how that is one of the most important contributions that Indonesia can make, not just to the Islamic world, but to the whole world, to recognize that common humanity.

I also have to compliment Indonesia for the growing role that women are playing at all levels of society. And a recognition of the role that women have to play and the opportunities for women to assume leadership positions as many of you in this room have is another contribution that Indonesia is making. As I travel around the world over the next years, I will be saying to people, if you want to know whether Islam, democracy, modernity, and women's rights can coexist, go to Indonesia.

So for me, this is a personal delight to be able to return here and renew some old friendships and make some new friends, to represent my country, especially with a President who has such personal feelings of kinship to the people here. I've already been asked over and over again, when is he coming?

Being president is hard. So for a president knowing he can go somewhere in the world where he is so loved as he is loved in Indonesia, he may just want to wait until he really needs that visit, and you can lavish on him all of the love that you are telling me you feel for him. I will speak with him soon and tell him that he is well liked and well regarded, and that he should look for the opportunity to come as soon as his schedule permits.

There is a lot of work ahead of us. I mean, the successes and changes that have taken place in Indonesia over the last several years have reverberated widely. Your persistence, your optimism, your open-mindedness has already begun to show such fruits. And the leadership role that Indonesia will be able to play in the world is just beginning.

So I thank you for not just joining me this evening, but for what you have done day in and day out over the years to help realize the dreams and fulfill the vision of what Indonesia truly can become.

The article is an excerpt of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's remarks at the Indonesian Civil Society Dinner in Jakarta on Feb.18, 2009.

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