Clinton at U.S.-Japan conference: "We have to continue to invest in exchanges"

Speaking at the U.S.-Japan Council Annual Conference last week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised the importance of exchange programs in the U.S.-Japan bilateral relationship and stressed that “we have to continue to invest in [exchanges].” Secretary Clinton spoke at length about the variety of exchanges that have occurred between the U.S. and Japan for decades, including high school exchange, Fulbright and other academic exchanges, professional exchange through the International Visitor Leadership Program, and sports exchange.

In particular, Secretary Clinton noted that “in a tough budget environment, we are fighting to maintain the funding for our flagship programs.” She also spoke about the establishment of EducationUSA advising centers throughout Japan to encourage more Japanese students to study in the U.S., as well as efforts to encourage more Americans to study in Japan.

Secretary Clinton’s full remarks are available on the Department of State website, and her remarks on exchange programs are below:

“Relationships like ours and so many others in our lives show their true colors in tragedy, but they are built over decades. And while economic and security ties are vital to our alliance, ties between our people give our friendship its full meaning. The wonder a Japanese college student exudes when she first sets foot in L.A. or Chicago or Boston, the warmth an American high schooler feels for his Japanese host family, the technological marvels that Japanese and American corporate partnerships unleash into our markets, the mind-bending discoveries of our researchers cooperating at the cutting edge of science, these are the experiences that underpin our shared success.

“For all the fundamentals that are already in place, however, we cannot rest. We have to keep building and looking for new opportunities. And we do that issue by issue and person by person. And I must say that for us in the State Department, few opportunities deliver the lifelong impressions and friendships as sending our young people to each other’s country to learn languages and cultures. And we are committed to ensuring that even more young people have that opportunity. More than 35,000 people have participated in exchange programs sponsored by our two governments, programs like the Fulbright and the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program, known as JET. More than 750 officials have taken part in government exchanges, and nearly 4,000 Japanese professionals have taken part in the International Visitor Leadership Program, including four prime ministers, a Nobel laureate, a best-selling author, and many thousands more.

“The simple truth is that these exchanges attract remarkable people and give them a global perspective. Japan’s first-ever female defense minister – you knew I’d have to get that in – is an alumnae of the U.S. International Visitor Leadership Program, and no less than four Nobel laureates from Japan are also Fulbright alums, and the CEO of Rakuten, whom I just met, who will be speaking from this very podium today, is a Harvard graduate.

“So although these ties have already benefited both of our nations, they are not self-sustaining. We have to continue to invest in them. And I’m a little concerned, which is why I wanted to raise this with all of you. As recently as 1997, Japan sent more students than any other country in the world to study in America. Today, Japan ranks sixth. In the last 14 years, the number of Japanese students studying in America has dropped by almost 50 percent. And we are committed to doing whatever it takes to try to reverse this trend. So we are redoubling our efforts to connect Japanese youth with American universities. We’re establishing new Educational USA Advising Centers throughout Japan to explain to Japanese students how to win admission and financial assistance. We are working to remind a new generation of Japanese business leaders how valuable it is to have employees who know both of our cultures. And we are mobilizing Americans in the JET network to convince more students to study in America. And in a tough budget environment, we are fighting to maintain the funding for our flagship programs, including the Fulbright program, which will send 100 talented Japanese and Americans to learn each other’s cultures in 2012. We are providing scholarships to the American Field Service and other organizations so that students from the prefectures hardest hit by the tsunami can spend part of next summer in America. And we are encouraging more Americans to study abroad in Japan, and we’re pleased that this number rose to more than 5,700 this past year.

“Now, we have seen how generations who study and live together give life to our alliance. We have seen how foreign visitors and overseas travel with all of its challenges in today’s world builds character and perspective. And it is inspiring to see what happens when our cultures do mix. Just last month, I met a group of Japanese little league baseball and softball players at the State Department. They were here through the U.S.-Japan Sport Visitor Exchange Program. It will not surprise you to hear that our sports exchange programs are our most popular exchange programs. And you should have seen the kids’ eyes light up as they met Cal Ripken, Jr., who was four times the size of anyone else in the room. (Laughter.) He hosted them in America and he will be giving youth baseball clinics across Japan next month. All of the kids who were there that day came from the areas hardest hit by the tsunami, and it was just a pure emotional high to see them in our country, some of whom who had lost family members, whose schools no longer existed, but who were just resilient and resourceful and determined to move with confidence into the future.”