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Bill Clinton's Remarks at the Asia Society Annual Dinner 2003

William J. Clinton, 42nd President of the United States of America

William J. Clinton, 42nd President of the United States of America

But there is still no systematic effort to deal with this there. If you think it’s a problem that Africa has twenty-nine million of the forty-two million cases, and you realize that in China AIDS started in the rural areas, which made for horrible, horrible gripping stories, but limited the number of people who had it, and that in India it’s just beginning, I think it is perfectly clear that AIDS is sort of the iceberg threatening to crash the ship of Asia’s forward progress. And so I think that we need to, all of us, do more on that. President Bush has proposed to triple the amount of money the United States is spending on AIDS. And I think that’s a very, very important step. He wants to ratchet up, over the next few years, from spending a billion dollars a year to spending three billion dollars a year. But I think it’s worth pointing out that the proposal is to spend two point eight billion a year when we’re fully funded on twelve African countries and two Caribbean countries unilaterally. And we’ll do a lot of good in those countries, but we would only provide two hundred million dollars to the global fund on AIDS, TB, and Malaria, which the Secretary General Kofi Anan says needs ten billion dollars.

Our fair share of that would be somewhere between two and two and a half billion dollars. And I think we should spend more of our money through the global fund for two reasons. One is, AIDS cannot be attacked in isolation from other infectious diseases, especially TB. Last year, three million people in the world died of TB, and a million people died of malaria. And the more the climate warms, the more people will get malaria who will not be able to handle it, at higher and higher altitudes. And AIDS is a problem in more than those fourteen countries. So, I hope in the Congressional debates that the money figure will stay the same, but at least somewhere that money will go through he global fund. And since it directly effects Asia, which gets no money out of this present proposal, I hope that those of you in this room, whether you’re Republicans or Democrats, will urge the Congress to consider putting some more of that money through the global fund. It could have a huge impact in Asia. [APPLAUSE]

In that regard, I want to say a special thank you to Dick Holbrooke, who, in addition to doing the Asia Society, has worked enormously hard to try to get the business community all around, in America, that operate in other countries, to do its part, particularly in Africa. There is a lot more we can do. Same argument, by the way, applies to education. There are still a hundred and thirty million children who aren't in school. A lot of them are in Asia. Never go to school at all. But we know how to get them in school. In my last year as President, we got about three hundred million dollars to offer a nutritious meal to children once a day, but only if they came to school to get the meal. And enrollments exploded in the countries that participated.

I think we ought to fund another round of debt relief, and focus it on the countries that may have been too wealthy to get the first round of debt relief, but have significant health care problems, for example. Because if the savings all go into health care and education, you get a huge return. I think we should continue to open our markets to more and more poor countries. It’s one of the reasons I was so insistent on getting this trade agreement with Vietnam before I left office, and why I was thrilled, even though it’s not a poor country, I was pleased that President Bush concluded the agreement that we started with Singapore. I think this whole thing is very, very important. And I think sometimes we forget how much education and health care and economics have to do with our security as well as our economic well being.

When we gave global debt relief, I’ll just give you a couple of examples, Honduras used its savings to go from six to nine years of mandatory schooling. Now, they’ve had a lot of trouble in Honduras in the last twenty years, but they’re not mad at us anymore, because we helped their kids get an education. When we passed the trade bill for Africa and the Caribbean, I was in Ghana a few months ago, and I was on the way to the airport, and a woman started screaming to me as I was walking toward my plane, President Clinton, don’t go, don’t go. And I turned around, she was waving this package, and she came up to me and she said, I'm one of four hundred women who work in a factory making shirts, we’ve all got jobs because of your African trade bill. So here is your shirt. [LAUGHTER] And I figured what the heck. I’m not in office anymore. I took the shirt. [LAUGHTER]

I want to make a serious point. I put that shirt in a place in my house where I have to look at it every single day. Because it reminds me that that woman is not mad at you, and she doesn’t want her children to be terrorists, or fight in African tribal wars. She desperately wants her children to be free of AIDS, she wants them to go to school. Why? Because she thinks America wanted her to share in a common future. We have to get that message out all across Asia. And I think that’s very, very important.

The final point I want to make is that, OK, so we need a security strategy, and then we need a strategy to get globalization right. Not just economics and military cooperation. Final point I want to make may be the most important of all, and this is sort of where you come in, and that is that all these rational arguments are fine, but there are a lot of emotional and built in political interests that will always make the kinds of things that we advocate at these forums difficult to achieve. I mean, China, as Elisabeth was saying to me, China finally [came] across with more openness on SARS than they had shown on AIDS when it obvious that the economic impact of it was going to be disastrous unless we figured out how to deal with it. So, it takes time to develop the habits of cooperation, and the habits of openness, and the kind of institutional cooperation that I believe will be absolutely necessary to have the kind of world that we want in the twenty-first century. I think we’re going to have to work very hard to sustain moderate Muslim societies. I think we have to send the signal day in and day out, not only from America, but from non-Muslim Asian countries that we have no quarrel with Islam, and that they can have an honored place in the integrated global community we seek to build. I think that we have a special problem with Iran, and a special opportunity. I had hoped that when I was president the reform forces in Iran would go strong enough that we would actually have some direct contact with them.

And I tried to do what I could. I made a direct, public apology for the role the United States played in the 1950’s in the Cold War in disrupting Iran’s progress toward constitutional democracy. When President Khatami talked to the UN in 2000 I went to the American delegation and sat there and listened to his speech. They sent us some positive signals, but ultimately they were not ready to talk to us. But the transition is fascinating. I mean, we know the vast majority of Iran’s people, without regard to their age, want to live according to a rule of law. They want to be part of a global community. The reform candidates got seventy percent of the vote in their 2000 elections. In fact, listen to this, Iran has now had six elections in a row: two for local government, two for the parliament, two for the presidency. Six elections in a row. And in all six elections, the reformers got seventy percent of the vote. There is not another nation on the face of the earth that can make that claim. And as a Democrat, I’m sort of jealous of them in that regard.