Pandemics, Partnerships and the Promotion of Democracy

Paula J. Dobriansky at FPC briefing
Paula J. Dobriansky at FPC briefing

Remarks by Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs Paula J. Dobriansky

Asia Society, New York

Thank you Jamie for that kind introduction. It is a pleasure to be with you today. Congratulations to the Asia Society on fifty years of successfully promoting greater knowledge and understanding among the peoples of Asia and the United States. Asia is one of the most dynamic regions of the world today. Our ties are both broad and deep – thanks in part to your diligent efforts.

In his recent speech to the Asia Society, President Bush observed that “Fifty years ago, there were only a handful of democracies in Asia; today there are nearly a dozen. Fifty years ago, most of Asia was mired in hopeless poverty; today its economies are engines of prosperity. These changes have been dramatic,” President Bush continued, “and as the Asian continent grows in freedom and opportunity, it will be a source of peace and stability and prosperity for all the world.”

As Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs, I am responsible for the handling of a number of transnational issues impacting Asia, including avian flu, the Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, and democracy.

Avian Influenza

Over the past year, the growing threat posed by avian flu has come to the forefront of policy-making in many Asian countries. A recent CNN/TIME survey of 66 Asian nations identified avian flu as their foremost global concern in 2006 -- even more than economic slowdown, terrorism, AIDS, or environmental issues. The current avian flu threat comes from the H5N1 strain, which was first transferred from birds to humans in 1997 and 2003 in Hong Kong. It has started to spread rapidly and widely, first throughout Asia in 2005, and more recently, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, totaling now over 45 countries. Since 1997, almost 200 people have contracted the virus, and more than half have died.

While the current strain does not allow for efficient human to human transmission, we are concerned that it can mutate to evoke rapid human to human transmission. This would be catastrophic to the health, security and economies of nations throughout Asia, and around the globe. Our challenge is to take specific actions to prevent such an outbreak, and to be prepared to address the threat as a global community.

In September 2005, at the opening of the UN General Assembly, President Bush announced the International Partnership on Avian and Pandemic Influenza, a network of over 90 countries and 9 international organizations, including the World Health Organization (WHO), Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), and OIE (World Animal Health Organization). The partnership is built on a set of core principles for action – including a common commitment to transparency in reporting, immediate sharing of viral samples, and rapid response to handling outbreaks of Avian Influenza. Last October, the United States, hosted the first meeting of the Partnership to identify concrete actions that countries could take to improve preparedness and communication, surveillance and detection, and response and containment.

The shared threat of avian flu has generated unprecedented cooperation among most Asian countries. The region’s recent experience with SARS - which killed nearly 700 people and caused more than $80 billion in damage worldwide - underscores the importance of decisive action and effective multilateral cooperation.

In cooperation with the WHO and FAO, as well as bilaterally, we are working closely with countries throughout Asia to build avian flu handling- related capacity, increase reporting, ensure scientific cooperation, and enhance overall preparedness.

During January’s International Pledging Conference on Avian and Pandemic Influenza in Beijing, the United States announced $334 million to support international programs -- the largest contribution to the nearly $1.9 billion pledged.

Regionally, we are participating in Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) initiatives to inventory regional experts on avian flu; to launch a region-wide tabletop exercise; to hold a Symposium on Emerging Infectious Diseases to be held in Beijing this month; and to hold workshops on risk communication and assessing pandemic preparedness plans. We also have joined Indonesia and Singapore in establishing a model avian influenza-free province in Tamarang, Indonesia, to develop best practices to prevent infection and spread of avian influenza in both animals and humans.

Bilaterally, we committed $18.4 million last year to improve surveillance, preparedness, response, and communications in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Indonesia -- the most affected countries in Southeast Asia. In Vietnam, we are working closely with the international donor community to restructure the poultry industry and develop a human vaccine. We are assisting Laos and Cambodia to build their essential capacity and infrastructure to combat an avian influenza outbreak. The U.S. Naval Medical Research Unit-2 (NAMRU-2) lab in Jakarta is augmenting that country’s surveillance and diagnostic capabilities.

We are working with China to strengthen vaccine development, disease surveillance and rapid response and pandemic planning through the U.S.-China Joint Initiative on Avian Influenza. The CDC is providing technical training in Bangladesh throughout its 64 districts, and we are funding the WHO to support bird surveillance in Nepal.

Businesses in the region have also played a pivotal role. As part of my visit to Southeast Asia last October to discuss avian flu, WHO Director General Lee and I met with the Singapore chapter of the American Chamber of Commerce. I was impressed by the level and extent of planning underway. Many company representatives described their plans to have employees telecommute to work during an outbreak and how they would ensure continuity of operations, including funding alternative ways to transport goods and services.

In fact, a recent New York Times article reported Southeast Asian corporations are better prepared than ours. A survey of corporate officials found most had someone in charge of avian influenza policy; 60 percent had clearly defined plans. On the other hand, a survey done by Deloitte & Touche of U.S. business leaders, found that most had appointed no one to be in charge of policy, and two-thirds had not prepared adequately.

Clean Development and Climate Change

Another issue of importance to the Asia Pacific region is the integrated decision-making among three key policy areas -- energy, development and the environment. The East-Asia Pacific region alone accounts for one quarter of global GDP. Eight out of the world’s ten fastest growing economies are found in Asia. This economic growth is beneficial -- it reduces poverty, increases longevity, and improves living conditions.

However, rapid economic growth also presents challenges. The manner in which these burgeoning Asian countries meet their water and energy needs, protect their citizens’ health, use their resources, and preserve the integrity of their natural environments is an issue of critical importance not just to the region, but to the global community.

Responses to these challenges should not be to limit the very economic dynamism that is lifting so many countries out of poverty. The development and adoption of cleaner energy technologies is an effective approach that will sustain economic growth, while protecting the environment and enhancing energy security. During last year’s G8 Summit in Gleneagles, G8 leaders agreed to such an approach and produced an action plan for meeting these shared objectives.

Congress, through the Energy Policy Act of 2005, called for renewed efforts to help developing countries power their growing economies with cleaner energy technologies. The Administration is responding by launching the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, a major new initiative of six nations -- Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and the United States. Together, these nations represent about half of the world's economy, population and energy use.

This voluntary Partnership is designed to accelerate the development and deployment of cleaner, more efficient technologies in order to reduce pollution, mitigate climate change, and enhance energy security through public-private sector collaboration. It focuses on the development and commercialization of transformational low and zero emissions energy technologies. As Secretary Rice has said, “Everyone has something to contribute. Everyone stands to gain. And together we represent a powerful force for positive change.”

The Partnership has identified eight areas for cooperation: cleaner use of fossil energy; renewable energy and distributed generation; power generation and transmission; aluminum; steel; cement; buildings and appliances; and finally, mining. Partner countries will meet in two weeks to begin drafting a detailed plan to carry out an ambitious agenda in each of these areas.

The President’s FY07 budget requests $52 million for this initiative, which complements the nearly $3 billion spent annually by the U.S. to develop and deploy clean energy technologies. The private sector also plays a critical role in the Partnership. Participation by corporate global leaders in the energy sector is key, since they account for a good portion of the world's industrial production and power generation. We are working with business leaders from all the partner countries to deploy the best technologies and practices to lower the cost of production, reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and develop and bring to the marketplace the next generation of clean energy technologies. In so doing, we will protect Asia’s future economic growth, energy security, and the environment.

Democracy

Asia is home to a range of vibrant democratic experiences. There is, for example, India, an economic powerhouse and the world’s largest democracy.

In addressing the Asia Society, President Bush highlighted the Global Democracy Initiative, a partnership between India and the United States to further democracy and development around the world. As part of this initiative, India and the United States have made significant financial contributions, $10 million each, to the United Nations Democracy Fund. The Fund will provide grants to governments, civil institutions, and international organizations to help administer elections, fight corruption, and build the rule of law in emerging democratic nations. During the President’s visit to India in February, our nations agreed to cooperate with Hungary’s International Center for Democratic Transition (ICDT) on democracy promotion activities.

At the other end of the spectrum are Burma and North Korea. In Burma, rather than respond to the international community’s growing concerns, the military junta has instead become more intransigent. Besides keeping Aung San Suu Kyi, the courageous leader of the National League for Democracy, under house arrest, the regime is also condemning the Burmese people to repression, brutality and neglect, and subjecting its neighbors to disease, narcotics and staggering outflows of refugees.

Meanwhile, North Korea is one of the world’s most closed countries. During the 1990’s, millions of North Koreans starved to death and countless others confined to languish in a massive network of prison camps. Religious faith is severely suppressed and its people have one of the lowest standards of living in the world. In its assessment of political rights and civil liberties, Freedom House gives North Korea the lowest possible score on both counts. Those who have fled North Korea—estimates in the tens of thousands —also face peril.

Last year, President Bush appointed a Special Envoy for Human Rights in North Korea, whose work is to improve respect for the fundamental human rights of the people of North Korea.

T he United States is devoting significant attention to its relationship with China. As Deputy Secretary Zoellick noted last September, “It is time to take our policy beyond opening doors to China’s membership into the international system: We need to urge China to become a responsible stakeholder in that system.”

China and the United States face many common challenges -- regional and global, economic and political, social and environmental. We are encouraged by – and welcome -- growing positive engagement by China on important issues such as North Korea, peacekeeping, and energy.

Indeed, we are cooperating with China in many ways. Deputy Secretary Zoellick inaugurated a Senior Dialogue with China. I co-chair the U.S.-China Global Issues Forum in which our two countries address common global challenges and areas for cooperation such as sustainable development; humanitarian assistance, poverty alleviation, development financing; law enforcement; and public health. 

But clearly, we have differences with China as well. As it grows in power, China must also grow as a responsible global leader. As President Bush said in Kyoto last November “b y meeting the legitimate demands of its citizens for freedom and openness, China's leaders can help their country grow into a modern, prosperous, and confident nation.” We would welcome progress with respect to political prisoners, freedom of press, and freedom of worship. Issues such as these must remain on the agenda and be resolved even as we recognize our expanding sphere of common interests. We are encouraged that dialogue between the Chinese and the Dalai Lama’s envoys is underway, and hope to witness concrete results in the near term.

Conclusion

All of these issues – avian influenza, clean energy technologies, democracy – are central to Asia’s economic and stability. The US Government is actively addressing all these areas, and more, through robust, results-oriented programs.

But we know we cannot build better relations with Asia alone. We rely on the key role of the private sector -- businesses, civil society, educators, scientists and artists. We rely on the Asia Society, with its long history of fostering understanding between the United States and all the countries of Asia.

For that, and the opportunity to speak to you today, I thank you. And I wish you all success in the fifty years to come.