On April 27, President Obama hosted a town hall to launch the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) at Malaya University in Kuala Lumpur with over 500 young Southeast Asian leaders from all ten member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). In his remarks, President Obama urged ASEAN students and young professionals to be “part of the solution” by staying connected with one another. Underscoring the U.S. government’s commitment to youth he said, “Today I am proud that we’re launching a new Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative to increase and enhance America’s engagement with young people across the region. You’re part of this new effort. You’re the next generation of leaders - in government, in civil society, in business and the arts.” He noted that in the next few months, the United States is going to listen to young people across Southeast Asia about their ideas and the partnerships we can build together to empower their efforts, develop new exchanges, and connect young Southeast Asian leaders with young Americans.
President Obama announced the start of YSEALI last December by video message to participants at the LEAD ASEAN Youth Summit in Manila. Recognizing that over 65 percent of people in the region are under the age of 35, the President prioritizes engagement with Southeast Asian youth as a part of the United States’ strategic rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region. Through YSEALI, the United States is emphasizing the positive change youth in Southeast Asia can make in their communities. The key issues young Southeast Asian leaders have identified for the region include economic development, environmental protection, education, and civic engagement.
In a nearly ninety-minute exchange, President Obama also reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to the rebalance to Asia by outlining why the region is so important, particularly Southeast Asia. He noted that the ten ASEAN nations are home to one in ten of the world’s population, together form the seventh largest economy in the world, the fourth largest market for the American exports, and the number one destination for American investment in Asia. He affirmed that the United States wants to make the Asia Pacific region more prosperous, green and secure. And he told young leaders throughout Southeast Asia that it’s going to depend on their generation to build the future, advising them to “be on the side of politics that bring people together rather than drives them apart.”
Young Southeast Asian Leaders who attended the YSEALI town hall are also the first to participate in YSEALI Talks through their own on-line videos with the hashtag #YSEALITalks. YSEALI Talks is a forum for YSEALI members to share ideas, initiatives, and innovations in response to shared ASEAN challenges.
About the Author: David Allen serves in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs' Office of Public Diplomacy.
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