Travel Diary: Secretary Clinton Participates in Lively Exchange with Audience in Malaysia

Posted by Scott Rauland
November 2, 2010
Secretary Clinton Conducts a \Townterview\ in Kuala Lumpur

About the Author: Scott Rauland serves as the Counselor for Public Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Nearly 500 students, faculty, NGO representatives, entrepreneurs and government officials packed the Banquet Hall at the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization (ISTAC) in Kuala Lumpur today to engage in a conversation with Secretary of State Clinton on themes ranging from women's empowerment, education, and entrepreneurship to Afghanistan and the prospects for peace in the Middle East.

During the "townterview,” Secretary Clinton was interviewed by two well-known journalists working for Malaysian TV conglomerate Media Prima and also entertained questions from the audience, both in person at the venue and remotely from Lincoln Corners at the Kuala Lumpur City Library and the State Library in Kuching, Sarawak (Malaysian Borneo), where groups had gathered to participate in the conversation via webchat.

Malaysian journalists have not had a great deal of experience conducting such public foreign policy conversations for worldwide viewing. Media Prima warmed up to the concept, however, and indicated that this might be a format they would like to utilize more often to promote discussion of important issues in this country.

The audience certainly loved listening to Secretary Clinton describe the challenges of her job and the accomplishments of the Obama Administration over the past two years. Amongst those attending was a student who had won a contest on U.S. Embassy Kuala Lumpur's Facebook page, which gave her a coveted spot at the event and the chance to ask the Secretary a two-part question on the U.S. and ASEAN and on the difficulty of women breaking through the glass ceiling in politics.

Asked what kind of advice she would give to women to inspire them, the Secretary replied, "Malaysian women are demonstrating unequivocally that the rights and roles of women are important for advancing society's growth and opportunities into the future. I am looking for more chances to set up exchanges between Malaysian women and American women, and the minister [Minister of Women, Family and Community Development Dato' Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil] and I have agreed to work on that." She added, “It is not possible in the 21st century to disenfranchise half of the population and expect that there will be progress for the next generation.”

The Secretary was also asked how Malaysia's role could expand in terms of being a close ally in the region, as compared to India or China. She replied that "Malaysia, both by geography, [its] economic dynamism, the role that Islam plays, which is a role that is not divisive as it is in some parts of the world, has a real opportunity to be a thought leader in a number of significant areas."

A major part of the conversation focused on relations between the West and Islam, and the Secretary was asked how the gulf between Islam and the West could be bridged. The Secretary replied that "the U.S. needs to do a better job, but so does the Muslim world in reaching out to one another.” She pointed out that, within any religion, the few who would exploit their faith for extremist purposes do not represent the vast majority of adherents to that religion, and she asked for more moderate voices to speak out and stress mutual respect and mutual understanding. The Secretary's comments on religion were featured in the first news reports on the event that were broadcast later that evening.

In response to a question about Muslim frustration with U.S. policy in the Middle East, Secretary Clinton provided a lengthy explanation of how much effort has been expended to resolve issues between Israel and Palestine. She said the United States was supportive of the Palestinians -- the U.S. is the top donor to the Palestinian Authority -- and backs the idea of a secure Israel living alongside a Palestinian state. She concluded by observing that "It is important for a country like Malaysia to support Palestinians in their state-building."

The event ended with the audience wishing there were more time, as they had many more questions to ask, and afterward ISTAC showed the very best of Malaysian hospitality by inviting all 500 guests to lunch amidst the beautiful surroundings of its campus.

This was Secretary Clinton's first-ever trip to Malaysia in any capacity, she is the first U.S. Secretary of State to make a bilateral visit to Malaysia since Warren Christopher visited Malaysia in 1995.

A transcript of Secretary Clinton's remarks at ISTAC is available here. Additional information about U.S.-Malaysia cooperation is available here.



Mike C.
United States
November 2, 2010

Mike C. in the U.S.A. writes:

As a travel writer that has made many trips to Malaysia, I have noticed the attitude towards empowered women has improved a lot over the past few years. It is visible in everyday life. I have had a few female friends from Malaysia write guest posts on my Travel Blog. While it has never been a topic of discussion, it is very noticeable in the over all sub text.

I am glad to see the the US government has taken a positive position in this.

South Korea
November 3, 2010

Palgye in South Korea writes:

SU-30, F/A18 and S

Nor T.
November 8, 2010

Arlene T. in Malaysia writes:

Hi Scott Rauland,

I was one of the audience that managed to ask Hillary Clinton questions (the Facebook Winner to be exact). I am thrilled to say that Hillary Clinton thus far has been the smartest politician I even seen, and the best part is she's a woman. The way she carried herself when answering even the most ridiculous question and turn it into something humorous and informative showed her excellent credibility and profundity in her job as a U.S. Secretary of State.

I deeply admire her as a role model among young people, especially women, encouraging them to actively participate in politics as well as other career pursuits, in a collective effort to break the glass ceiling. Talking abt having 'Skin as thick as a rhino', personally I believe it is a survival skills that every women need to learn, especially in a world where the media and society cruelly judge us women on how we should act, look, behave, become, etc. It is important in Malaysia for young women to be exposed to such programs and activities in building a stronger foundation of confidence and aspiration. I do hope one day Malaysia will have women as Prime Minister and other key ministerial posts like Education, Finance and Defense.
Definitely, We ought to learn a thing or two from Finland.



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