The below text is the opening remarks by ISC Executive Director Linda Butcher at the 2017 Trilateral Symposium that took place at The National Press Club on January 5, 2017
On behalf of International Student Conferences (ISC) we would like to express our gratitude to Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA and Korea Foundation for co-hosting this year’s Trilateral Symposium. It’s been an honor working with you and we look forward to seeing where today’s discussion leads.
This year’s theme: Mutual Understanding in a Time of Division brings us back to our roots as to why and how our two conferences were created.
The Japan-America Student Conference was created in 1934, when relations between Japan and America were in decline. Unsure and fearful that their two countries would go to war, students from America and Japan worked together to serve as a bridge of understanding and friendship across the Pacific.
Now 82+ years later, JASC continues to thrive and its mission continues to be just as significant today as when it was founded.
In 2008, ISC launched its second student-led conference: Korea-America Student Conference. Although US-Korea relations had been strong for decades, KASC was founded in a period when the alliance was facing several challenges and the need for improved cultural understanding and people-to-people diplomacy was vital in order to strengthen relations between the two countries.
Now ten years later, KASC has grown and evolved to identify and support future leaders who will continue serving as bridges and ambassadors for their countries.
So why are these conferences and Symposium still important?
As we hear again and again – U.S. relations with Japan and Korea are stronger than ever and they are America’s strongest allies in the region.
However, as we go into 2017, all three countries face many uncertainties and many challenges. There are fears that alliances and ties may be weakening. But alliances and ties are not only built by governments, their foundation is the people. Even now, as we hold this public symposium, the deputy Foreign Ministers of all three countries are holding their own trilateral talks. It would be unwise of us to think only the short-term, we must begin to pass the torch and begin preparing the next generation of US-Asia Pacific leaders.
In this week’s program, the 23 student Executive Committee Members of JASC and KASC met with the think tank community, government, media and opinion leaders. They held productive multi-generational conversations that focused on ways to overcome challenges facing the relationship. Conversations that we will continue having today.
I’m not going to lie, at times it was pretty sobering. But, these realistic conversations need to occur if we are to educate and support these students leaders who will continue serving as bridges between U.S. Japan and Korea.
What makes this week-long Symposium so unique is that it allows students leaders from all three countries to meet their counterparts, to meet people from countries that they may have never met before. To discuss what their government’s perspective is of the opposite country. And although we may read headlines and hear news that alliances may be weakening, I am hopeful and optimistic.
As I look at these student leaders, I see that whatever challenges our three countries may face, we have KASCers and JASCers who built long-lasting friendships that have and will persevere through any obstacles that come our way. If you believe I am painting a rosy color picture, I would recommend taking a look at the history of our Conferences and how it shaped the world views of our accomplished alumni.
Thus it is so important that we continue to carry our Conferences and Symposium, to provide opportunities for students to gain leadership skills, and to expose people to outside cultures in order to gain mutual understanding, friendship and trust between our three countries.