Address at the Canada-Asia 2013 Conference
Vancouver, British Columbia, Tuesday, June 4, 2013
Good afternoon, everyone.
I’m happy to be in Vancouver and thrilled to be here with you at the annual conference of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.
I would like to acknowledge that we are on the traditional territory of the Coast Salish people.
I would like to thank the Canadians from across our vast land who have gathered at this vital forum. I would also like to send a special thank you and welcome to all of the international delegates for being here in Vancouver this week.
This city is an ideal spot for us to convene.
Vancouver is a prime destination for people from elsewhere in the region to enter Canada and a principal gateway for Canadians to travel across the sweeping expanse of the Pacific Ocean and into the many diverse countries that lay within it and along its Asian coastline.
In the early years of Canada’s existence, thousands of immigrants from throughout Asia-Pacific landed in this city and quickly began building and strengthening it and the country as a whole. Many of these men and women endured unspeakable hardships. Yet these new Canadians persevered. They raised families, started businesses, served in elected offices, helped settle those who followed and infused into this land the best of their customs and traditions, making the lives of all Canadians richer and more rewarding.
As a result of their effort, sacrifice and devotion, they made names such as Fu, Kim, Suzuki, Pagtakhan and Nguyen not simply Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Filipino and Vietnamese names. They made them truly Canadian names, too.
These trailblazers helped transform Vancouver, British Columbia and the rest of this country into a diverse and dynamic place. Frankly, I shudder at the thought of what this country would be like without these and other immigrants. It would be a narrower place in thought, outlook and spirit; a diminished country socially and culturally; and a dramatically less prosperous one.
Thankfully, many thousands of people from Asia-Pacific countries continue to add to our diversity and dynamism, coming to Canada via Vancouver to uncover business, academic and research possibilities.
The traffic, of course, is not one-way only. More and more each day, this city is the jumping off point into the Asia-Pacific region for thousands of Canadians eager to begin their own journeys of discovery.
The spirit of discovery unites all of us here today. Whether you are from Canada or from one of the more than two dozen Asia-Pacific countries, you are here this week to delve deeply into some of our greatest challenges and opportunities:
For example, how do we unleash the full potential of our trade relationships?
For example, how do we spur innovation and make sure our innovative advances move quickly from our labs and into our homes, schools and workplaces?
For example, how do we build more inclusive political and economic institutions that reflect the human worth and draw on the creative energies of all people?
For example, how do we use Asia’s massive pools of capital to bring about greater development and integration of our commercial markets?
For example, how do we incorporate tools and methods into our industries to make these industries environmentally sustainable and therefore viable well into the future?
Well, these are big questions. The answers we come up with will determine the future of our nations and our region. And finding those answers is beyond the capacity of our governments alone.
Within you lies a special responsibility to help all our peoples understand the major economic, political and social forces that are shaping us, and then to guide us in the most beneficial and profitable directions.
You are the brightest minds, hardest workers, most ambitious professionals your respective countries have produced.
You are business owners and executives, researchers and innovators, teachers and students, leaders of academic and philanthropic organizations who have studied and taught and worked for years on problems unique to Asian-Pacific nations.
Your extensive skills, knowledge and experiences give you the ability to look far into the distance. You can see much more clearly than the rest of your fellow citizens the obstacles that lie in our path. You can chart the best course for all to follow.
Yours is a weighty responsibility and a daunting task. Yet this gathering is precisely the approach to take to shoulder that responsibility and meet that task. What you practise at this conference is something I call the diplomacy of knowledge. It is our willingness and ability to work across borders and disciplines to uncover, share and refine knowledge.
The practice of the diplomacy of knowledge can be a powerful force in your efforts this week and beyond to respond to the challenges I have outlined.
Students of history appreciate that civilization’s greatest advances often came not wholly from within certain disciplines but at the intersections of different disciplines. While such interactions can be carried out locally and regionally within countries, they are most potent when we cross international borders to cultivate relationships among researchers, scientists, students, investors, entrepreneurs and policymakers from many countries.
I have just returned from a 10-day State visit to Ghana, Botswana and South Africa, where my wife, Sharon, and I, as well as members of the delegation, saw first-hand the diplomacy of knowledge in action.
Canadians and Africans are working across disciplines and borders to accelerate scientific research and development, to spread peace and enhance security, to make mining more environmentally and socially sustainable, to enhance the resilience and bounty of agricultural products, and to expand and improve health care services for vulnerable women and children.
Your presence at this conference shows me that you are all knowledge diplomats by inclination. To put your penchant for working across borders and disciplines to full use, I ask you to do two things.
First, make every effort to meet delegates from countries other than your own. We are drawn naturally to those who speak our language and share our customs. I urge you to overcome that temptation—get out of your comfort zones—and seek out new friendships and professional relationships with delegates from other countries.
This request is especially directed to the Canadians in this room, since more delegates are here from Canada than any other country.
Second, attend sessions other than those that relate directly to your interests and professions. Remember, the diplomacy of knowledge requires us to work across disciplines. Use your insights as a lawyer to influence the discussion on green energy. Share your experiences as an expert in international development to spur new thoughts about fostering innovation. Take your lifetime of study and work in urban planning and bring it to bear on nurturing larger, stronger middle classes in our countries.
Some of you may be thinking that I’m asking too much of you. That answering profound questions such as the ones I raised is simply beyond your practical reach. That some 400 people in one hotel over three days can have little impact on the future of a region made up of billions of people spread across half the globe. Let me respond to that thought with this brief story.
Many, many years ago, almost 30 years now, Mother Teresa—the famed nun who founded the Missionaries of Charity—came to Canada to share with Canadians the story of her work to help the dying, sick and destitute of Calcutta. I read an editorial in one of our country’s larger newspapers. It lauded her intentions yet despaired at the futility of her efforts. What was the point in helping mere hundreds of people in a city of millions in a country of hundreds of millions?
This opinion troubled me. I knew it was wrong, but I couldn’t put my finger on precisely the reason why until years later—at a children’s birthday party of all places. The star attraction of the party was a magician. He was really the dean of journalism at our local university. I was the dean of the law school.
Holding up a glass of water, the magician told the kids that he could turn water into wine. With his cape shielding their view but not mine, he pulled an eyedropper from his sleeve and squeezed a couple drops of red food colouring into the glass. He then turned around, swirled the water in the glass, and we all watched as it slowly changed from clear to cloudy red.
I realized then that the editorial writer misinterpreted Mother Teresa’s work. He approached it from a mathematical viewpoint when he should have seen it from its true perspective—chemistry.
Let me conclude by saying the value of our efforts centres not entirely on what we do, but in what our example inspires others to do. So think of your influence on your respective nations and our shared region from the perspective of chemistry, not mathematics. Use the principles of the diplomacy of knowledge to enliven and enrich your discussions this week.
When your work here is done, follow up on the insights you uncover. Nurture the relationships you build. Find ways to strengthen these bonds.
Most importantly, use those bonds to inspire and enable others to reach out to others in their own ways. Infuse others with the spirit of the diplomacy of knowledge. Arouse others to join you in uncovering solutions to the great challenges we face. And then together, all the people in all of our lands can truly build the smart, caring nations and the smart, caring Asia-Pacific of which we dream.