U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy R. Sherman: Indo-Pacific Strategy and the pivotal role of the youth


U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy R. Sherman began her four-day visit to Vietnam with a trip to Fulbright University Vietnam, where she remarked on the Indo-Pacific strategy and extended the conversation with Fulbright students on her trust and optimism in the young generation.

Watch the full event on YouTube at:  

As the world is gradually recovering from the pandemic, health is not the only challenge that we are facing – climate crisis, security, and global health security are only the tip of the iceberg as we start to count the challenges of our time. These global challenges call for global efforts, in which the involvement of the young generation plays a key role. Henceforth, the State Department delegation chose Fulbright University Vietnam to be their first stop in Vietnam, where Ms. Sherman was once again reaffirmed of her belief in young people for their skills, drive, vision, and passion – those exhibited through Fulbright students’ engagement at the event.

During this special trip visiting four Asian countries to reiterate the U.S.’s long-term commitment to the Indo-Pacific region, Deputy Secretary Sherman expressed the Department of State’s support for ASEAN centrality in all efforts to tackle the century’s challenges.

“Nothing is more important than people-to-people ties”

Through five main pillars of the U.S.’s Indo-Pacific Strategy: (1) building a free and open Indo-Pacific, (2) forging interconnectivity and collective capacity, (3) driving Indo-Pacific prosperity, (4) bolstering Indo-Pacific security, and (5) building regional resilience, people-to-people ties are echoed as the most important element.

I think nothing is more important than people-to-people ties. That is how we come to understand each other. That is how we come to share ideas with each other and encourage each other, and even compete with each other to get to innovations, changes, and solutions to tough problems.” – H.E. Ms. Wendy Sherman remarked.

Uniting over the common vision towards a prosperous future for the region, the U.S. and ASEAN tie were recently elevated to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership through the historic U.S. – ASEAN Special Summit in Washing DC a few weeks ago.

The US’s support for ASEAN centrality was expressed through multiple funds and projects, for example, a $150-million fund was announced to ASEAN for initiatives going forward to expand cooperation on maritime security, digital economy, environmental protection, clean energy, and people-to-people exchanges. And particularly to Vietnam, a $5.3-billion project was launched to build the first utility-scale battery energy storage system at a solar farm in the central of our country.

“Each ASEAN member has to decide on its future and how it wants to proceed forward.  We want to support ASEAN in every way we can to build that strong, vibrant future so that the Indo-Pacific can be free, independent, open interconnected and prosperous.” – the Deputy Secretary added.

“Petri dishes for thinking ideas”

Putting the focal point on people-to-people connectivity for the bilateral cooperation towards a shared mission, the US highly regards the investment in human capital development and youth empowerment. In the race to innovative solutions for critical challenges, it is vital to increase access to quality education while cultivating collaboration and exchanges among students across the globe. That is the reason why the US International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) is financing a $37 million investment for Fulbright University Vietnam’s flagship campus in Saigon High Tech Park. The Deputy explained: “Fulbright University Vietnam is critical not only in the development of students here but in the conversations that you can have with students not only in the United States but everywhere around the world.”

The interest in Vietnamese youth is not one that just arises overnight but rather has been fostered since 1994 with the Fulbright Economics Teaching Program (the precedent of Fulbright School of Public Policy and Management) – the seeds for today’s Fulbright University Vietnam. Among the tremendous progress that has been made throughout the last 27 years since the normalization of the relationship between our two countries, the University grows to become the epitome of the U.S. – Vietnam partnership.

While representing the State Department, Deputy Secretary Sherman personally has also been playing a key role in Fulbright development, and most recently, witnessed the establishment of the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) Academy at Fulbright University Vietnam. Proudly supporting this project, Ms. Sherman assessed: “These are all people-to-people exchanges and networks that help people move ahead.  It is those networking opportunities that also give you the support system and the courage to perhaps try projects that you might not otherwise have tried.

“Universities like this, are the petri dishes, for thinking of ideas and imagining what that future might be. And beginning to think about how to embrace it, build it, and ensure your own prosperity and future. So, I’m thrilled to be here.”

“You have a lot of power!”

Ms. Sherman shared that she found inspiration and optimism in the world from engaging with young people because they are endlessly creative about solving different challenges. Prior to becoming the first female Deputy Secretary of State, she was a professor teaching at the Harvard Kennedy School and running the Center for Public Leadership, where she was regularly getting boosts of vibrant energy from interacting with the students.

Although Ms. Sherman is now back to serving her country and no longer an active professor, she still gave students in the audience an assignment, which is to think about the future they want to create for themselves, as well as for generations to come. Placing this conversation at Fulbright University Vietnam, where two-thirds of the student body is female and come from diverse backgrounds across the country, Ms. Sherman becomes an admirable role model not only for her great accomplishments but also for her inspirational and encouraging speech.

Recognizing that there are still gender biases and stereotypes, especially against Asian women, the Deputy Secretary urged the bright young women to have confidence in themselves in order to reach their fullest potential. She cited the renowned Hewlett-Packard study showing the disparity between men’s and women’s confidence when applying for jobs: men believe they can apply to a job if they have 60% of the qualifications, whereas women believe they need 100% to even consider applying. “Be like those guys,” she said to the women, “take the job, do the 60% you know and learn the other 40% on the go.”

Though time was finite, Deputy Secretary Sherman left the audience deeply inspired: “You have a lot of power. Own it and use it for good. You’ll do great.”

Bảo Trâm



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