For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 1, 2008
President Bush Celebrates Asian Pacific American Heritage Month
2:53 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all. Please be seated. Thank you. Good afternoon. Welcome to the White House. The East Room is a fitting place to celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. I say fitting because in 1860, this was where James Buchanan first -- became the first President to receive an official delegation from Japan. It was a great meeting -- except for one slight wrinkle. The interpreter the Japanese brought with them couldn't speak English. (Laughter.) So he translated Japanese into Dutch -- (laughter) -- and then another interpreter translated Dutch into English. (Laughter.) I thought that was pretty interesting. People say when I speak, it sounds like Japanese translated into Dutch translated to English. (Laughter.) I'm just upholding a diplomatic tradition. (Laughter.)
During Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, we honor citizens whose families have come from halfway around the world, but who are now an integral part of America. I want to thank former Secretary and my dear friend Norm Mineta, who, when he was in Congress -- (applause) -- when he was in Congress introduced legislation that led to this celebration. And I thank each of you for coming to be a part of it.
Madam Secretary, we're proud you're here. Elaine Chao has been a member of my Cabinet since day one, and I think America is better off for it. So thank you for coming. (Applause.) Members of Congress, Congressman Wu, thank you for being here, sir. Members of my administration, I'm glad you all are here. Members of the diplomatic corps, it's so kind of you to take time out of your day to come. We got veterans here and, of course, members of the United States military. Proud to call you Commander-in-Chief, and thank you for being here today. (Applause.)
More than 15 million Americans claim Asian or Pacific ancestry. They make America's culture more vibrant, and we're a better place -- and a more lively place, I might add -- from Songkran celebrations in Los Angeles to Chinese New Year parties in Chicago to Diwali festivals right here at the White House. (Applause.) Asian Pacific Americans make our country more competitive. It turns out there's a great entrepreneurial streak that runs throughout the citizens whom we honor today. Small business owners all over America are creating new jobs and are living the dream. They enrich America because of their love for America.
Many Asians have settled in this country after fleeing oppressive regimes. They looked at America as a hopeful place. They include the Boat People of Vietnam, men and women who escaped the Killing Fields of Cambodia, those who endured the Cultural Revolution in China, and victims of the regime in North Korea.
America must always remember that we are a place of hope and freedom for people who live in oppressive societies. Throughout the Asian American community, there is a special appreciation of liberty known only to those who have been denied it. If you've been denied freedom, if freedom is something you long for, you understand how to treasure it. Asian Americans are committed to advancing the cause of freedom -- I can't thank you enough for that -- both in their ancestral nations, and in our own.
Together we work to expand economic freedom and prosperity in the Asian Pacific region. It's in our interest that we enter to trading agreements with nations throughout the world, starting with South Korea. I negotiated a free trade agreement last June with South Korea. This agreement is going to create opportunities for American businesses and workers. It will increase trade between our countries by about $17 billion. It's going to strengthen America's relationship with one of our closest, closest allies. When President Lee visited the United States a few weeks ago, I promised him that I would encourage Congress in as many ways as I could to get this agreement passed, that I would work hard to remind people that this is a mutually beneficial agreement. The Asian community efforts have supported free trade agreements throughout the Asian Pacific area, and I want to thank you for working to educate members of Congress about why we ought to improve [sic] this agreement as soon as possible.
We're working to increase security and reduce the threats to freedom in the Asia Pacific region. Thank you for coming, Chris Hill. He's very much involved in what we've called the six-party talks, which is where we've joined with Korea and Japan and Russia and China to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program. Nations have come together to send a clear message that it's important to abandon those nuclear weapons ambitions. We want a Korean Peninsula that is nuclear weapons-free.
We've put together what's called the Proliferation [sic] Security Initiative. It works with more than 85 countries -- including many in the Asia Pacific region -- to stop the shipment of the world's most dangerous weapons. In other words, this is a quest for security and freedom, and we're working with nations all throughout the world, including those in the Asian Pacific region, to protect our peoples from the true threats of the 21st century. We're working with Pakistan and Indonesia and Malaysia and the Philippines and other partners -- and Singapore and other partners -- to dismantle terrorist networks and to combat the ideology of the extremists.
You can always defeat an ideology of hate with an ideology of hope, and there's nothing more hopeful than a system based upon human rights and human dignity and a system based upon the freedom for people to worship and speak their minds freely.
We're working with India to promote democracy and the peace it yields throughout the continent. We're working together to extend the hope of liberty throughout Asia. I know you share my concerns about the situation in Tibet. I welcome the recent statements by the Chinese government expressing its willingness to meet with representatives of the Dalai Lama -- precisely what I have suggested President Hu Jintao do. I think it's important that there be a renewed dialogue, and that dialogue must be substantive so we can address the real way -- can address in a real way the deep and legitimate concerns of the Tibetan people.
In Burma, the brutal military regime continues to reject the clear will of the Burmese people to live under leaders of their own choosing. So over the past eight months, my administration has tightened sanctions on the regime. We've imposed visa bans on the junta's generals and their families and their cronies, trying to send a clear message -- and we hope the rest of the world follows as well. Today I've issued a new executive order that instructs the Treasury Department to freeze the assets of Burmese state-owned companies that are major sources of funds that prop up the junta. These companies, in industries such as gems and timber, exploit the labor of the downtrodden Burmese people, but enrich only the generals.
And today I'm sending yet another clear message, that we expect there to be change and we expect these generals to honor the will of the people.
We're are also working to address the humanitarian crisis in Burma. The U.S. has resettled tens of thousands of Burmese refugees in the last few years, and this year we expect to admit as many as 18,000 more. Last December, I signed legislation to ease restrictions that have prevented ethnic minorities involved in the struggle against the Burmese regime from entering the United States. And I applaud the Asian Americans who have helped these refugees get settled once they come to the United States of America. It's got to be hard to come here not knowing the language. It's got to be hard to come here as a stranger. And I thank those of you and those around the country who have opened up their arms and said, welcome to America; how can we help you settle in? I urge others, especially those who share the customs of these newest Asian Americans, to help them feel at home here in their adopted country.
We're working together to strengthen our partnership with Japan, which is really one of the great success stories of freedom. Six decades ago, my dad fought the Japanese. They were the sworn enemy of the United States of America. And now his son sits down with the Prime Ministers of Japan talking about how to keep the peace. Isn't that interesting? What a great irony it is, that the father served to fight, and the son serves to work with the Prime Minister of the former enemy to keep the peace. Freedom is transformative. Freedom and democracy are powerful instruments of change.
The lesson learned in this example is one that we can apply elsewhere around the world to yield the peace that we all want. And this friendship was made possible by Americans who understood the power -- the transformative power of freedom years ago. I wasn't the first person to think of that. Fortunately, predecessors of mine understood with great faith that freedom is universal, that freedom is widespread, that people long to be free, and if given the chance to be free, peaceful societies develop.
With us today are veterans from the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. This was a segregated Army unit composed mostly of volunteers recruited from internment camps in the United States. Isn't that interesting? People whose love of the country was such that they were able to overcome the bitterness of being interned by a country they called home, and they were willing to put on the uniform; and not only put on the uniform -- they served America with distinction in eight battle campaigns in Europe. In 1945, members of the 442nd helped liberate the concentration camp at Dachau. They went from an intern camp to wear the uniform of the United States Army, to liberate camps in Europe.
Yet the 442nd is best known for their mission to rescue the trapped soldiers of the Texas National Guard's "lost battalion." A lot of Texans thanking you guys for that, by the way. (Laughter.) In the mountains of Eastern France, the 442nd went up against the heavily entrenched Germans and suffered devastating casualties. But their courage saved more than 200 of their brothers. Their valor helped earn them several Presidential Unit Citations, and helped make their unit one of the most highly decorated in U.S. military history. Their sacrifice earns the gratitude of the nation they defended -- an attitude we express today to the men of the 442nd. Thank you for coming. (Applause.)
I do want to point out one soul who's joined us -- and Ben is not going to be happy about it, Ben Kuroki. He probably doesn't want to be called out but I'm going to do it anyway, Ben. I got the podium and you don't. (Laughter.)
Two days after Pearl Harbor, Ben volunteered to join the Army, where there is no doubt he met prejudice at nearly every turn. Still, he became one of the few "Nisei" admitted to the Army Air Corps. He flew 58 missions over Europe and Japan, and he earned three Distinguished Flying Crosses. When he came back home, he turned to another mission: working to overcome the intolerance he had experienced during his early days in the Army. Ben edited newspapers. He spoke to audiences around the country. He became a strong advocate of racial equality. He knew something -- and he knew the subject well, unfortunately. Sixty years after the Japanese surrender, Ben received the U.S. Army Distinguished Service Medal. And at the ceremony, here's what he said: "I had to fight like hell to fight for my country -- and now I feel completely vindicated."
We are glad you feel vindicated, but I am proud to tell you America is a better place because of you, Ben. Thank you for coming. (Applause.)
And so during Asia Pacific American Heritage Month, we thank you all for helping make America a better place. We thank you for loving our country the way you do. Thank you for being great contributors to the life of our fellow citizens.
We ask for God's continued blessings on you, your family, and all the citizens of our great land. Thanks for coming. God bless. (Applause.)
END 3:08 P.M. EDT