ANNAPOLIS – The struggle for democracy reminds us that strong alliances help prevent war, but we must be prepared to defend our interests, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told the Naval Academy’s Brigade of Midshipmen Tuesday.
Freedom must not be taken for granted, she said, adding that as Americans we must continue to carry the banner of leadership.
Albright, keynote speaker at the 37th annual Naval Academy Foreign Affairs Conference, spoke to 4,000 mids and their guests in Alumni Hall. Her speech was part of the four-day conference attended by nearly 200 student delegates from 100 different colleges and 18 foreign countries.
“The class that entered this Academy last fall will graduate in the year 2000. You will embark upon your careers of service at a time when America is strong, prosperous, respected and at peace,” Albright told them.
Albright highlighted East Asia because of its “dynamic economic growth, thriving new democracies and complex political and security challenges.”
There was some belief that after the Cold War Americans would retreat from the area, she noted. But “as President Clinton has repeatedly made clear, and as the U.S. Navy helps ensure, America is and will remain an Asia-Pacific power,” Albright said.
Pacific Rim nations can provide vital allies in the United States’ fight against “new global threats of proliferation, terrorism, illegal narcotics and the degradation of our environment,” she said.
But most important, Albright said, “we have an abiding interest as Americans in supporting democracy and respect for human rights in this, the most populous region of the world” — especially Japan, the Republic of Korea and China.
She made separate points about each nation in turn.
“U.S.-Japanese cooperation is for peace, for prosperity, for democracy and for economic and political development around the globe,” she said.
She noted that South Korea has gone in the past 40 years from an impoverished and war-ravaged area to a democracy with a healthy economy. As a result, it increases Asia’s strategic importance.
Meanwhile, the U.S. is also responding to North Korea’s needs — food shortages resulting largely from failed policies there. “We view the suffering as an humanitarian, not a political issue,” said Albright, who earlier Tuesday announced an additional $15 million U.S. contribution to the World Food Program.
China, said Albright, will play the largest role in shaping the course of the 21st century. “With its huge population and vast territory, China’s emergence as a modern, growing economic and military power is a major historical event,” she said.
In less than 90 days, Albright reminded the crowd, Hong Kong will revert to Chinese sovereignty.
Albright said that at a meeting on Monday she had assured Martin Lee, the leader of Hong Kong’s largest democratic party, that the U.S. is committed to continuing freedom and democracy in Hong Kong.
But the dawn of a new century carries no guarantees, she warned. Diplomats, sailors, marines and citizens all have the task of shaping the future and helping to defend freedom, Albright said.
“I have no doubt that in this shared task, we will prevail,” she concluded. -30-