…It is an honor to mark World Wildlife Day here today with the launch of Operation Game Change. It is a pleasure to do so alongside Minister Cao Đức Phát from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Vice Minister Bùi Cách Tuyến from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, colleagues from the Diplomatic Corps, and other distinguished guests.
Wildlife protection is something that President Obama cares deeply about, as do I. I firmly believe we must pass on a natural world to our children that is as rich and diverse as the one we enjoy today. The recent explosion of wildlife trafficking is threatening this future, however. It truly pains me to think about the type of world I might be passing on to my child given current trends. It is a future in which rhinos no longer fill the plains of South Africa and tigers no longer roam the world’s forests.
There is more to the story, though, than just protecting the endangered species of the world and the places they live in. Reducing wildlife trafficking is also about protecting national security. Wildlife crime is undermining the rule of law in all of our countries, the United States and Vietnam included. It is funding criminal networks.
The same criminals that are illegally transporting wildlife around the world are also trafficking people, guns, and narcotics across our borders. The illegal trade is also helping fuel terrorist activity. Some experts estimate wildlife trafficking to be a $20 billion a year criminal operation.
Stopping this tide of criminal activity requires collaborative actions and cooperation among governments as well as civil society, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector. That is why we have invited all of you here today. Many of you are already very active in protecting the world’s wildlife, and I’m positive that together we can make a difference for future generations.
As most of you know, we are celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and Vietnam this year. It is an excellent opportunity to deepen our two countries’ Comprehensive Partnership. Looking forward to the next twenty years, perhaps there is no other area with as much potential for closer cooperation as reducing wildlife crime, in addition to environmental protection and combating climate change. Together we have a chance to make real and lasting impact on an issue of global importance. To achieve this, we are synching U.S. priorities with the priorities Prime Minister Dung spelled out in his landmark Directive on wildlife trafficking in March 2014. The Prime Minister’s Directive together with President Obama’s National Strategy to Combat Wildlife Trafficking has sparked new opportunities and momentum for us to take stronger action together against wildlife crime. A key component of this strategy is to reduce demand for illegally traded wildlife.
That brings us to today. Operation Game Change aims to raise public awareness and spark a reduction in demand in illegal wildlife. The campaign will work to reach and positively influence millions of people in Vietnam over the months leading up to a fall 2015 flagship event. Funded by the U.S. Department of State, Operation Game Change complements and expands upon the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded Asia’s Regional Response to Endangered Species Trafficking (ARREST) program. The ARREST program works to reduce the consumption and sale of endangered species in Asia, including in Vietnam. The campaign will be implemented by an alliance of government and non-government agencies, the private sector, and community and youth groups in Vietnam, South Africa, and the United States.Let me take this opportunity to express my gratitude to all those involved and allow me to highlight how excited I am to be part of an initiative that is helping to forge stronger relationships between the U.S. Government and its counterparts in Vietnam on this issue. Our work will bring hope to our world of today and the generations to come.