Washington — The United States views the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as a “central pillar” of U.S. strategy to elevate engagement across Asia, where “much of the future will be determined,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told attendees at the U.S.-ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Cambodia.
Speaking July 11 at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh, Clinton said the reason the Obama administration places so much emphasis on the organization is because “we work with ASEAN on the issues that are of central importance to the United States, from maritime security to nonproliferation to economic growth,” adding that the United States has “more investment in ASEAN than we have in China.”
She said the United States is focused on six issues with ASEAN: regional security cooperation; economic integration and trade; engagement in the Lower Mekong region; transnational threats; democratic development and war legacies.
The secretary said there is much more room for the United States and ASEAN to expand their economic ties, and the Obama administration is working to “foster more economic activity in very tangible ways,” such as bringing the largest-ever delegation of American business executives to Cambodia who will attend the first U.S.-ASEAN Business Forum on July 20 to “lay the groundwork for economic connections and mutual prosperity for a long time to come.”
Many ASEAN members have suffered recent natural disasters, such as the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean, and the 2011 floods in the Philippines and Thailand. Clinton said natural disasters “are one of the most significant challenges to the stability, development and prosperity of the ASEAN nations.”
The United States “has been a committed first responder,” she said, and in 2011 it established a legal framework called a Rapid Disaster Response Agreement to help increase its effectiveness in delivering supplies, services and personnel. Clinton said both Laos and Singapore have endorsed the agreement, and it is close to being concluded with the Philippines. She encouraged other ASEAN members to review it.
The United States is also reinvigorating its development assistance to the region through the Asia Pacific Strategic Engagement Initiative (APSEI), which she said is aimed at realigning U.S. assistance with “the priorities we are pursuing in partnership” with ASEAN countries. She said the Obama administration will offer a "down payment" on APSEI in the coming days, and “in the coming months, we’ll be able to talk more about this initiative and its resources.”
According to a July 11 State Department fact sheet, the United States and ASEAN are cooperating on a variety of other projects, including the ASEAN Development Vision to Advance National Cooperation and Economic Integration (the ADVANCE program), which implements approximately 40 activities each year “to support human rights promotion and protection, narrow the development gap among ASEAN member countries and enhance economic integration.”
To address the gap in prosperity among member countries, the United States and ASEAN are also using the Lower Mekong Initiative, which brings in U.S. public and private sector support for ASEAN’s Connectivity Initiative, as well as enhances cooperation in the region on health, education and the environment, according to the fact sheet.
The fact sheet also mentioned cooperation to end human trafficking in Southeast Asia through public awareness and youth-related capacity building, including U.S.-supported live concerts in the region through the MTV EXIT campaign.
ASEAN and the Obama administration are also working together to improve regional food security by increasing market access for food producers and increasing price transparency for ASEAN consumers through the Maximizing Agricultural Revenue through Knowledge, Enterprise Development, and Trade (MARKET) program, the fact sheet said.