September 08, 2016
Deepening Ties, Confronting Challenges, and Creating Opportunities
Today, President Obama led the U.S. delegation to the U.S.–ASEAN Summit in Vientiane, Laos. The United States and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have been partners for nearly 40 years, working together on shared goals of stability, prosperity, and peace in Southeast Asia. Engagement with Southeast Asia, a strategically important, economically dynamic region at the heart of the Asia-Pacific, is a central pillar of the U.S. Rebalance to Asia. The United States is committed to this strategic partnership which advances our shared interest in building and sustaining a rules-based order in the Asia-Pacific, one in which countries can pursue their objectives peacefully and in accordance with international law and norms.
In 2009, his first year in office, President Obama became the first U.S. president to meet all ten ASEAN leaders as a group and has since made seven visits to the ASEAN region. In February of this year, President Obama hosted ASEAN leaders for the first time in the United States for the Special U.S.-ASEAN Summit in Sunnylands, California, to enhance our strategic partnership. Since this Summit, the United States and ASEAN continue to deepen and broaden our engagement and have jointly undertaken a variety of activities and programs, including support for the ASEAN Economic Community and expanding programs to strengthen people-to-people ties, like the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative.
Increasing Economic Cooperation
U.S.-ASEAN Connect (“Connect”) is the new strategic framework for U.S. regional economic engagement with ASEAN and the ASEAN Member States. We are expanding our economic bonds, creating business opportunities, and new jobs for citizens in all of our countries. Connect reflects both the U.S. government and U.S. private sector’s desire to support ASEAN’s continued integration, including the success of the ASEAN Economic Community, and to increase U.S.-ASEAN trade and investment ties. Connect is delivering on the promise of providing a focused approach to U.S. economic engagement in ASEAN. Through Connect, we are launching new activities and programs on finance, including a Women’s Livelihood Bond Program that will leverage just over $15 million in private capital to create sustainable livelihoods for women; in energy, through USAID’s Clean Power Asia program, a multi-million dollar effort over five years to increase the supply of grid-connected renewable energy in ASEAN; and in innovation, where a new Digital Economy Series is being organized around the key issues ASEAN must tackle to build a successful and vibrant digital economy. U.S.-ASEAN Connect is also ensuring that our new activities are well coordinated with existing U.S.-ASEAN engagement, including the U.S.-ASEAN Trade and Investment Framework Arrangement, under which we launched the new U.S.-ASEAN Trade Workshops this year that will help ASEAN officials familiarize themselves with high-standard trade agreements. We also endorsed two statements on best practices: the ASEAN-U.S. Cooperation in Fostering Transparency and Good Regulatory Practices and the ASEAN-U.S. Cooperation in Fostering International Investment.
Expanding Maritime Cooperation
The United States is working to increase maritime domain awareness, reverse environmental degradation, and support sustainable fisheries and aquaculture in the ASEAN region. The USAID Oceans and Fisheries Partnership program works to restore and protect ecosystems to provide sustainable harvests of fish to local communities. We are helping to develop an electronic traceability system in ASEAN to ensure that marine resources are legally caught and properly labeled, working in partnership with fisheries authorities and companies. The United States also strongly supports ASEAN-led mechanisms and efforts to advance a secure, rules-based maritime environment. We co-chair the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) Maritime Security Inter-Sessional Meeting and actively participate in ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting-Plus, including in maritime exercises, as well as the Expanded ASEAN Maritime Forum (EAMF), hosting an annual EAMF workshop on maritime boundary delimitation since 2015. These efforts complement U.S. security assistance and capacity building offered to ASEAN member states focused on enhancing shared maritime awareness and human security capabilities.
Cultivating the Emerging Leaders of ASEAN
By creating new opportunities, we are nurturing a regional network for ASEAN youth – 65 percent of ASEAN’s population – to collaborate on solving common challenges and building an ASEAN identity. The Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI), launched by President Obama in December 2013, now engages nearly 100,000 participants aged 18-35. Through new exchange programs, workshops, online tools, and grant opportunities, YSEALI has created a platform through which this rapidly growing network of young ASEAN leaders can confront their generation’s greatest challenges. The United States also awards 700 Fulbright scholarships between the United States and ASEAN Member States annually including the Fulbright U.S.-ASEAN Scholar Initiative and the ASEAN-U.S. Science and Technology Fellows Program, supporting ASEAN early-career scientists. With U.S. support, the ASEAN Youth Volunteer Program mobilizes young people to address regional challenges as well, such as environmental sustainability and disaster management.
Promoting Opportunity for Women in ASEAN
Research shows that the more girls and women are educated and join the workforce, the more economies grow, infant mortality falls, and communities prosper. The U.S.-ASEAN Women’s Leadership Academy for YSEALI, formally launched by President Obama at today’s U.S.-ASEAN Summit, will provide an annual, week-long, capacity building leadership seminar, bringing together mentors and young women (ages 25-35) from all ten ASEAN Member States. The United States is supporting the ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children to provide government officials and practitioners across all sectors with a comprehensive and current assessment of services for victims of human trafficking. In collaboration with the ASEAN Committee on Science and Technology and Underwriter Laboratories, we are awarding an annual ASEAN-U.S. Science Prize for Women.
Addressing Transnational Challenges
The United States works with ASEAN to address 21st century challenges across borders. The November 2014 U.S.-ASEAN Joint Statement on Climate Change demonstrates our shared commitment to address this global issue. We cooperate through a wide range of activities that promotes a low-carbon economic growth trajectory and builds more climate resilient societies. The United States also works closely with ASEAN governments’ disaster management authorities and the ASEAN Coordinating Center for Humanitarian Assistance on disaster response coordination in support of the ‘One ASEAN, One Response’ initiative. Further, the United States supports a victim-centered approach to combatting trafficking in persons and welcomes ASEAN’s Convention against Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children and supports the implementation of the Convention’s plan of action. Building on existing cooperation with ASEAN, USAID will launch a five-year regional effort to counter trafficking in persons later this year focused on preventing vulnerable people from becoming victims of trafficking and improving access to support services. Additionally the State Department’s new program to assist all ASEAN member states with the implementation of the victim compensation components of ACTIP, announced at the Sunnylands conference in February, will launch this fall.
We are also engaging with ASEAN to counter violent extremism and terrorism, and to provide support for the victims of terrorism. The International Law Enforcement Academy Bangkok has trained over 3,000 ASEAN officers to address a variety of transnational threats such as organized crime, trafficking in persons, wildlife trafficking, and corruption, in addition to counterterrorism. Following long-standing support to the ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network, USAID launched earlier this month a new five-year activity, building upon previous efforts to strengthen and institutionalize counter-wildlife trafficking efforts in the region.
Cybersecurity’s importance to security and economic prosperity is of particular concern in Southeast Asia. The United States has conducted multiple cybercrime training courses for ASEAN and this year co-chaired an ARF Seminar on Operationalizing Confidence-Building Measures (CBMs) to enhance stability in cyber space by fostering transparency, cooperation, and communication. Earlier this year, we launched our first cyber security assistance programs for ASEAN, which includes an annual cyber security workshop, an incident response capacity building program, and a network security seminar.