Introductory Remarks – APCAC Panel: American Ambassadors Perspectives

Thank you very much for this opportunity to talk about U.S. Asia policy. America has been a Pacific power throughout its history but President Obama saw the need to remind us of this legacy and refocus our national attention on Asia.

While it is true that threats in other parts of the world have not gone away, and the U.S. is concerned about ISIL, Ukraine, Iran and many other issues, the fact is that we can walk and chew gum at the same time.

I am here to tell you can sleep soundly tonight knowing that the rebalance to Asia is in full swing. In fact, because it takes a while to turn the mighty ship of the US government around, in some ways we are only now seeing the effects of that early strategic decision.

For example, President Obama called for a permanent mission to ASEAN. We were the first non-ASEAN country to establish a dedicated presence. In 2011, David Carden, whom many of you know, was confirmed as the first resident U.S. Ambassador to ASEAN.  That makes me only the second who has lived in Jakarta. And thank God David came first because I am now watching as other countries are setting up missions to ASEAN and their ambassadors are preoccupied with house hunting and negotiating leases for office space. David plowed a lot of ground, some of it literally, to pave the way for me, so I can dedicate myself to deepening and focusing our engagement with ASEAN.

Engaging with ASEAN makes a lot of sense for the U.S.. The big project and purpose of ASEAN is to create an integrated ASEAN community. And a prosperous, unified and integrated ASEAN is not only good for the people of Southeast Asia; it is also good for the United States, and for the world. It will provide more stability in a region loaded with major powers.

As the ASEAN Economic Community come to life, it will provide more economic opportunity for the citizens here, and for you. And though there is so much promise in the ASEAN region, with a rapidly growing middle class and a vibrant, young workforce, this region also faces a host of challenges like human trafficking and climate change that do not respect national boundaries. You need multilateral organizations like ASEAN to take on these kinds of challenges.

Many of the sessions at this summit have been focused on economic issues – as they should.  ASEAN is very important to the U.S. economy, responsible for over half a million U.S. jobs. The U.S. is helping ASEAN realize its goals of economic integration and growth in the ASEAN Economic Community. We’ve invested tens of millions of dollars and countless hours on programs like the ASEAN Single Window to help goods move more freely across borders.

In the past few years, we’ve also partnered with many U.S. companies, including some of you, to train over 1,600 small and medium sized business owners in the region to help them advance.

But our engagement goes beyond economics. Over the past five years the amount of United States assistance to the region totals over $4 billion. This assistance has had a huge impact. It’s delivered clean water to over 2 million people in Indonesia and the Philippines, and is on track to reach over 3 million by the end of this year.

In the Philippines, Indonesia, and Cambodia, USAID has helped protect and conserve more than 95,000 square miles of forest and coastal areas – an area the size of Oregon. We’ve preserved precious cultural heritage sites. We’ve helped train nearly 4,000 law enforcement officers to help them fight wildlife trafficking.  And many other initiatives to reduce mother-infant mortality promote clean energy and lessen the risk from natural disasters.

At the U.S. Mission to ASEAN, other than economic integration we are focused on maritime issues, including the ocean environment and fisheries, women, youth and green growth. On that final issue, this past November, our shared commitment resulted in the ASEAN-U.S. joint statement on climate change. This was a big deal. We have never done anything like it before.

This statement shows ASEAN taking leadership on a global issue, and is helping the world build momentum for a climate change agreement later this year.

Engaging with young people is another priority.

My mission and those of all ten U.S. embassies in ASEAN, including my co-panelists here, are bringing together the youth of ASEAN to help build an ASEAN identity and leadership skills they will need.

A little over a year ago, President Obama established the Young Southeast Asia Leaders Initiative – YSEALI; and it already has nearly 25,000 members from all ten ASEAN countries.  The program includes fellowships in the US, now 500 per year, thanks to the increase President Obama announced last year.  We have regional events that bring together hundreds of young people.

YSEALI is also funding small grants for projects run by members to address cross-border issues on education, environmental protection, and economic and community development. YSEALI is helping young leaders get to know their counterparts in other ASEAN countries and learning how much they have in common. More than one participant has said to me “I didn’t really think about ASEAN until I joined this workshop!”

So we are working from the bottom up as well as the top down. That gives you just a small taste of what we do.

There are many other areas where we work together with ASEAN— rule of law and good governance, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, human rights, science and technology, ICT, and more.

My fellow Ambassadors in ASEAN and I, and the U.S. government back home, have a real commitment to the region. We look forward to continuing our work with ASEAN and we’d love to find ways to partner together.