Remarks at the Start of the U.S.-ASEAN Ministerial Meeting

John Kerry
Secretary of State  
Myanmar International Conference Center
Naypyitaw, Burma

Well, thank you very much, Foreign Minister, and Your Royal Highness, my fellow colleagues the foreign ministers. It’s a great privilege to join all of you here today. I’m delighted to be here with our partners from ASEAN, with whom the United States shares so many important interests and objectives. And I particularly want to thank President Thein Sein and the Government of Myanmar for their leadership of the ASEAN chair this year and continuing through 2015.

If I may, I’d just begin by offering the condolences of the people of the United States to the people of Malaysia for the tragic loss of life on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. It’s difficult to express the sense of loss and the heartbreak to so many families. The United States remains committed to supporting a credible and international investigation.

This is the first time I’ve been able to be back in Myanmar for a while, and it’s impossible not to be impressed by the steps that the government has achieved, the road and the journey that they are on to reform and to transition. Today, President Thein Sein works with a parliament that includes former military officers alongside Aung San Suu Kyi. It is a remarkable statement about possibilities. And as Myanmar tackles the challenges ahead, I want the people of Myanmar to know that they have the support and the friendship of the United States.

So much of the history of the 21st century is going to be written right here in Asia, and the longest chapters of that history are going to be driven by what happens in Southeast Asia. That’s why the United States remains deeply committed to engaging the Asia-Pacific region, and ASEAN is at the center of the region’s multilateral architecture and it plays a critical role in promoting both peace, prosperity, and also a regional integration throughout Asia.

We’ve already made significant progress on a host of issues, and I know that President Obama is looking forward to being able to visit in November when we have the East Asia Summit. ASEAN, in our judgment, is fundamental to being able to uphold a rules-based system in the Asia Pacific, and ensuring that all countries, big and small, have a say in how we work together in order to deal with shared challenges. That’s why we’re investing in ASEAN. We’re strengthening our people-to-people ties through President Obama’s Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative, which continues to provide critical leadership in development and networking in ASEAN. And we’re supporting the formation of the ASEAN Economic Community in 2015, which will sustain the prosperity of the ASEAN region and provide good-paying jobs for Americans also back home, and for people in each and every country that is sitting around this table and many who aren’t.

We’re also working closely together to protect the environment, Mr. Chairman. We recognize the tremendous economic dynamism of this region and its people, but we also recognize our shared prosperity demands a renewed commitment to sustainable economic growth. And that is why we’re focused not only on growing our countries and making them stronger, but on also growing fair and just societies, particularly countries with clean air, clean water, and shared river resources for all Southeast Asian nations.

And finally, we are working together with ASEAN to maintain peace and stability on the seas that this economically dynamic region depend on. The United States and ASEAN have a common responsibility to ensure the maritime security of critical global sea lanes and ports. We need to work together to manage tensions in the South China Sea, and to manage them peacefully, and also to manage them on a basis of international law. It’s no understatement that what happens here matters not just to this region and to the United States, but it matters to everybody in the world to see a Southeast Asia that continues to grow based on rules-based international law. That’s why we’re encouraging claimant states to consider voluntarily agreeing to refrain from taking certain actions, which, in the words of the 2002 Declaration of Conduct, quote, “would complicate or escalate disputes.”

So I particularly thank our Asian friends for their leadership. We are determined to deliver on the strategic and historic opportunities that we can create together, and I very much look forward to a productive session today. Thank you to my co-chair.