Remarks at the U.S. – ASEAN Ministerial Meeting

Secretary Kerry with ASEAN Secretary General Minh and Ambassador David Carden
Secretary Kerry with ASEAN Secretary General Minh and Ambassador David Carden

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, thank you very much, Mr. Minister, and thank you to all of the ministers here. It’s a great pleasure for me to be here at my first ASEAN-U.S. ministerial, but I’m happy to say I’ve been out in this region over many years as a United States Senator and even before that, so it’s a great pleasure for me to be back here and be with some friends. And I’ve gotten to meet with a number of you in these early days, and I thank all of you for your welcome and for your cooperation.

I want to thank our host, Brunei, for welcoming us for the ASEAN Regional Forum and for so many important meetings that are going to take place here over the course of the next days. I know President Obama is very much looking forward to his visit here in October for the East Asia summit. I also want to thank Myanmar for co-chairing this meeting today with us, and we thank you for all of the work that you have done as our ASEAN country coordinator, and I also thank you, Mr. Minister, for your generous thoughts about Boston and about Oklahoma. We appreciate that very much, and I appreciate your strong statement about terrorism, which I think all of us here are very grateful for and sympathetic with.

I might add, Myanmar is a country that is setting a great positive trend and undergoing a dramatic political and economic transition, and I want to recognize that. Today, President Thein Sein works with a resurgent parliament that includes former military officers working alongside Aung San Suu Kyi, and that is really an incredible testament to the possibilities of what happens with leadership and with values and the possibility of progress. And the United States strongly supports Myanmar’s journey toward democracy, which is really something that might have even been unthinkable just a few years ago. These positive changes all illustrate the dynamism and the huge potential of this region, which is why this meeting is important.

I think we all agree that a significant part of the history of the 21st century will be written right here in Asia, and much of that history will be driven by what happens in Southeast Asia. This is why the United States believes that our relationship with ASEAN is of the highest importance. And today, I want to talk about three areas of concern in U.S.-ASEAN cooperation: economic opportunity, political security concerns, and people to people ties.

First, the United States supports ASEAN’s economic integration goals and we are strongly encouraging you as you pursue them. We recognize the tremendous economic dynamism of your region and of your people, and as is true everywhere, we are only going to be able to capture the energy of Southeast Asia in its massive and growing and overwhelmingly young population if we answer their aspirations. We have to speak to the young people by providing opportunity for them.

By the end of this decade roughly half of Southeast Asia’s 600 million people will be defined as middle class. That’s a population that is as large as the entire United States. So helping these people to achieve the middle class dream and to stay there is both of our challenge and it’s both of our responsibility. I might add, it’s also our opportunity. We support ASEAN’s goals in creating dynamic, open economies and establishing integrated ASEAN economic community by the end of 2015. And we will invest significantly in technical assistance to support these goals.

The second area I want to discuss is our political security engagement with ASEAN. Let me be crystal clear: I know that some people have wondered whether in the second term of the Obama Administration and with a new Secretary of State, are we going to continue on the path that we have been on? And the answer, I say to all of you directly, is yes. Not just yes, but we hope to increase the effort. So we are committed to ensuring a peaceful, stable, and prosperous Southeast Asia, and that’s why we’re working together on a whole range of both traditional and nontraditional security issues from wildlife trafficking to human trafficking – trafficking in persons – to nonproliferation, humanitarian assistance, and disaster relief, and so much more.

In particular, we are focused on two issues of particular concern: maritime security and cyber security. Maritime security is a concern because your region is home to the world’s busiest ports and most critical sea lanes. And what happens here matters to the United States, but it also matters to everybody else. It matters to the global community.

And with regard to the South China Sea, I will say this: As a Pacific nation, and the resident power, the United States has a national interest in the maintenance of peace and stability, respect for international law, unimpeded lawful commerce, and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. As we have said many times before, while we do not take a position on a competing territorial claim over land features, we have a strong interest in the manner in which the disputes of the South China Sea are addressed and in the conduct of the parties. We very much hope to see progress soon on a substantive code of conduct in order to help ensure stability in this vital region.

The United States is also working and looks forward to working further with ASEAN to improve cyber security and to combat cyber crime. We’re very eager to help ASEAN member states build capacity here in order to make sure that all of us are protected against cyber threats and in order to reduce the risks that these cyber threats carry.

Finally, I want to discuss a third priority and that’s the United States commitment to depending and deepening – depending on and deepening our people to people ties with ASEAN nations. These connections are really the foundation of our long term relationship, and that’s why we have continually increased our engagement with ASEAN on environment, health, cultural, and educational matters, including exchange between academies, between scientists, between artists, and youth.

The $25 million Brunei-U.S. partnership on English language education for ASEAN we think will help build regional integration and facilitate collaboration and understanding between all of us, both within and outside of ASEAN. The pilot Fulbright U.S.-ASEAN initiative is off to a very successful start. And we have increased our science and technology engagement with ASEAN through programs such as the INSPIRE initiative, which stands for U.S.-ASEAN Innovation in Science through Partners in Regional Engagement.

So today, tomorrow, into the future, I look forward to discussing ways to increase these people to people ties and to addressing our mutual economic and political security interests. And I am just by assuring you again of one thing – for any country that questions whether the United States will sustain our greater engagement in the Asia Pacific, I want to put those concerns to rest completely today. As I said in Tokyo in my visit in April, President Obama has made a smart and a strategic commitment to rebalance our interests and our investments in Asia. We have many goals, many goals – we have economic and security interests – but I want to emphasize importantly, our actions are not intended to contain or to counterbalance any one country. My commitment to you and President Obama’s commitment to you is that as a Pacific nation, we take our Pacific responsibilities and partnership seriously. And we will continue to build an active and an enduring presence in every respect.

And one of the most important ways that we will do that is in our partnership with all of you through ASEAN. So thank you very much, my co-chair, I appreciate the opportunity to share a few thoughts with you, and I look forward to our dialogue.