Senior White House officials met with the leaders of the ten Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Member States to advance our strategic partnership during the 8th U.S.-ASEAN Summit held November 13 (November 14 in Southeast Asia). The officials reaffirmed their support for a free and open Indo-Pacific as outlined in the U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy and the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific. Our vision is based on ASEAN centrality and a shared respect for freedom of the seas and skies; sovereignty; market-based economics, open investment, and fair and reciprocal trade; and supporting transparency and good governance.
The officials paid particular attention to advancing human capital development across the region. In the past 15 years, the United States has invested over $930 million to support education in ASEAN countries and $785 million to support academic, cultural and professional exchanges.
“Billion Futures” embodies the limitless range of connections between the combined one billion people of the United States and ASEAN as we work together to create opportunities and build human capital on both sides of the Pacific Ocean. The Billion Futures Scholars framework aims to bring more ASEAN students to the United States for exchange study. Through this initiative, we can build on the over 500,000 ASEAN students who have studied in the United States in the last ten years and help U.S. universities diversify their international student bodies. We will support even more ASEAN students interested in U.S. study opportunities through two existing and highly successful programs: the Global Undergraduate Exchange Program (UGRAD) and the Fulbright program for graduate studies.
Also included in Billion Futures Scholars is USAID’s five-year $19 million Lincoln Scholarship Program in Burma. This program will support 95 young leaders from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds to earn master’s degrees in the United States in fields that promote reconciliation and a stable future for Burma. The first 14 of the group of 17 scholars departed Burma for the United States in August 2020.
Complementing the Billion Futures Scholars initiative, the State Department provided $5 million to establish the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) Academy at Fulbright University Vietnam to educate the next generation of Southeast Asian leaders in technology and innovation, public policy, and entrepreneurship. Since 2013, more than 150,000 young leaders from across ASEAN member states and Timor-Leste have participated in YSEALI through U.S. exchanges, regional workshops and programs, and the virtual YSEALI Network. The United States has supported YSEALI with $51 million to date. [To supplement this effort, USAID intends to partner with Fulbright University Vietnam with a $2 million YSEALI grant to support the promotion of digital literacy and leadership to create and develop implementable solutions for a post-COVID-19 world.]
U.S.-ASEAN HEALTH FUTURES
Over the last 20 years, the United States has invested over $3.5 billion in supporting public health in ASEAN member countries. The U.S.-ASEAN Health Futures platform supports existing and expanded U.S. assistance for public health and combating infectious disease in ASEAN states, with a focus on health system capacity and resiliency, developing the next generation of health professionals, and research. We have established the Health Futures Alumni Network to link the more than 2,400 exchange alumni from ASEAN and Timor-Leste that have participated in U.S. government health-related exchange and training programs.
Recent support for ASEAN member states includes assistance in the response to COVID-19, and strengthening health security in the region to prepare for future infectious disease outbreaks, including from zoonotic diseases. The United States has allocated over $87 million dollars to help ASEAN Member States respond to COVID-19. Additionally, we are planning to fund $1.5 million to support the development of an ASEAN Public Health Emergency Coordination System, which will help ASEAN members collectively respond to future health emergencies. We have also provided $2.5 million to establish the U.S.-ASEAN Infection Prevention and Control Task Force to combat the growing threat of Anti-Microbial Resistance.
USAID is investing $16 million in One Health Workforce-Next Generation to transform the multisectoral health workforce and help ASEAN countries, including Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Cambodia, Philippines, and Laos prepare for, prevent, detect, and respond to public health emergencies before they pose an overwhelming pandemic threat.
The United States’ engagement with ASEAN member states in the Mekong sub-region is an important part of our support for ASEAN. Over the course of the Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI), from 2009 to 2020, State and USAID provided over $3.9 billion in assistance to the five Mekong partner countries. Together with Cambodia, Lao PDR, Burma, Thailand, and Vietnam, we launched the U.S.-Mekong Partnership in September to build on 11 years of collaboration under the LMI. The Partnership expands our areas of cooperation, bringing additional resources to address issues of economic connectivity, human capital, women’s empowerment, transboundary water and natural resource management, and non-traditional security, such as transnational crime, including wildlife and timber trafficking, and other important areas. Over $150 million in U.S. assistance was announced at the inaugural Mekong-U.S. Partnership Ministerial.
U.S.-ASEAN SMART CITIES PARTNERSHIP
Since Vice President Pence announced the establishment of the U.S.-ASEAN Smart Cities Partnership (USASCP) in November 2018, the United States has committed over $13 million to 20 projects throughout ASEAN. Our support helps ASEAN Member States meet rapid urbanization challenges, including transportation, water management, and energy to improve the quality of life for their residents. This year, the USASCP is expanding its programming to support research and innovation in the use of sustainable technology. The Partnership is engaging with the private sector in new programs, such as the Integrated Urban Services project, which will create linkages across basic urban services to optimize efficiency and advance water and energy recovery and reuse. The new Health in Cities program is designed to help build resilience in sub-national health care systems in response to the COVID-19 pandemic through small grants to support ASEAN business and service providers. For example, the program is helping hospitals in three Cambodian cities migrate to electronic medical records. In 2020, the Partnership launched eight city pairings between U.S. and ASEAN cities, five in transportation planning and three in water management, to promote best practices, spur innovation, and identify new business opportunities.
The U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) is actively investing in multiple sectors across Southeast Asia, with over $1 billion dollars deployed to date. In June, DFC approved a $25 million investment to support a regional equity fund, which will invest in businesses introducing innovative technology in Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Malaysia. These investments will help reduce costs for small and medium enterprises, facilitate trade, and foster innovation. DFC has committed to invest $40M to help Frontiir expand broadband access for the people of Burma. Another $5 million project in Cambodia will extend financial services to underbanked populations. DFC’s qualified pipeline includes investments in telecommunications in Burma, education in Vietnam, and renewable energy projects across the region.
The Third Indo-Pacific Business Forum in October 2020 brought together business and government leaders to spur economic innovation and collaboration. U.S. firms signed more than $11 billion in commercial deals. The U.S. government organized high-level public-private panels on human capital development entitled “Building ASEAN’s Workforce for Tomorrow” and “Sustainable Smart Cities,” as well as a discussion on the business outlook and investment opportunities in Mekong countries with all five U.S. Ambassadors to Mekong countries.
Launched in 2019, the annual ASEAN Women CEO Summit is organized and hosted by the ASEAN Women’s Entrepreneur Network (AWEN) founded through USAID assistance in 2014. USAID will continue to promote this effort at the 2nd Annual ASEAN Women CEO Summit slated for November 9, 2020, in Hanoi. The Summit brings together high-profile speakers from the U.S. private sector and U.S. government.
The United States has helped support the ASEAN-U.S. Science Prize for Women for since 2014, inspiring young women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields across the region. This Prize honors women researchers in STEM and highlights their work. In 2020, the winner was Dr. Yoke-Fun Chan of Malaysia.
USAID helps provide support through loan guarantees, managed through the Development Finance Corporation, for the Women’s Livelihood Bond Series. Currently, the second bond in the series is working toward mobilizing $100 million in private sector financing for expanded economic opportunities. This activity provides women access to long-term financing raised through capital markets, thereby addressing the structural constraints that women and girls often face in many countries across the region. This year, more than 25,000 women in Indonesia and Cambodia are benefiting from increased financial inclusion.
Through the ASEAN Single Window (ASW), USAID has continued to work with ASEAN to implement a self-certified system to expedite select traders in securing government certificates of origin to qualify for lower tariff rates. We have reached the first step of linking the ASW with the United States Customs and Border Protection’s Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) to share electronic plant inspection certificates (e-phyto certificates) between ASEAN and the United States. Currently around 90,000 documents are issued by ASEAN and the United States each year, totaling approximately $13 billion of two-way trade revenue. Expansion of the ASW allows for increased intra-ASEAN trade and will eventually lead to streamlined trade with the United States once our electronic commercial systems are linked.
LAW ENFORCEMENT & SECURITY
Since 2015, ASEAN member states have benefited from more than $217 million in dedicated U.S. programs to combat crime, including eliminating the scourge of illicit narcotics. The United States has provided more than $120 million in law enforcement capacity-building to ASEAN member states since 2015. These projects strengthen partners’ ability to prevent and respond to crimes in a rules-based manner. Transnational crime requires a multi-country approach, and the United States has provided more than $40 million over the last five years to assist ASEAN member states in developing cohesive regional approaches to transnational criminal challenges and law enforcement.
SUPPORT FOR THE ASEAN SECRETARIAT
The United States remains committed to our partnership with the ASEAN Secretariat. In 2020, the United States committed an additional $7.2 million in support for these efforts, and between 2013 and 2012, the United States dedicated more than $58 million to ASEAN multilateral assistance programs. Our assistance is implemented by the ASEAN-USAID Partnership for Regional Optimization within the Political-Security and Socio-Cultural Communities (PROSPECT) and Inclusive Growth in ASEAN through Innovation, Trade and E-Commerce (IGNITE) programs. PROSPECT supports ASEAN to better respond to transnational challenges—including non-traditional security threats—and promotes sustainable, rules-based and inclusive growth by expanding rights and opportunities for women, youth, and other marginalized groups across Southeast Asia. IGNITE implements initiatives that reduce the cost of international trade; spurs e-commerce; supports micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSME) and gender mainstreaming; and increases productivity in Southeast Asia through technical assistance to ASEAN bodies in the areas of trade facilitation; digital economy; and science, technology and innovation.
In August 2020, USAID and the ASEAN Secretariat signed the USAID-ASEAN Regional Development Cooperation Agreement, a 5-year agreement with a value of up to $50 million, to support programs addressing regional and global challenges and promoting economic integration of ASEAN, human rights, and the rule of law.