US, ASEAN go up on ladder of relationship

It could be said that 2010 marked the US government’s move in expanding its relationships with smaller nations, and especially US-ASEAN ties.
It could be said that 2010 marked the US government’s move in expanding its relationships with smaller nations, and especially US-ASEAN ties.

The US ’s “return” to Southeast Asia this year saw a rocky start when President Barack Obama finally could not make a promised tour of Asian nations, including Indonesia and Australia , after being delayed twice, in March and in June, due to internal affairs.

In return, President Obama successfully played host of the US-ASEAN Summit in New York in late September. This was only the second meeting in the history of ASEAN-US relations, after the first organised in Singapore in November 2009 on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum meeting.

Co-chairing the US-ASEAN Summit together with his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Minh Triet in his capacity as ASEAN Chair, Obama said he considers Asia a “corner stone” in the US’s foreign policy, therefore the nation wants to strengthen relations with former allies, tighten relations with new partners and reiterate pledges to cooperate with regional organisations, including the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, known as ASEAN.

The US president stressed that ASEAN holds potential to really become the world’s leading bloc, and affirmed his strategy to re-build the US ’s influence in the dynamically developing region. Obama also confirmed his plan to attend the East Asia Summit (EAS) in Jakarta , Indonesia , in 2011.

At the summit, US and ASEAN leaders emphasised the importance of the “settlement of differences through peaceful ways” and the “free maritime shipping routes”, including in the East Sea .

On economic relations, the two sides agreed to expand bilateral trade, which stood at 84 billion USD in the first half of 2010, a year-on-year increase of 28 percent. The flow of US investments into ASEAN reached 153 billion USD in 2008, while ASEAN’s investments in the US mounted to 13.5 billion USD.

US and ASEAN leaders discussed a wide range of issues related to counter-terrorism, the fight against drug trafficking and the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

In a joint statement issued at the end of the summit, the ASEAN leaders applauded the US ’s support for the planned ASEAN Community and Connectivity and promised to cooperate with the US in energy, investment, education, agriculture and culture.

They also emphasised the necessity to maintain the highest-level dialogues between the two sides and agreed to hold the third ASEAN-US Summit next year, coinciding with the EAS.

Public opinion and experts say President Barack Obama is steering the US ’s foreign policy with Asia “on the right track.”

Though President Obama “broke his appointment” with Southeast Asia , his subordinates paid a series of trips to the region in 2010. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Vietnam twice to attend the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in July and the EAS three months later. During the visits, Clinton met Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and her Vietnamese counterpart, Pham Gia Khiem to exchange views on Washington-Hanoi relations.

Deputy Assistant to the US Secretary of State Joseph Yun, who accompanied Clinton during both visits to Vietnam, said that these were important and “unusual” trips because the US Secretary of State has rarely made a tour of the same country within a year. This shows that Washington attaches importance to and wants to improve relations with Hanoi .

Clinton also paid a visit to Cambodia – the first of a US Secretary of State in the past seven years. While in Cambodia , Clinton met Foreign Minister Hor Nam Hong, Prime Minister Hun Sen and King Sihamoni.

The Assistant to the US Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs, Kurt Campbell, on May 9 called at Myanmar – a nation that is subject to embargo imposed by the US and Europe.

It could be said that the US made a deeper mark on Southeast Asia this year and ASEAN leaders have been pleased with the first ASEAN-US Summit in 2009 and the US ’s hosting of the second summit in New York .

However, experts said the present atmosphere cannot carry the sustainability for the future as the Obama government is facing a broad range of issues at home, as well as global urgent matters related to Afghanistan, the Middle East and Iran’s nuclear programme, while ASEAN is striving to build a common economic community and each of the member nations has its own internal challenges.

For the long-term, the US and ASEAN should deeply develop and create a stability for their “fledging” relations. It is expected that in 2011, US-ASEAN relations would not just stop at exchanging fine words, but materialise into practical actions for mutual benefit./.

See more