US pushes for closer ties with ASEAN

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia  – The United States reaffirmed its commitment to Southeast Asia on Wednesday, July 11, and vowed to pursue greater involvement in various areas of concern across the region.

“The United States has a stake in ASEAN’s success,” U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton told foreign ministers gathered during a meeting in the Cambodian capital.

“The positions that ASEAN takes, the decisions it makes, and how it makes them will have a great bearing on the future effectiveness of ASEAN,” Clinton added.

Clinton is in a weeklong diplomatic swing across Southeast Asia. She has two goals, observers note. First, to exert influence across a fast-growing economic region. And second, to match the growing power of China.

Clinton did not directly address the issue surrounding the disputed islands in the South China Sea, but she pledged that the US will respond to “concerns and priorities”  it has received from the Southeast Asian nations.

“What we have heard from you is that ASEAN and the countries of the Asia Pacific are seeking greater American engagement across the board; that you are particularly focused on areas where our presence, at times, has been underweighted.”

Asia has become a strategic priority region under the administration of US President Barack Obama. “A central pillar of that strategy is to work more closely with ASEAN to deepen our economic, strategic and people-to-people engagement,” Clinton said.

The ASEAN-USA meeting was co-chaired by the Philippines. Before it started, Clinton and Philippine foreign affairs secretary Albert Del Rosario held a 30-minute private meeting.

“As secretary of state I have been a strong supporter of ASEAN and I understand that ASEAN faces a variety of challenges and even growing pains as it adapts and takes on new responsibilities,” Clinton said.

“But I believe ASEAN plays an indispensable role in holding this region’s institutional architecture together and in advancing the common interest of all stakeholders in the Aspac.

Clinton also mentioned the economic benefits of closer relations between the US and ASEAN.

“We have more investment in ASEAN than we have in China,” Clinton said. “That is a surprising fact to many people in our country. And we are working cooperatively and collaboratively on opportunities and challenges in the AsPac region because we believe, like all of you that so much of the future will be determined in this region.”

Clinton will also attend the ASEAN Regional Forum on Thursday and will travel to the northern Cambodian city of Siem Reap for the first ASEAN-US business forum on Friday. - Rappler.com

Paul John Caña is the managing editor of Lifestyle Asia magazine and is a live music geek. Email him at pjcana@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @pauljohncana