Good afternoon and welcome. I’d like to extend a warm welcome to our distinguished guests from the diplomatic corps.
On behalf of Secretary Kerry, I am delighted to have you all here with us to celebrate the 46th anniversary of the founding of this important organization, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. As the Secretary noted in a statement last week on August 8, the anniversary of ASEAN’s founding, the United States is deeply committed to supporting and partnering with ASEAN .
I would like to recognize all of the work that Brunei has done as the ASEAN chair this year – and for the herculean effort to come. We are looking forward to our participation in the U.S.-ASEAN Summit and the East Asia Summit in October to cap our engagement this year.
ASEAN is growing in importance. The ten ASEAN countries include two close U.S. treaty allies, valuable security partners, thriving democracies, and Muslim majority nations that are both moderate and influential. ASEAN represents the United States’ fifth largest trading partner and our fourth largest export market.
Following U.S. accession to the ASEAN Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in 2009, and in a clear sign of our support for ASEAN, the United States became the first non-ASEAN country to establish a dedicated Mission to ASEAN in Jakarta in June 2010. The Mission provides a venue for regular engagement and cooperation with ASEAN through a systemic approach as well as serving as the most visible symbol of our commitment to ASEAN’s success. Here in Washington, Scot Marciel, our very recently returned former Ambassador to Indonesia, will be managing the United States’ engagement with Southeast Asia in his new role as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. All of you know that Scot was our first U.S. Ambassador for ASEAN, in 2007, so it is particularly fitting that he is here to celebrate with us.
U.S. engagement with ASEAN extends to the highest levels of our government. President Obama has attended the last three East Asia Summits and this year in Brunei will hold his fifth consecutive summit with ASEAN leaders. He will have visited eight ASEAN countries – some more than once. Former Secretary Clinton attended the ASEAN Regional Forum and U.S.-ASEAN Ministerial Meetings regularly during her tenure, and visited every ASEAN member nation. Secretary Kerry attended his first ASEAN Regional Forum and U.S.-ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in July 2013.
The ASEAN-U.S. partnership is grounded in cooperation across political, security, and cultural spheres. Our engagement with ASEAN has led to tangible results in such areas as maritime security, humanitarian assistance, and disaster relief. Our work through the Lower Mekong Initiative has led to positive outcomes supporting the establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community in 2015 and development in the Lower Mekong sub-region. And the United States is committed to capacity building for the ASEAN Secretariat
People-to-people exchanges with a specific focus on ASEAN or high concentration of ASEAN member nations play a growing role in our vibrant partnership. A $25 million joint project funded by the Government of Brunei in partnership with the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs aims to improve English language skills in ASEAN. A new U.S.-ASEAN Fulbright initiative for ASEAN Fulbright scholars supports research on ASEAN-related topics in the United States, and enables American Fulbright scholars to conduct research in ASEAN member countries. This initiative builds upon the more than 700 Fulbright scholarships awarded to U.S. or ASEAN member country citizens each year for study, research or teaching.
We are glad to have with us today two ASEAN country participants here in the U.S. One is Anthony Regis, from the Philippines, who is the Director of Peace and Conflict Resolution for the Southeast Asian Institute of Local Governance, and will be spending the next four months working for the Latin American Youth Center here in Washington, D.C., under the ECA Community Solutions Professional Fellows Program. The other is Sharon Wilson from Malaysia, who teaches in the Department of Creative Industries at Tunku Abdul Rahman University, and is going to Ohio University for a Fulbright Study of the U.S. Institute Scholar Program on Journalism and Media.
Welcome to you both, and we hope you have successful exchange experience here in the United States. Our commitment to people-to-people exchanges with ASEAN member nations is one way in which we will strengthen the ties between the U.S. and all ten ASEAN nations.
As we look back over the success of the last 46 years, I am confident that our engagement with ASEAN will further its unity, advance its agenda, promote connectivity and prosperity, reinforce regional cooperation, and give ASEAN greater space to develop and become the anchor and hub in the emerging architecture of the Asia Pacific.
So happy “birthday” to ASEAN as we salute your achievements. Thank you.