I want to thank Foreign Minister Namhong and the people of Cambodia for hosting us today. I am proud to be here representing the United States as a fully-participating member of the East Asia Summit.
As President Obama underscored by joining the leaders’ meeting in Bali last November, we support the East Asia Summit as the Asia Pacific’s premier institution for political and strategic issues, the capstone of an increasingly mature and effective regional architecture.
This vast and rapidly-changing region has emerged as a key driver of international economics and politics. And there is an increasing need for institutions that can mobilize common action and settle disputes peacefully; for rules and norms that help manage relations between people, markets, and nations; and for security arrangements that continue to provide durable peace and stability. These are the building blocks of an open, just and sustainable order for the Asia-Pacific that can safeguard the future of this region for years to come.
America is a Pacific power and we have an enduring interest in maintaining peace and prosperity across this entire region. So we are accelerating our multifaceted engagement across the board – building stronger economic ties, expanding educational and cultural exchanges, and stepping up our diplomacy. The East Asia Summit and ASEAN are at the heart of this strategy.
From the energy ministerial in Brunei to the education ministerial in Indonesia just last week, the East Asia Summit is active and making progress across a wide range of issues. And the United States is increasing our participation at every level.
Like any institution, the East Asia Summit will be most effective if we produce concrete results for the people of the region. In Bali, President Obama outlined three priorities that we believe should be at the heart of our cooperation together: disaster relief, nonproliferation, and maritime security. And I am pleased that we are making progress on all three.
First, on disaster relief. From the tsunami in Aceh in 2004 to the floods in the Philippines and Thailand last year, to the triple disaster in Japan, we have seen that a coordinated international response is essential when catastrophe strikes.
So we continue to support the Rapid Disaster Response Agreement, which establishes a legal framework to speed deliveries of supplies, services and personnel. Laos and Singapore have already endorsed this agreement, and we are working with the Philippines to expand further. Yesterday, I encouraged every ASEAN members to consider joining.
Second, on nonproliferation. We encourage all nations to join the Proliferation Security Initiative, which is cracking down on the trafficking of weapons of mass destruction all over the world.
Over the past year, we have shown crucial unity in the face of provocations from North Korea. Going forward, it is essential that all of us remain firm and unified in pursuit of the peaceful, verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
We also view ASEAN as a partner in the broad international effort to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. The best way to achieve the diplomatic solution we all seek is for the international community to stay united and to keep up the pressure that has brought Iran back to the negotiating table. If we ease the pressure or waver in our resolve, Iran will have less incentive to negotiate in good faith or to take the necessary steps to address the international community’s concerns about its nuclear program.
Third, on maritime security. In Bali, our leaders discussed the importance of achieving a collaborative solution on the South China Sea. The United States has no territorial claims there and we do not take sides in disputes about territorial or maritime boundaries. But we do have an interest in freedom of navigation, the maintenance of peace and stability, respect for international law, and unimpeded lawful commerce in the South China Sea.
And we believe the nations of the region should work collaboratively and diplomatically to resolve disputes without coercion, without intimidation, without threats, and without use of force.
I’ll have more to say about this later today at the ASEAN Regional Forum. But I want to underscore one point. Whenever possible, territorial issues should be resolved between the claimants. But broader questions about conduct in disputed areas and about acceptable methods of resolving disputes should be addressed in multilateral settings such as the ASEAN Regional Forum. Issues such as freedom of navigation and lawful exploitation of maritime resources often involve a wide region, and approaching them strictly bilaterally could be a recipe for confusion and even confrontation.
The strength of a multilateral approach is that it brings all the players in the same room and lets them work together on the principles and mechanisms that can lead to progress. Smaller countries can be sure their voices are heard. And larger countries, which have a significant stake in broader regional stability and security, can pursue effective solutions to complicated challenges.
That’s why an effective regional architecture is so important. And it’s why the United States is actively engaged in both the East Asia Summit and the ASEAN Regional Forum.
In joining the East Asia Summit last year, the United States warmly accepted ASEAN centrality. And ASEAN centrality demands ASEAN unity. It demands leadership that seeks consensus and balance. That’s good for ASEAN and it’s also good for the East Asia Summit.
The United States is committed to this institution. I know President Obama is looking forward to coming to Cambodia in November. So as we look ahead to the next leaders’ meeting and beyond, let’s recommit to work together to strengthen the East Asia Summit and help it live up to its status as the Asia Pacific’s premier institution for political and security issues.