I am so deeply honored to be here representing the State Department and working to convey just how important this Center is to us. How important the U.S.-ASEAN relationship is to us. I’m deeply honored to be here with my fellow speakers, and special thanks to Senator Duckworth, Representative Castro, and, to my friend, Dr. Chris Howard. It is a real honor to be here with you today.

I will say, of course, a special thanks to ASU to start us out. As Dr. Howard laid out, we do have a robust, close, deeply felt partnership between the State Department and ASU. Not only are they doing all the great work that he talked about in the East Asia Pacific, Indo-Pacific, and Southeast Asia regions, also they’re doing great work with us in Eastern Europe working to reach Russian audiences. This is a truly global partnership that we are so honored to be a part of.

As was mentioned, I just got back from a trip to Indonesia, Japan, and ROK. Having stopped in both Bali and Jakarta, Indonesia, I worked closely with Ambassador Abraham, and I can tell you that ASEAN has never been more important to the United States. We are deeply feeling the partnership not just through our interlocutors in government, but also through its people. So that’s what I’m excited to talk about here today.

As was mentioned, a center like this is a true partnership. I want to acknowledge the folks in the room, particularly the distinguished members of the ASEAN diplomatic community.  We look forward to working with you on how we can maximize this space. This is a space for all of us, and we should be able to do that collaboratively. I look forward to seeing many of you here at future events.

I want to thank representatives of the private sector, and in particular Ambassador Ted Osius, who leads the U.S-ASEAN Business Council, for the important work you do enhancing economic cooperation between the United States and the ASEAN region.

We also have representatives from the academic and think-tank community here, who do critical work in not only analyzing the region but spurring to action people from across sectors to do this work together.

I am very grateful to colleagues joining us from across the U.S. government. I represent many here, but there are so many from the State Department, from the Office of the Vice President representing Vice President Harris’s deliverable earlier in this year.

And I want to give a special shout-out to my colleague at the State Department, our Special Advisor on International Disability Rights Sara Minkara. Sara recently led the U.S. delegation to the ASEAN-U.S. Dialogue on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Jakarta and spent over a week in Indonesia and, as I heard with my visit following on hers, made an enormous impact.

I also want to acknowledge Ambassador Heather Variava. Heather is our newly confirmed Ambassador to Laos after a long confirmation journey. So we are very happy to have her, we’re so glad to have her going out to lead our Mission in Vientiane particularly as you head into a partnership with Laos for their ASEAN chairmanship. So, thank you so much, Heather.

I wanted to say – it bears repeating it’s at the foundation of this partnership, but it’s worth repeating – that ASEAN matters to the United States of America. We are a Pacific nation. We are a Pacific neighbor. We are a Pacific friend. We are a Pacific partner. And it is with that spirit that we are here today.

President Biden has said that the future of the 21st century economy will largely be written in the Indo-Pacific, and he noted Southeast Asia is at the center of the Indo-Pacific.  U.S. trade in goods and services with ASEAN was estimated at $505 billion in 2022, with over 6,200 U.S. companies operating in ASEAN, employing nearly 1 million people. The scale of impact here is enormous.

We know that in the modern world, foreign policy is about relationships. And as some of you know, I’m fond of saying that it’s not just about government-to-government relationships, but about people-to-people relationships. This U.S.-ASEAN Center is going to be a key initiative to keep building those relationships and understanding between the people of the U.S. and people across ASEAN.

The ASEAN-U.S. Center is going to allow us to increase our engagement with ASEAN here in the United States. And, as I mentioned having just been in the region and talking to Ambassador Abraham, the hunger for this center is real. It is visceral. People are very excited to see this commitment by the United States to our U.S.-ASEAN partnership because it is a tangible way to represent this partnership and to offer a platform for programming.

Speaking of programming, I am always very proud to talk about our flagship U.S. government exchange program in Southeast Asia as has been mentioned here today, the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative, or YSEALI. It is not just our premier exchange program in Southeast Asia, but it is a model for investment in young leaders both through in person fellowships, regional fellowships, and virtual engagement that we talked about and work to replicate across the world.

Since YSEALI launched 10 years ago, its digital network has grown to over 155,000 members. Those youth changemakers are the future, so we feel called to invest in them. We also have over 6,000 alumni of YSEALI who have gone through in person fellowships, and the White House announced in May of 2022 at the ASEAN Summit that YSEALI’s academic and professional fellowships will double in the year 2025. We will be able to bring over 900 youths from across the ASEAN region to the United States starting in 2025. We are thrilled to be able to do so.

I want to talk just a little bit briefly about my time in Bali and Jakarta because I advocated there for increased student exchanges with the Indonesian government. I signed a letter of intent with Indonesia’s Ministry of Religious Affairs on expanding the Fulbright Program and our English language teaching into religious institutions. And I visited our @america center in Jakarta where I had the chance to talk to over 200 young college students from across Indonesia. And what I wanted to say is that they are excited about the future through these eyes through the prism of this partnership. They are eager for us to invest in them to give them a platform to solve the problems in their communities with the solutions they know are needed, but that only we can help give them with purposeful investment. They were eager to learn more perhaps about what they can do through this center. They’re eager to visit us. We look forward to welcoming them. And they are really the energizing example of how we can build a more open, free, secure, and prosperous Indo-Pacific.

I am thrilled that this U.S.-ASEAN Center will provide a platform for domestic engagement. One of my top priorities. I think everyone in this room knows we can do a better job of talking to our fellow Americans about why international relations matter, how we are all so connected globally, and the opportunities for them to get involved.

Let me close by summarizing how we are thinking about this center’s role in doing that. This U.S.-ASEAN Center will be an inclusive and accessible space for scholars to dig into important issues and research. It will be a convening platform for the diplomatic community and U.S. officials as well as think tankers, civil society, and private sector representatives. It will be a venue for business roundtables that strengthen networks and feed into the already impressive trade relationship between the United States and ASEAN. It will be a forum for conferences that engages leading minds and diverse young people on the pressing issues facing all of us. It will be a unique site for high level dialogues.

And, while we know we have so much to celebrate with the opening of the center, we know it’s just the beginning. We have a lot of work ahead of us to make it a dynamic, living, breathing platform in partnership. We look forward to talking all to all of you about where you’d like the center to be and how we can partner together. This center really demonstrates the next step in the US-ASEAN relationship. I’m deeply grateful to be here just months after Vice President launched this deliverable in Jakarta in September, and I’m so happy to be here with my partners.

Thank you.

U.S. Department of State

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