President Barack Obama recently opened the U.S.-ASEAN summit in Sunnylands, California, stating that few regions present more opportunity to the 21st century than the Asia Pacific. In order to take advantage of that opportunity, the U.S. has pursued a policy of engagement with Southeast Asia and ASEAN, which is central to the region's peace and prosperity.
Together, said President Obama, ASEAN members can continue to increase the trade and economic partnership that create jobs and opportunity for people throughout the region. Over the last 7 years, trade between the United States and ASEAN has increased by 55 percent.
"The region is now our fourth largest goods trading partner," said President Obama. U.S. companies have been the largest source of foreign investment in ASEAN – one of the many reasons the region's gross domestic product has surged in recent years, lifting people from poverty to the middle class.
President Obama urged ASEAN members to do more to encourage entrepreneurship and innovation so that growth and development is sustainable and benefits all people.
ASEAN also has an important security role to play. In recent years, the U.S. has increased its maritime security assistance to its allies and partners in the region, improving mutual capabilities to protect lawful commerce and to respond to humanitarian crises. President Obama urged ASEAN states to advance a shared vision of regional order where international rules and norms, including freedom of navigation are upheld and where disputes are resolved through peaceful, legal means.
Political freedom and accountability continue to play an important role in the region. The election in Burma and the political transition underway there give hope for a nation that is peaceful, united, and democratic. In joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei have committed to high labor and environmental standards. As President Obama noted, strong, prosperous and inclusive societies require good governance, rule of law, accountable institutions, vibrant civil societies, and upholding human rights.
The vision that brings ASEAN nations together, said President Obama, is economic growth, creating opportunity for all; mutual security and the peaceful resolution of disputes; and human dignity, including respect for human rights and development.