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Looking back on 40 years of U.S.-ASEAN relations

Jan 26,2023

With 2017 marking the 40th anniversary of the partnership between the U.S. and ASEAN, it seems fitting to take a closer look at this cooperative relationship and consider its potential for the future.

In 1977, the U.S. and ASEAN became dialogue partners with the shared goals of stability, prosperity, and peace in South East Asia. This marked the beginning of what has generally been a long and prosperous relationship for both parties. While the historical connection between the ASEAN region and the U.S. extends far beyond 1977, the declaration of becoming dialogue partners solidified a firm commitment to strengthening the bond between the regions. Being dialogue partners, representatives meet regularly to guide regional development.

The strategic importance of U.S. and ASEAN economic engagement should not be underestimated. ASEAN has risen to become the third largest trading partner of the U.S. and receives $100 billion in U.S. goods and services exports. ASEAN is the largest destination for U.S. investment in Asia and as a result, there has been a significant increase in economic programs across the region. Additionally, multiple trade policies exist in order to facilitate mutually beneficial economic engagement. The U.S. also holds significant interest in the success of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). The AEC ensures a more integrated and prosperous ASEAN which is strongly aligned with U.S. strategic interests. Not only does the AEC enhance the economic ties between the U.S. and ASEAN, but it is also compatible with the goals of combatting international terrorism and strengthening intellectual property rights enforcement.

The formation of various organizations has joined the two regions further in their union, such as the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council and the U.S.-ASEAN Energy Work Plan. The ties between the countries feed off the shared values and goals that form a basis for the relationship. The results of the partnership continue to be exceptionally impressive, for example, the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council has benefitted more than 3,500 small and medium-sized enterprises. These initiatives have formed in order to meet the primary commitments of the U.S.-ASEAN partnership. Both ASEAN and the U.S. have a continued commitment to five core priorities: cultivating ASEAN emerging leaders, supporting economic integration, addressing transnational challenges, promoting opportunities for ASEAN women, and expanding maritime cooperation.

Cultivating ASEAN emerging leaders is seen as a core priority as 65% of ASEAN’s population is comprised of young people. In an era of evolving technology, it is vital for nations to focus on educating their youth to effectively cope with new and unforeseen challenges. YSEALI (Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative), for example, has benefitted more than 100,000 young people and over 80,000 of these are active on digital platforms. The U.S.-ASEAN relationship has also introduced new fellowship and scholarship programs, such as Fulbright Visiting Scholar Initiative, promoting research and innovation on an international scale. Furthermore, in order to address the core priority of increasing economic integration in ASEAN, the U.S. has established various agreements to facilitate trade such as the U.S.-ASEAN Trade and Investment Framework. The existence of such agreements facilitates the creation of business opportunities and jobs for both parties.

Maritime cooperation is another of the five top commitments. To address this goal, efforts have largely been focused on fighting environmental degradation and encouraging sustainable fishing practices. Over the last five years, the U.S. has initiated over 600 training workshops totaling over $51 million to advance maritime cooperation. The fourth of the five goals, promoting opportunity for women in ASEAN, has led to a renewed focus on female-led innovation. Both parties are keen to encourage female entrepreneurs through the ASEAN Women Entrepreneurs Network and the recently established ASEAN-U.S. Science Prize for Women. U.S. funding for female economic engagement programs has totaled over $14 million. The fifth and final objective of the U.S.-ASEAN partnership is ‘addressing transnational challenges.’ The primary objective is to have the ability to address 21st Century challenges which ranges from climate change and environmental sustainability, to combatting human trafficking and ensuring cyber security. One outcome under this goal has been the training of 30,000 individuals across ASEAN in natural resources management and conservation.

It is evident that the U.S.-ASEAN partnership has had significant impacts on the global economy, especially within the ASEAN region itself. The last 40 years have been remarkable in many ways with the U.S. placing U.S.-ASEAN relations as a high priority. In fact, the U.S. was the first non-ASEAN country to name an ambassador to ASEAN, to establish a dedicated ASEAN mission, and to provide a dedicated military advisor to ASEAN in Jakarta. For ASEAN, the U.S. has provided many firsts, and it will be fascinating to watch the development of this partnership over the next 40 years.

Find out how YSEALI Generation: ECommunity! is working towards strengthening U.S.-ASEAN relations.

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