The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) celebrates its 50th anniversary this year as the US and ASEAN celebrate 40 years as dialogue partners. Comprising 10 member states — Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar (Burma), Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam — ASEAN was founded in 1967 with the purpose of promoting economic growth and regional stability. (Learn more: What is ASEAN?)
To mark these two important anniversaries, the East-West Center’s newest publication, ASEAN Matters for America/America Matters for ASEAN, launching on May 16, highlights the important and multi-faceted US-ASEAN relationship. Emphasizing the different ways the relationship affects people at state and local levels, ASEAN Matters for America — part of the East-West Center in Washington’s larger Asia Matters for America initiative — provides data on the connections between the United States and ASEAN member states in terms of diplomacy, economics, security, education, and community.
ASEAN is central to regional stability and security in the Asia Pacific and was a major part of the Obama Administration’s pivot to Asia. The US was the first non-ASEAN country to appoint a resident Ambassador to the organization, and in 2010 a US permanent mission to ASEAN was established. ASEAN convenes several meetings to enhance security and political cooperation across the Asia Pacific including the East Asia Summit (EAS), the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting-Plus (ADMM-Plus), and the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) – all of which include US participation. In 2015, the US-ASEAN relationship was elevated into a strategic partnership, and in 2016 the first multi-day US-ASEAN Summit was held at Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage, California.
Engagement with ASEAN continues under the Trump Administration. With White House invitations extended to heads of state from the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam, ASEAN remains a key partner for the US in trade, investment, diplomacy, and security.
At a recent US-ASEAN Dialogue meeting between US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and representatives of the 10 ASEAN member states, Secretary Tillerson emphasized the importance of ASEAN as an essential partner in the Asia Pacific region, and as a top priority for the Trump Administration. He will also travel to the region in August to represent the US at the EAS, ARF and other Ministerial meetings.
During Vice President Mike Pence’s visit to the ASEAN Secretariat in April, he noted that “our relationship without a doubt has benefited both ASEAN and America -- diplomatically, economically, and from the standpoint of national security.” Subsequently, “to protect that prosperity and to ensure our continued growth, the United States will redouble our cooperation with ASEAN on issues of regional security.”
President Trump is expected to travel to the region for the annual US-ASEAN Summit in November in the Philippines, as well as attend the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Vietnam.
Celebrating 40 years of dialogue partnership in 2017, the founding members of the newly-formed Congressional Caucus on ASEAN have introduced a resolution to celebrate the vibrant relationship. Caucus co-chairs Representative Joaquin Castro (TX-20) and Representative Ann Wagner (MO-02) hope to underscore the importance of engaging with ASEAN. According to Congressman Castro, “Working together, the United States and ASEAN can address pressing issues like the North Korean threat, maritime disputes, human trafficking, access to education, and food security. Our nations will become safer and more prosperous if we deepen our relationships.” Accordingly, Wagner has also iterated that “the US-ASEAN strategic partnership is one of America’s most important.” Among its provisions, the resolution reaffirms US-ASEAN political engagement while also supporting people-to-people programs such as the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI). The US Senate has also introduced a similar resolution.
In 2015, the United States exported over $100 billion in goods and services to ASEAN, supporting nearly 550,000 jobs in the US. There is almost $274 billion in US investment in the region, more than China, Japan, India, and South Korea combined. Additionally, visitors from ASEAN contributed $5 billion to the US economy, and the 55,000 students from ASEAN member states studying in the US have contributed $1.7 billion.
Caitlin Brophy is a project assistant with the East-West Center in Washington. Karen Mascarinas is a master's candidate in American University's Ethics, Peace, and Global Affairs program and a research intern with the East-West Center in Washington.