Dr. Satu Limaye, Director of the East-West Center in Washington, holds up the ASEAN Matters for America/ America Matters for ASEAN publication during the panel "Why ASEAN Matters: U.S.-ASEAN Trade and Investment,†at the Asia's Best Kept Secret: ASE

The East-West Center Explains Why ASEAN Matters to America at the Asia’s Best Kept Secret Conference


On February 17th the East-West Center (EWC) was represented by Dr. Satu Limaye at a major conference in San Francisco, Asia's Best Kept Secret: The ASEAN Economic Community. The eight panels and receptions featured high-profile speakers including Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo, United States Trade Representative Michael B. Froman, Secretary General of ASEAN Le Luong Minh, San Francisco Mayor Edwin M. Lee, and many others.

Organized by the US-ASEAN Business Council, the day-long event explored the realities and possibilities in US-ASEAN relations following President Obama’s historic US-ASEAN Special Leaders’ Summit, which took place February 15-16th at Sunnylands in California. Previously, the EWC and the US-ASEAN Business Council collaborated on the latest ASEAN Matters for America/ American Matters for ASEAN project, a print and online publication released in 2014 as part of the Asia Matters for America initiative.

Director of the East-West Center in Washington, Dr. Limaye, participated on a panel titled “Why ASEAN Matters: U.S.-ASEAN Trade and Investment,” moderated by Mark Barnes, a Partner-in-Charge at KPMG. Fellow panelists included Ambassador Dino Patti Djalal, former Indonesian Ambassador to the US, and the Honorable David Carden, former US Ambassador to ASEAN. Ambassador Dino has served in Indonesia's Department of Foreign Affairs since 1987, and in 2002 he was appointed Director for North American Affairs. From 2004 – 2010, Dino served on the Special Staff of the President for International Affairs. Dino was Indonesia's ambassador to the US from 2010-2013, during which US-Indonesia relations were elevated to a Comprehensive Partnership. Ambassador Carden served as the first resident US Ambassador to ASEAN from 2011 – 2013, overseeing increased engagement between the US and Southeast Asia as part of the US rebalance to Asia. Carden’s work supported the 10 ASEAN member countries as they formed the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2015 to integrate economically, promoting peace and prosperity in the region.

Dr. Limaye spoke on the importance and impact of ASEAN’s trade and investment for America at the local, state, and national levels. US foreign-direct investment in ASEAN is worth $226 billion and is the top destination for US investment in Asia. ASEAN is also America’s 4th largest export destination, and trade with ASEAN supports 370,000 American jobs. The AEC, a collective economy of more than $2.4 trillion, presents an enormous opportunity for US companies looking to invest in the region, as it is the 3rd largest unified market in the world with 622 million people. He also remarked on the changing geopolitics of the region; developments that also make the region more important to America’s future. Mr. Barnes noted that ASEAN’s labor force is young and is again the world’s third largest. Ambassador Carden raised the issue of ASEAN’s development and said, “ASEAN needs trillions in infrastructure- how can it be paid for without revenue?” Ambassador Dino expressed hope that “ASEAN remains a stabilizing presence for countries and the region."

Partner institutions for Asia’s Best Kept Secret featured a mixture of local, state, and national organizations including: the Asia Foundation, Asia Society’s Northern and Southern California Centers, the Bay Area Council, the California-Asia Business Council, the California Chamber of Commerce, Eisenhower Fellowships, The National Bureau of Asian Research, the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce, Perry World House, San Francisco Center for Economic Development, and the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business.

Sponsors who facilitated Asia's Best Kept Secret were: Chevron, UL, Freeport-Morgan, Philip Morris International, General Electric, Microsoft, TE Connectivity, UPS, Coca-Cola, KPMG, Mattel, Twitter, and Visa. The conference was well-documented on Twitter via the hashtag #asiasbestkeptsecret. To learn more about how ASEAN impacts Americans at the local, state, and national level, please explore our state and congressional district profiles and download the publication.

Melissa Newcomb is a Project Assistant at the East-West Center in Washington, D.C.