ASEAN Member State flags. Image: Flickr user Prachatai.

Second U.S.-ASEAN Leaders Meeting is First to be Held in United States

ASEAN Indonesia

U.S. President Barack Obama welcomed leaders of the ASEAN countries to the first U.S.-ASEAN Leaders Meeting to be held in the United States, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meetings in New York City, on Friday, September 24. In his opening remarks, Obama praised ASEAN’s leadership in Asia and reiterated the grouping’s importance to the United States, both economically and politically:

Our trade with ASEAN countries is growing. In fact, America exports — American exports to ASEAN countries are growing twice as fast as they are to other regions, so Southeast Asia will be important to reaching my goal of doubling American exports. …

ASEAN countries are increasingly playing a leadership role in the region, and ASEAN itself has the potential to be a very positive force in global affairs. That is why the United States has accepted ASEAN’s invitation to join the East Asia summit, which will help us meet regional and global challenges together.

Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet, the current Chairman of ASEAN, also welcomed the close ties between ASEAN and the United States, saying, “relations between ASEAN and U.S. play a very important role to the security, peace, and development in the region.”

The Joint Statement outlined many areas of agreement between the United States and ASEAN. The countries committed to strengthening cooperation on issues such as human rights, trade and investment, educational and cultural exchanges, health and pandemic diseases, and the environment. ASEAN acknowledged U.S. support for the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights and welcomed U.S. engagement of Myanmar/Burma, which it hoped would encourage the country “to undertake political and economic reforms to facilitate national reconciliation.”

ASEAN and the United States also welcomed an increase in trade in the first half of 2010, after the recent financial crisis. Two-way trade was valued at $84 billion during that period, a 28% increase over last year. They also agreed that more needs to be done to prevent global financial crises, citing both the current crisis and the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997-98:

ASEAN and the United States have learned valuable lessons from the crises of 1997 and 2008 and resolved to contribute to the reforms in the global financial architecture to safeguard the global economy from future crises…. In this respect, the United States acknowledged ASEAN’s constructive role in multilateral fora, including its contributions to the G-20 process.

Asia played a prominent role in President Obama’s three-day weekend in New York City. In addition to the U.S.-ASEAN Leaders Meeting, Obama also had scheduled meetings with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan. The message is that the administration will be reorienting its foreign policy toward Asia. “Frankly, Asia’s where the action is,” said Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser for strategic communications.

The luncheon with the ASEAN leaders was not without one diplomatic faux pas. The Filipino flag was inadvertently displayed upside down — with the red stripe on top — erroneously suggesting the country was in a state of war. The U.S. Embassy called it “an honest mistake” and the Philippine foreign affairs department said it “should not detract from the true significance of the summit, which showed the unprecedented cooperation between the ASEAN and the U.S.”

The third U.S.-ASEAN Leaders Meeting is scheduled for 2011 in conjunction with the East Asia Summit in Jakarta, Indonesia.