Thank you very much, Secretary del Rosario, and let me express my pleasure at being here today. This is my fourth U.S.-ASEAN post-ministerial conference. And it gives us the chance to mark 35 years of partnership between ASEAN and the United States and to affirm and strengthen our ties. I want to thank our host, the Government of Cambodia, and for their preparations and their hospitality we are very appreciative. And let me also thank the foreign secretary in the Philippines, our country coordinator for the last three years, and to all of the colleagues around the table.
I also want to acknowledge that we are looking forward to working with the incoming country coordinator, Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin, and really are very appreciative of the work that we are doing to prepare for the close coordination with our colleagues from Nay Pyi Taw. And I look forward to discussing with the ministers here next steps in response to and in support of the important reform efforts that Nay Pyi Taw is taking.
The United States has an enduring commitment to the Asia Pacific and the Obama Administration has elevated our engagement across Asia as a strategic priority of our foreign policy. A central pillar of that strategy is to work more closely with ASEAN, to deepen our economic, strategic, and people-to-people engagement. As Secretary of State, I’ve been a strong supporter of ASEAN and I understand that ASEAN faces a variety of challenges and even growing pains as it adapts and takes on new responsibilities. But I believe ASEAN plays an indispensible role in holding this region’s institutional architecture together and in advancing the common interests of all stakeholders in the Asia Pacific. The work that we are doing here today and over the next two days is a testament to that, and the United States has a stake in ASEAN’s success. The positions that ASEAN takes, the decisions it makes, and how it makes them will have a great bearing on the future effectiveness of ASEAN.
When I’m asked in my country why I put so much emphasis on ASEAN, I tell people that we work with ASEAN on the issues that are of central importance to the United States, from maritime security to nonproliferation to economic growth. We have more investment in ASEAN than we have in China. That is a surprising fact to many people in our country. And we are working cooperatively and collaboratively on opportunities and challenges in the Asia Pacific region, because we believe, like all of you, that so much of the future will be determined in this region. So we have sought to hear your concerns and priorities, to work with you to advance them, and to be a good partner. What we have heard from you is that ASEAN and the countries of the Asia Pacific are seeking greater American engagement across the board. But you are particularly focused on areas where our presence at times has been underweighted.
On the economic front, there is much more room for us still to grow together, so we are working to foster more economic activity in very tangible ways. This week, I’ve assembled and led the largest ever delegation of American business executives to Cambodia, and we will attend the first U.S.-ASEAN Business Forum on Friday in Siem Reap to lay the groundwork for economic connections and mutual prosperity for a long time to come.
On development assistance, frankly speaking, people in the region are asking us to put our money where our mouth is, to borrow an American phrase. So we’ve created an initiative to reform and reinvigorate our assistance programs to ASEAN. It’s called the Asia Pacific Strategic Engagement Initiative, or APSEI. APSEI seeks to align our resources with the priorities we are pursuing in partnership with the countries around this table.
We are focused on six pillars: regional security cooperation, economic integration and trade, engagement in the Lower Mekong region, transnational threats, democratic development, and war legacies. We’re working not only on a bilateral basis but also regionally in order to get the best possible results. This adds up to a robust, systematic assistance package that will secure sustained levels of American support for the things we all care most about. Later this week here at ASEAN and at the Regional Forum, I will offer a down payment on APSEI, and in the coming months we’ll be able to talk more about this initiative and its resources.
On disaster relief, this is something I care deeply about, and I know that you and your citizens do as well. Natural disasters are one of the most significant challenges to the stability, development, and prosperity of the ASEAN nations. From the tsunami in Aceh in 2004 to the floods in the Philippines and Thailand last year, the United States has been a committed first responder. And last year, President Obama announced a Rapid Disaster Response Agreement, which establishes a legal framework that will lead to more effective deliveries of supplies, service, and personnel. Laos and Singapore have already endorsed this agreement; we are close to concluding it with the Philippines; and I encourage other ASEAN members to review it.
And then there are people-to-people initiatives, and I have to say that the one request I hear consistently as I travel throughout Southeast Asia is that people in this region want more opportunities to interact with Americans and to visit America, particularly young people. And of course, young people are the majority of the people in the ASEAN nations. So I strongly support this outreach. And we have created a U.S.-ASEAN Young Leaders Summit to connect our next generation of leaders. This fall, the United States will welcome the first students to Hawaii under the Brunei-U.S. English language initiative. We have also created a pilot program for a new Fulbright-ASEAN exchange to deepen our educational ties.
Now, on this particular issue, I could go on and on. There has been a flourishing of programs and partnerships among our nations during the past few years, all designed to bring us and especially our people closer together. And they are possible because of the foundation we have laid in forums like this one.
So the United States is committed to our partnership, and we welcome the contributions of other ASEAN dialogue partners, and we are invested in the future peace, stability, and prosperity of this region. We look forward to many more collaborative activities with our partners in ASEAN for years to come. Thank you very much, Secretary del Rosario.