Developing an Enduring U.S. Strategy for Southeast Asia

[Editor’s Note: The major findings of the CSIS U.S.-ASEAN Strategy Commission will be released today. The following highlights their findings to strengthen the economic basis for an enduring U.S.- ASEAN relationship.]

ASEAN leaders with President Obama. Developing an enduring strategy for Southeast Asia is an increasingly important part of U.S. future engagement in the region. Source: Abhisit Vejjajiva's flickr photostream, used under a creative commons license.

The United States is perceived by ASEAN leaders as not having a proactive trade and investment policy for Southeast Asia, which limits U.S. engagement with the region. The lack of a proactive trade policy also hampers U.S. companies from realizing the full potential of opportunities in this dynamic region and creating more high-paying, export-related jobs in the United States.

Those are two of the key findings of an executive summary released on November 4 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ (CSIS) U.S.-ASEAN Strategy Commission. The commission was organized to provide recommendations to American policy makers with the goal of developing a long term U.S. strategy toward Southeast Asia. Co-chaired by Maurice R. “Hank” Greenberg, chairman of the C.V. Starr Company, and former U.S. secretary of defense and senator William S. Cohen, the 17 person commission brought together top executives from American companies, former government officials, and civil society leaders.

“ASEAN is vitally important to the United States, but our current engagement is neither as comprehensive nor as strategic as our interests warrant,” the commissioners concluded in the executive summary of their report entitled “Developing an Enduring Strategy for Southeast Asia.”

The policy study was launched one year ago and included an extensive review of U.S. interests in Southeast Asia ranging from security and political ties to trade and investment relations to sociocultural and people to people ties.

On the economic front, the commissioners called on the United States to take immediate steps to establish American leadership on trade and investment issues.  Proactive economic engagement is fundamental to achieving a balanced U.S. foreign policy in Southeast Asia, they said.

To achieve these economic goals, the commission made a number of recommendations, including the following:

  • The president or vice president should lead a CEO-level business delegation to several ASEAN countries to promote new trade and investment opportunities.
  • The United States must restate its commitment to try to complete as soon as possible the Trans-Partnership (TPP) agreement which includes four ASEAN countries (Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, and Vietnam).
  • The president should propose preparations for future negotiations on a U.S.-ASEAN free trade agreement (FTA) at the upcoming U.S.-ASEAN leaders’ summit in Bali. By setting this goal, the United States will underscore a strategic commitment to promoting its interests in Southeast Asia by engaging in actions that would help ASEAN members build capacity to enter an FTA.

The commission’s executive summary is available here. The full report, “Developing an Enduring Strategy for Southeast Asia,” will be published at the end of 2011.


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