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Close ties between the US and ASEAN

By Ioan Voicu - posted Tuesday, 6 June 2006


Globalisation demands global diplomacy adaptable to regional requirements. The Asia-Pacific area is emerging as the epicentre of future global economic growth leading to a scenario where the current century will enter history as the Asia-Pacific Century.

Consequently appropriate attention should be given to South-East Asia and its main institutional structure represented by the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), which will be 40 years old next year.

With its ten members (Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam) ASEAN is home to over 500 million people, 60 per cent of whom are under 30 years of age. Its combined GDP is the third largest in Asia, after China and Japan. It covers an extraordinary spectrum of cultures, religions and political systems. Its members include the world's most populous Muslim nation, a most prestigious Buddhist kingdom, a Catholic democracy, an absolute monarchy, two communist-run states and a country led by a military junta.

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Beyond any anti-US rhetoric, many analysts of the geopolitical map assert that in the Asia-Pacific Century the US may well remain the world's leading power and will sharpen its focus within the region.

But analysts ignore the future of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), an inter-governmental organisation founded in 2001 by six countries - China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Its member states cover an area of over 30 million square kilometres, or about three fifths of Eurasia, with a population of 1.455 billion, representing about a quarter of the world's total.

Unlike ASEAN, the SCO has a charter, legal personality and observer status with the United Nations (UN). According to press reports, Mongolia, Iran, India and Pakistan will become SCO members.

To understand the significance and implications of current geopolitics in the Asia-Pacific region, diplomats and analysts must first of all assess statements from the US, ASEAN and the SCO without any bias against US foreign policy.

Partnership not paternalism

As the joint statement, issued by the US and ASEAN in June 28, 2005, shows the key strategic issues that shape ASEAN-US relations include: ongoing commitment to the reconstruction of tsunami-devastated areas; significant and growing trade relationships; co-operation in fighting terrorism; ensuring the security of critical waterways; a shared commitment to halting the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction-related technology; and joint efforts to prevent the spread of diseases like avian influenza, and so on.

The close engagement between ASEAN and the US remains a key foundation for regional peace, security and prosperity. The ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) is the primary forum for enhancing political and security co-operation in the Asia-Pacific region. ASEAN is in the driver's seat in that structure and it will continue to be relevant to the US for strategic reasons.

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For ASEAN the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in South-East Asia (TAC) is very important as a code of conduct governing relations in the region promoting peace and stability. In this connection, ASEAN stated that it would welcome the US acceding to the TAC. That would be a very significant event as a symbol of collective political commitment. Indeed, Article 1 of TAC stipulates that the purpose of the treaty is to promote perpetual peace, everlasting amity and co-operation among peoples which would contribute to their strength, solidarity and closer relationship.

There is progress in implementing the ASEAN-US Work Plan on Counter-Terrorism. The US supports the ongoing efforts of ASEAN to prevent, suppress and eradicate acts of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and to combat transnational crime.

The above issues have been further updated in the Joint Vision Statement on the ASEAN-US Enhanced Partnership, released in November 2005. This partnership is comprehensive, action-oriented and forward-looking, and comprises political and security co-operation, and economic, social and development collaboration.

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First published in the Bangkok Post, on May 21, 2006.



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About the Author

Dr Ioan Voicu is a Visiting Professor at Assumption University in Bangkok

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