Future opportunity for US growth depends on whether President
Obama focuses on Southeast Asia, not just China and India.
If the United States is to have a sustainable toehold in Asia,
Washington has to start paying serious attention to some countries
in the region that are not China or India.
There are 10 other countries in particular that hold the key to
America's central role in all of Asia. Engaging with them is a must
for US prosperity and national security. That's why President Obama
must follow through on his overtures to the region and carve out
time to attend the second ever US-ASEAN summit, this year.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) began in 1967
to accelerate economic growth and collaboration in the region. The
group is made up of 10 countries in Southeast Asia: Brunei
Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Burma (Myanmar),
the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. About 650 million
people live in the region, and each year gross domestic product adds
up to around $1.5 trillion. The Philippines and Thailand are two
longtime US treaty allies. According to the latest US Department of
Commerce figures, which were for 2008, the US had $153 billion
invested in ASEAN, $53 billion in China, and $14 billion in India.
Strategically, strong relations with ASEAN are vital to American
interests in Asia. Both Mr. Obama and Secretary of State Hillary
Rodham Clinton seem to be starting to recognize this. Secretary
Clinton outlined core US principles for Asian regional architecture
in Honolulu earlier this year. And Obama signed the ASEAN Treaty of
Amity and Cooperation and declared that US interests in Southeast
Asia are significant enough for annual presidential focus.
But lip service is only a beginning.
Strong ties with ASEAN are the metaphorical equivalent of strong
core muscles. They are fundamental to the effective functioning of
the other vital aspects of US policy in Asia, including engaging,
supporting, and balancing the rapid transformation of both China and
India onto the regional and global stage.
The president has a lot to gain from attending the US-ASEAN
Leaders Summit. Obama himself initiated the first US-ASEAN Summit
last November in Singapore. It was the first time a US president met
directly with the leaders of all 10 ASEAN countries. And it was a
smart move. ASEAN meets regularly with China, Japan, Korea,
Australia, New Zealand, and India.
Major milestones come from those summits: (1) effective regional
economic integration - ASEAN now has free-trade agreements with all
of the aforementioned countries, (2) the beginning of regional
security architecture, and (3) transnational issues - such as
climate change and nuclear nonproliferation.
If the US is absent, it could be excluded from a future Asian
"consensus" on such key issues. …