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ASEAN influence.

As the current chair of the ASEAN Committee in Washington (ACW), the Philippines has been hosting several meetings and events to foster closer ties with fellow ambassadors from Association of Southeast Asian Nations member-countries and elevate the regional bloc's profile among US government officials, legislators, business organizations and other private sector groups in Washington, D.C.

Last week, we hosted a welcome reception for the new Thai Ambassador to the United States Virachai Plasai and his wife Madame Elizabeth. The reception was simultaneously a farewell event for Vietnam Ambassador Pham Quang Vinh and his wife, Madame Hoang Bich Lien. It was also good to see our ASEAN brothers during the celebration of our Independence Day which turned to be very successful. These types of high profile events underscore the fact that the ACW has become a solid influential group in DC.

ASEAN is now a strategic and economic powerhouse on a global scale. As the US-ASEAN Business Council highlighted, the 10-member regional bloc - with its 630 million population plus a combined GDP of $2.4 trillion - is 'at the center of a dynamic Asia Pacific Region' whose projected growth rate of over five percent a year could make it the fourth largest economy in the world by 2050.

Analysts agree that the 'free and open Indo-Pacific' strategy of the administration of President Trump - which calls for keeping open the sea lines of communication which are 'the lifeblood of the region' as stressed by Alex Wong, Deputy Assistant Secretary at the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs of the US Department of State during a briefing - must take cognizance of the important role played by Southeast Asia and ASEAN.

As noted by Dr. Patrick Cronin and Abigail Grace of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, 'ASEAN is the fulcrum of a free and open Indo-Pacific.' That the historic summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was hosted in Singapore - the current chair of the ASEAN - underscores America's recognition that Southeast Asia's centrality is core to a successful free and open Indo-Pacific.

'Southeast Asia is a strategic hinge point of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. The nations of this region will determine whether the vast Indo-Pacific is governed by the rule of law or the use of arbitrary power. Individually and collectively, ASEAN members are at the crucial nexus for deciding whether the coming decades will expand or shrink individual liberty, national sovereignty, and the freedom to navigate the global commons,' Cronin and Grace wrote.

We recently hosted the launch of a white paper by the Asia Society Policy Institute on 'The Role of the ASEAN-US Partnership on Building a Free and Open Indo-Pacific' at the Philippine Embassy Chancery Annex, with Asia Society president and CEO Josette Sheeran presenting the key points of the white paper (whose final version will be released later) highlighting the importance of exchanges and discussions to cultivate mutual understanding between the regional bloc and the United States.

Coming on the heels of the 40th anniversary of ASEAN-US relations last year, the white paper will certainly be valuable as we chart where our cooperation should lead in the coming years considering the many challenges and opportunities presented by our dynamic region, I told the key stakeholders in attendance who recognized the value of the practical recommendations outlined in the white paper.

The document is a culmination of working group meetings between representatives of ASEAN embassies in Washington, US government officials, congressional staff and various experts from the think-tank community who shared ideas on how to strengthen the partnership between the United States and ASEAN within the politico-security, economic and socio-cultural context, and in the face of emerging challenges in the national, regional and global spheres.

The discussion also delved on support for the proposed Asia Reassurance Initiative Act of 2018, a bipartisan bill that aims to 'develop a long-term strategic vision and a comprehensive, multifaceted and principled US policy for the Indo-Pacific region,' which will also authorize $1.5 billion every year for five years to boost US presence in the region and fund regular military exercises with US allies to strengthen maritime security, promote freedom of navigation and help combat terrorist groups that include ISIS.

Southeast Asian nations are also looking forward to an articulation of a Southeast Asia strategy at the upcoming ASEAN Regional Forum in Singapore this coming August. I accompanied Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano at the State Department last Thursday to meet newly installed State Secretary Mike Pompeo. The cordial interaction between the two made me very optimistic that the ties that bind the relations between the United States and the Philippines will continue to be reinforced.

Secretary Cayetano told his US counterpart the Philippine government's views regarding the developments in the Korean Peninsula, expressing optimism that the Trump-Kim summit will bode well for the broader Asia-Pacific region. Joining us at the meeting with Secretary Pompeo was National Security Adviser Jun Esperon who I also accompanied to meet with his American counterpart, Ambassador John Bolton, at the West Wing of the White House. Unfortunately, the details of our meeting are completely off the record.

ASEAN countries play a significant role in the US, and as representatives of our respective countries, we will continue to be actively involved in strengthening the voice of ASEAN even more as we continue to interact with key Washington stakeholders to elevate the concerns and advance the interest of the regional group's member nations.
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Publication:Philippines Star (Manila, Philippines)
Geographic Code:90SOU
Date:Jun 24, 2018
Words:991
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