Book Launch: Realizing the ASEAN Economic Community

Scot Marciel
Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
Singapore, DC
November 14, 2009

AMBASSADOR MARCIEL:  Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to be here today. Thank you, Mr. Secretary General, Minister, for giving me the opportunity to be with you today. It is always very difficult to follow a Minister. It is always very difficult -- as I’ve learned from experience -- to follow the Secretary General. Both because he’s very eloquent and because, as I can see, he’s been studying economics, and because he stole many of my lines. But, let me give it a shot anyway.

It is, as the Secretary General said, and the Minister said, it’s a perfect time to launch this book, which is an excellent example of the cooperation that’s underway in many areas between the United States and ASEAN. The United States has been committed, as the Secretary General said, to Southeast Asia and ASEAN for decades. This is not new. We’ve worked together and we’ve been part of Southeast Asia, a partner of Southeast Asia for many years. And the reason is simple. Our interest is that Southeast Asia be a region of countries and people who enjoy peace, stability, greater freedom, and greater prosperity. And we think ASEAN plays a central role in making that happen. Looking ahead we expect ASEAN to play an even more central role. Now that it has a Charter and it’s moving ahead vigorously, ASEAN plays a key role in the region, and so our relationship with ASEAN is key to our overall relationship in the region.

This year, as the Secretary General said, we’ve made significant efforts to step up our engagement in Southeast Asia and with ASEAN per se. As you know, Secretary Clinton made her first foreign trip to Asia and to Southeast Asia and made the first-ever stop by a Secretary of State at the ASEAN Secretariat where she and the Secretary General had a good and constructive conversation. We did sign the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation. We acceded to that. The Secretary did go to the Ministerial, and the Secretary General is not giving himself enough credit. As I recall in that meeting, Mr. Secretary General, you thanked Secretary Clinton for making good on some commitments and then suggested that making good on a U.S. Leaders Meeting would really be a test. I recall the Secretary turning around and saying something to the effect of, “Make it happen.”

Thankfully we’ve been able to do that. We’re looking forward to really an historic meeting, the first meeting between the President of the United States and the ten leaders of ASEAN.

As part of our overall approach of engaging with ASEAN and supporting ASEAN’s own goals of building communities and achieving this economic integration, we have been working with USAID, the State Department, and others, working with the Secretariat and with ASEAN members to help where we can: On capacity building, identifying issues that needed to resolved, trying to play very much a supportive role. Here our agenda is very much ASEAN’s agenda. And our job is to help ASEAN succeed in this goal.
When I think about these goals, I think particularly about the goal of economic integration by 2015, I think very few Americans, and perhaps not that many people even in the region, appreciate just how truly dramatic it will be when ASEAN achieves this goal. This is huge.

I think the Secretary General mentioned the GDP of the region of over $1.5 trillion. For American business Southeast Asia is huge. It’s a major export market and a major market for our investors, our companies. As ASEAN moves ahead, and as it achieves economic integration, I think it’s going to be dramatic, for the region, but also for the world.

At the same time we realize that moving in this direction is not easy. It’s not easy for any country. It’s certainly not easy for a group of ten countries. It’s going to take a lot of political will. There will be a lot of challenges. And so, this book is exactly what is needed. Because this book lays out very clearly the very tangible and significant benefits that will accrue to the people of the region with economic integration. And I think it will be a huge, as we say, source of ammunition for the proponents of integration, because the reality is, ASEAN has five years to go. It sounds like a long time. It’s not very much time to do a lot.

We’re going to be supportive any way we can, but it’s really going to be up to ASEAN and all the leaders of ASEAN. And I think using this book will help dramatically. It makes clear that the economic benefits will include faster growth, greater trade, more foreign direct investment and job creation. It will lead to increased trade within ASEAN, but also, we expect, between ASEAN and the rest of the world. It should help significantly reduce poverty in the region. It should help reduce and close the development gap between ASEAN’s wealthiest and poorest members. So once again, skeptics ought to look at this book, they ought to read it carefully, and I hope they will realize that this goal of economic integration is the right one and it’s one that ASEAN should work whole-heartedly to achieve. We certainly will do everything we can in support.

And if I can just make one pitch at the end: We will stay committed and engaged in this region. There’s no question about it. We are an Asia-Pacific nation. And my real pitch is: ASEAN needs not only to move ahead toward integration, which it will, but to make sure the world knows about it. So we certainly hope that ASEAN government officials and businesses will come to the United States, go elsewhere in the world in the next year and spread this message. Tell us what you’re doing, so that our business people and our press and our publics will know what you’re doing. Thank you very much.

QUESTION: What do you say can ASEAN countries do to promote themselves in the U.S.? And would it include businessmen from Myanmar in the event the sanctions are still in place?

AMBASSADOR MARCIEL:  What we’ve been saying is that in addition to ASEAN moving ahead to create this integrated market, it’s important that ASEAN impact markets with what it’s doing. It’s not particularly well known in the United States. I can’t speak for other parts of the world. And so what we’ve said is that we would welcome people of ASEAN coming together as an ASEAN group, officials and business people, to talk about it. It’s really up to ASEAN members to decide who they would send. I won’t use this as an opportunity to talk about what Burma or Myanmar can do to get rid of the sanctions.

QUESTION: Obama in Tokyo said (inaudible).

AMBASSADOR MARCIEL:  One of the things I’ve learned in my career is never try to elaborate on what the President of the United States said. That could only end badly for me. I would just say let’s leave it at that for the moment. The President will be here later today. (Inaudible) I don’t want to try to elaborate on it. But the Secretary General will.

QUESTION: This is a question for Ambassador Marciel from Reuters. Since we’re talking about ASEAN, and it’s going to be having a summit tomorrow, could you give us some preview on what to expect from this summit, what agenda will be discussed? In particular, will President Obama be sitting in the same group and floor as Myanmar Prime Minister Thein Sein? When you visited Myanmar just last week, you didn’t get a chance to meet the Senior General Than Shwe.

AMBASSADOR MARCIEL: Well, I think the agenda is fundamentally to talk about how the United States and ASEAN can continue to build and expand cooperation and work together on a wide range of issues that affect the region and the globe. It’s a pretty broad agenda. And its terms of participation, as far as we know, will be President Obama and the leaders from the ten ASEAN countries.