U.S. engagement with Southeast Asia part of Asia strategy: officials

08:22, October 29, 2010      

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Senior White House officials on Thursday classed U.S. engagement with Southeast Asia as a very important part of its Asia strategy, both in economic and security fronts.

"These are very dynamic, growing markets, from Indonesia to Vietnam to Thailand," Ben Rhodes, White House Deputy National Security Advisor For Strategic Communications, told reporters at the White House.

He said the U.S. wants to have deeper economic cooperation with the region, in order for U.S. goods to flow in to create jobs at home.

Sluggish growth and high unemployment dominate U.S. politics in the run-up to congressional elections on November 2, with voter anger and frustration expected to make the governing Democrats lose ground heavily in the polls.

On the security front, Rhodes noted that there are al-Qaida- affiliated groups in the region, saying "we have very close counterterrorism cooperation with the Philippines and Indonesia and others to ensure that al-Qaida doesn't get a foothold in this part of the world."

Besides, the region is important to U.S. values on democracy and human rights, the senior advisor said at a White House news briefing on President Barack Obama's planned trip next month to Indonesia, South Korea and Japan. A similar briefing was held Wednesday on Obama's trip to India, the first stop of the president's four-nation tour.

"So across these issues, we see core U.S. national interests that will be advanced by us playing a key role in helping to shape the future of the region and making clear that we're an Asian and a Pacific power," Rhodes concluded, noting the U.S. had kind of disengaged from Southeast Asia under former Republican President George W. Bush.

When visiting Indonesia in February 2009, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced U.S. plan to join the ASEAN Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC). ASEAN is a regional grouping of Southeast Asia, comprising Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, while TAC is a peace treaty of the grouping signed in 1976 aimed at promoting regional stability and was amended in December 1987 to allow accession by states outside Southeast Asia.

In July 2009, Clinton signed the TAC in Thailand, hailing the move as a mark of U.S. return to the region and a leap forward towards greater engagement with the region.

Obama met with ASEAN leaders respectively in Singapore in November 2009 and in New York in September this year. He has announced his intention to join the ASEAN-centered East Asia summit, an annual gathering attended by the 10 ASEAN members together with China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.

Jeff Bader, senior director for Asian affairs of the White House National Security Council, said Secretary Clinton, who is on a tour of Asia-Pacific nations, will be attending the East Asia summit on Oct. 30 as a guest of the chair. In the future, the president himself will attend the event.

"So there's been a whole slew of steps, from day one this has been kind of a strategic policy of ours," Bader stressed. "It's not been a reaction to events."

"We see this very much in the context of the focus we've put on Asia as a region of the world with the most dynamic and growing markets, that are going to be fundamental to our export initiative of doubling exports in the world, but also fundamental to a number of political and security concerns that will be a subject of the president's travel," Rhodes told reporters.

He added that "if you look at the trend lines in the 21st century, the rise of Asia -- the rise of individual countries within Asia is one of the defining stories of our time. If you look at where the economic growth is taking place, it is hugely oriented towards Asia."

He described Obama's forthcoming Asian trip as a part of the president's Asia strategy and a renewed U.S. engagement in Asia that is founded upon "our core alliances in the region" as South Korea and Japan, and deepening partnerships with emerging powers as Indonesia.

Commerce and trade are expected to figure prominently in Obama' s Asian tour, who has vowed to double U.S. exports in five years and create 2 million jobs for the Americans.

In addition to bilateral talks, Obama also has such big gatherings as G-20 and APEC to hype up his export initiative.

Source: Xinhua


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