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Remarks: Chargé d’Affaires Mansour at the ASEAN Matters for America/America Matters for ASEAN Launch
September 27, 2019

For Immediate Release
REMARKS (as delivered)


Chargé d’Affaires, a.i., Rafik Mansour
Launch of ASEAN Matters for America/America Matters for ASEAN
ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, Singapore

September 27, 2019

Good morning everybody. I would like to thank the East-West Center, the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council, and the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute for your important work on the ASEAN Matters for America/America Matters for ASEAN initiative and for hosting this event today. It is a pleasure to be here, and I look forward to what will surely be a lively discussion of U.S. leadership and cooperation in this critical region.

The United States was the first non-ASEAN country to establish a permanent mission to the organization, a point of pride for us. As we now celebrate more than 40 years as ASEAN dialogue partners, we continue to grow together across key diplomatic, economic, and security partnerships.

American diplomatic engagement with ASEAN has always been driven by our desire for partnerships built on respect for the sovereignty of nations and our shared commitment to common goals. We see strong convergence between the principles enshrined in ASEAN’s Indo-Pacific outlook issued this June —inclusivity, openness, a region based on rule of law, good governance, and respect for international law — and the United States’ vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific. This shared vision for robust cooperation to ensure a vibrant, thriving future in Southeast Asia makes us all safer, more prosperous, and more interconnected, benefitting the entire region and beyond.

That’s why the U.S. remains committed to ASEAN principles of collaboration and cooperation across the region. We place ASEAN centrality at the core of our vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific. Over the years, American leaders across party lines have laid out a common vision for Southeast Asia: a fluid, dynamic, secure, and economically competitive region that upholds rules based order and good governance.

The result of our robust diplomatic and security ties is the creation of new opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurship. U.S. investment in ASEAN countries is currently 271 billion U.S. dollars, more than what U.S. companies have directed to China and Japan combined, making it the top destination for U.S. investment in the Indo-Pacific. Most of that investment comes right here to Singapore, making the United States the largest single-country investor in Singapore. We also remain Singapore’s largest trade partner in services by more than double any other single country.

The more than 4,500 American companies that operate in Singapore represent a growth of almost 20 percent over the past three years, demonstrating the value the private sector places on Singapore and the access it provides to the region. This thriving trade and investment relationship is possible because of America’s many shared values with Singapore and the strong foundation provided by our bilateral free trade agreement, the first of its kind in Asia, now in its fifteenth year. U.S. trade and investment with this dynamic region is thriving.

Of course, this economic prosperity could not be possible without coordinated security efforts that keep us all safe and secure. We work together on critical issues ranging from maritime security, counter-terrorism, and anti-trafficking, disaster management, anti-corruption, cyber security, and nuclear non-proliferation. The United States is deepening cooperation across the Indo-Pacific to confront common threats, protect shared resources, and uphold sovereignty. In particular, we are working hand-in-hand with the region to safeguard navigational rights and freedoms in the South China Sea.

In this spirit of partnership, we are proud to cooperate with Singapore on the Third Country Training Program, which provides technical assistance and training to ASEAN member states. It focuses on connectivity, sustainable development, and regional resilience. Since its launch, Singapore and the United States have jointly organized more than 50 workshops and trained more than 1,200 officials from ASEAN member states in the areas of trade, environment, health, urban planning, and disaster management, among others. Our shared security and prosperity depends on a free and open Indo-Pacific, and we will continue to advance that vision now and in the future.

Many of our shared successes are highlighted in the ASEAN Matters for America/America Matters for ASEAN publication. This report tells the great story of our fruitful partnerships that benefit both sides of the Pacific. It highlights a strong, upward trajectory indicative of the ever-increasing strength of our bilateral and multilateral cooperation. My team and I really value this annual report and refer to it frequently. For example, the report notes that the total value of U.S.-ASEAN bilateral trade has increased 28 percent over the past decade.

Several other statistics in the report caught my eye – many related to the strong connections between Southeast Asia and my home state of California, a place for which I hold a deep sense of pride and I love it. Before moving to Singapore, I was fortunate to spend a whole month at home reconnecting with California, and it was heartening to see the incredible growth, creativity, innovation, and endless opportunities there. The report notes that California exports more than 17 billion dollars in goods and services to ASEAN, making it the largest U.S. exporter to ASEAN.  In fact, if California were to be its own nation, it would be the fifth largest economy in the world.

I was also proud to learn that the top U.S. destination for ASEAN students is California, though it came as no surprise given the tradition of academic excellence valued by students from this region. Having spent much of my diplomatic career focused on public diplomacy, these people-to-people dynamics highlighted in the report are especially inspiring. Nearly 60,000 students from ASEAN study in the United States, and nearly 7,000 American students study across ASEAN. The unmatched quality of a U.S. education – driven by academic rigor, research and innovation, diverse perspectives, and a sense of opportunity – attracts about 5,000 Singaporean students per year to the U.S., including some of this country’s brightest minds and sharpest leaders. As a matter of fact, half of the current cabinet in Singapore are U.S. educated.

To build on the already impressive shared successes, tangible U.S.-ASEAN cooperation will continue and expand. Let me share just a few examples with you. U.S.-ASEAN Connect, our strategic framework for economic engagement with ASEAN, drives our economic collaboration forward with their work on policy, energy, innovation, and business such as the Digital Economy Series to promote best practices for a thriving digital economy.  The U.S.-ASEAN Internship Program that we launched last year together with the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council continues to grow, offering opportunities for local youth at top American companies.  And on the development assistance front, the USAID supports two major technical assistance programs valued around five million U.S. dollars per year to collaborate on policy development in critical areas like digital economy, trade facilitation, human rights, humanitarian aid and disaster relief.

Continuing our whole-of-government approach to economic and commercial engagement across the region, the Second Indo-Pacific Business Forum will be held on November 4th in Bangkok. The Forum will underscore our enduring commitment to the region and highlight the economic ties that have contributed to job growth and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific and the United States, with a special focus this year on infrastructure, digital economy, and energy.

The Forum, as mentioned before, is co-sponsored by the governments of the United States and Thailand, the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Chamber of Commerce in Thailand, and the Thai Chamber of Commerce. As the premier U.S.-sponsored business event in the Indo-Pacific region for 2019, the Forum will reinforce the benefits of partnering with the dynamic U.S. private sector, as well as the importance of high quality and sustainable development, transparency, and the rule of law.

The event will feature discussion of the U.S. Indo-Pacific programs, business-to-government engagement opportunities, bilateral and regional deal signings, and a U.S. Department of Commerce-led business delegation. We expect an impressive lineup of attendees including executives from major U.S. and international corporations in addition to foreign dignitaries. We hope that these participants from the more than 4,500 U.S. businesses represented in Singapore.

To conclude, those are just some highlights of our ongoing and multifaceted U.S.-ASEAN cooperation and additional context behind the great story of our partnership that you will read about in the report. Thank you again and I look forward to a very productive discussion with you all today.