ASEAN-US Relations: ASEAN Perspective
Goh Chok Tong
Let me now give my assessment of how I think both sides today view US engagement with ASEAN, and what I believe to be some of the challenges that will shape US interest in ASEAN.
First, the ASEAN perspective. There is a grudging acceptance that the US continues to be a stabilising factor in the region. While there are differences in how each ASEAN country sees the US security presence, there is an underlying recognition that without it, the politics of the region would be more complex and troublesome.
The economic benefits of US engagement are clearer and less controversial. There is recognition that the US will continue to remain the key source of capital, technology, talent and market.
Nevertheless, anti-US rhetoric is striking a degree of resonance among some countries in the region. The US has lost some goodwill in the region since the Asian financial crisis. Fairly or unfairly, the US was perceived to be not forthcoming enough in helping the Southeast Asian countries. The IMF was seen by some as a tool of the US to achieve the latter's political objectives. The strictures imposed by the IMF and its perceived arrogance compounded this perception.
There is also increasing concern that the income gap between North and South is widening as a result of globalisation. The failure of the Seattle WTO meeting was a manifestation of this backlash against globalisation. The dominance of the West, personified by the US, will lead to rising nationalism in countries less prepared for globalisation. The US and other Western developed countries, the vanguard and advocates of globalisation, will increasingly be seen as benefiting at the expense of the developing countries. Some Asian countries, for example, blame the Asian financial crisis on western pressures to uncritically and prematurely open up their economies and adopt American economic and political models and mores.
Such resentment can be highly destructive. It will erode the goodwill that the US has built up in the region, and affect US political and economic interests.