Goh Chok Tong
We have to accept that all relations evolve over time. New priorities will emerge. The geo-political and economic landscape will change. The danger is that if both the United States and ASEAN take the relationship for granted, these ties will weaken through complacency and neglect. Though ties between the US and ASEAN must continuously adapt to new dynamics and realities, there are compelling reasons for the US and ASEAN to work together.
Historically, the US has built up a tremendous reservoir of goodwill in the region. I have already mentioned the security and economic dividends that the US has reaped from its engagement with ASEAN. The US has furthermore educated generations of ASEAN policy and business elites, most of whom understand and appreciate the values and traditions that the US represents. These elites have also experienced the cutting edge of US technology and innovations. This goodwill is a strategic resource that the US should not inadvertently squander.
Economically, ASEAN is recovering. It is a sustainable recovery. In 1999, the ASEAN economic growth rate was about 5%. This was a marked improvement from a contraction of 4.4% in 1998. Individually, most of the ASEAN countries are now enjoying positive growth rates of between 3%-8%. ASEAN is an integral part of the wider East Asian region, which will grow strongly this coming decade. The fundamental strengths of the East Asian economies, including ASEAN, remain intact. They have young populations, and an educated and hardworking work force. They are big emerging markets for the US.
Politically too, ASEAN remains committed to maintaining the US presence in the region. Thailand and the Philippines are treaty partners of the US. Singapore, on its part, provides the US access to our naval facilities. Malaysia and Indonesia also welcome US naval vessels at their commercial shipyards. In addition, through the ASEAN Post Ministerial Conferences and the ARF, the US has another channel to manage its broader foreign policy interests in the region.
In the coming years, the issues that will arise in Asia will be far more complex and difficult to manage than during the Cold War. The stakes are high for both ASEAN and the US. There are both dangers and opportunities. They demand greater cooperation between the US and ASEAN countries, at the bilateral, regional and even global level. For instance, with increasing cooperation among the East Asian countries, the US should work with ASEAN to ensure that its interests are taken into account as this process evolves.
I am convinced that regional stability and prosperity are better served with greater and closer US-ASEAN cooperation. And conversely, that both sides stand to lose if ties between the US and ASEAN are weakened. We must both play our part to strengthen this extremely important relationship.