Clearly, both sides need to work hard to erase the lingering perception that, in the dialogue process, the agenda is conditioned more by United States’ interests rather than those, which bring true mutual benefits to both sides. This perception must not be allowed to linger. To change the situation, all efforts must be made to put more economic substance into the relations between ASEAN as a group and the United States as a dialogue partner.
In this regard, I am happy to say that certain encouraging steps have been taken. For instance, the U.S.-initiated ASEAN Cooperation Plan or A.C.P., announced in Brunei Darussalam in 2002, is progressing well. The A.C. P., however, is focussed mainly on trans-national issues such as narcotics, piracy, terrorism, disaster management, environment and HIV/AIDS, including support to ASEAN integration initiatives and strengthening of the ASEAN secretariat. it is our hope that the success of the A.C.P. will encourage the united states to use it as model to expand its support to ASEAN in the area of development cooperation.
We are happy to note that the U.S. had also announced, in 2002, the Enterprise for ASEAN Initiatives (E. A. I), which opened prospects for negotiating bilateral Free Trade Agreements (F.T.A) between the U.S. and individual ASEAN countries who are WTO members. The U.S. now has a FTA with Singapore and it is currently engaged in FTA negotiations with Thailand. It also has trade and investment framework agreements (TIFA) with Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, Brunei Darussalam and Malaysia. The U.S. is completing TIFA negotiations with Cambodia.
On the political and security front, we in ASEAN do acknowledge that the active U.S. participation in the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) has enhanced the effectiveness of the ARF as a regional security forum, and as a promoter of cooperation in the wider Asia pacific region. The ARF has contributed to the promotion of greater transparency and mutual understanding on issues pertinent to regional peace and stability. It has made regional states more aware of each other’s strategic concerns and more conversant with the dynamics and realities of the security environment.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I have already expressed the view that the dialogue between ASEAN and the United States has yet to reach its full potential. May I say that, to improve the dialogue, the United States has to listen more to ASEAN’s concerns and aspirations. the united states must also make efforts to appreciate the “ASEAN way” of conducting business, which may at times appear slow and sluggish to the united states.
Allow me to elaborate on the question of the “ASEAN way”. First and foremost, the United States must recognize the cultural diversity among ASEAN countries. They are also at different levels of economic, social and political development. ASEAN has always adopted the step-by-step approach, which is moving at a pace comfortable to all. The ASEAN comfort level has been established as a result of the common observance of certain fundamental values and principles. These include mutual respect for national sovereignty, equality and territorial integrity as well as non-interference, peaceful settlement of disputes, renunciation of the threat or use of force, effective regional cooperation and decision-making by consensus.