The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is essential to upholding Asia’s rules-based system, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in a speech delivered in Malaysia on Wednesday.
Kerry, who is on a trip to Southeast Asia covering Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam, stressed that ASEAN was critical to addressing shared challenges during his stop in Kuala Lumpur to attend a series of multilateral meetings – which Malaysia is hosting as this year’s ASEAN chair.
“ASEAN is essential to upholding the rules-based system in Asia and to ensuring that all countries, big and small, have a say in how we address shared challenges, including economic development, climate change, human trafficking and marine conservation,” Kerry said.
Kerry also reaffirmed ASEAN’s role as being “at the very center” of the Asia-Pacific’s multilateral architecture, a reference to the organization’s prized centrality in the alphabet soup of groupings in the region.
The U.S. commitment to ASEAN, Kerry said, was part of a shared vision of a stable, peaceful and prosperous region based on the rule of law and universal human rights.
“The future of the United States and the future of ASEAN are absolutely interconnected,” Kerry noted.
He noted some of the ways in which the United States is assisting Southeast Asia in various dimensions, including the economy, the environment, people-to-people relations and the South China Sea. These included support for the ASEAN Economic Community, the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative, and the Lower Mekong Initiative. Kerry also mentioned that he just had a meeting with China’s foreign minister Wang Yi where the South China Sea issue was discussed and he hoped progress would be found in the days ahead.
“I hope very much that at this meeting over the course of today and tomorrow we will find a way to move forward effectively together, all of us,” he said.
Kerry’s visit to Malaysia lasts from August 4-6 and consists of a series of engagements including the Lower Mekong Initiative, U.S.-ASEAN, East Asia Summit and ASEAN Regional Forum ministers meetings. He will then make a trip to Vietnam from August 6-8, where he will meet with senior Vietnamese officials including Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh. The United States and Vietnam are marking the 20th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations this year.