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Creating a Better Understanding of ASEAN-United States Relations

Abdullah Ahmad Badawi (Photo by Wan Leonard/flickr)

Abdullah Ahmad Badawi (Photo by Wan Leonard/flickr)

Speech by the Honourable Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, Prime Minister of Malaysia

New York
September 15, 2005

Ms. Vishakha N. Desai, President of the Asia Society,
Excellencies,
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen

Firstly, I wish to commend the Asia Society for organizing this forum today, and secondly I wish to thank them for inviting me to speak on this occasion. Let me begin by extending my deepest sympathies to the people of the United States, especially to the families and loved ones of the victims of Hurricane Katrina. We are really shocked by the magnitude of the disaster, and we fully empathize with the agony of the victims and the American people as a whole. We know their suffering because it was not so long ago that the ASEAN region similarly suffered the consequences of a tsunami.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I view the ASEAN-UNITED STATES dialogue as a very important relationship for ASEAN countries ever since its establishment in 1977. The political reasons are obvious. The United States is a super power with a global reach. The United States has a history of direct military involvement in Southeast Asia, and presently it has bilateral security treaty relationships with some members of ASEAN and other countries in neighboring East Asia. The statistics will show that the United States is also a very important economic partner. The only downside is the fact that the impressive economic figures represent essentially the sum total of bilateral exchanges rather than a reflection of United States economic engagement with ASEAN as a group.

Cumulatively speaking, the United States is ASEAN’s largest trading partner. ASEAN’s total trade with the UNITED STATES in 2004 was US $128 billion, compared to US $111.3 billion in 2003, which reflects an increase of 15.08%. The UNITED STATES is also one of the largest foreign investors in ASEAN. in terms of cumulative investments, the U.S. has invested US$ 35.7 billion in the ASEAN region between 1995 and 2003. These figures testify to the importance of the cumulative total of economic engagements between ASEAN countries and the United States.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Although the ASEAN-U.S. dialogue relations is 28 years old this year, I feel this partnership still suffers a considerable problem with expectations which do not match. ASEAN expects the United States to be an important strategic economic and development partner as much as it is an important diplomatic partner. The United States, on the other hand, gives a higher priority to ASEAN as a strategic partner for political and regional security purposes. The only strong meeting point is the recognition by both sides of the relevance and relative importance of the relationship in the context of the dynamics of Southeast Asian regional security, regional diplomacy and regional prosperity.