US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday told delegates at the ASEAN Regional Forum her country would put “our money where our mouth is” with its regional development assistance, starting with a down payment she would announce in coming days.
Clinton said that under the Obama administration, Asia had become a strategic priority, but acknowledged the region wanted to see greater US engagement “across the board”.
“But you are particularly focused on areas where our presence at times has been underrated,” Clinton said, identifying economic interrogation and development as two areas she wanted to address.
“We have more investment in ASEAN than we have in China. That is a surprising fact to many people in our country,” Clinton noted.
An overview of US relations published by ASEAN puts US-ASEAN trade at roughly US$186 billion in 2010.
“On development assistance, frankly speaking, people in the region are asking us to put ‘our money where our mouth is’ to borrow an American phrase, so we’ve created an initiative to reinvigorate our assistance programs to ASEAN,” Clinton said.
The Asia Pacific Strategic Engagement Initiative will be kickstarted with a down payment, though Clinton did not provide specific details as to what the money would contribute to.
In a sidelines meeting of the Lower Mekong Initiative, a US delegate announced that the package will include US$50 million in assistance over three years, to be focused on the lower Mekong.
“It’s going to address a new environmental program … that we will support essentially better information [about the] environmental impacts of new infrastructure developments in the region,” she said.
The Strategic Engagement will focus on health, particularly on efforts to combat multi-drug resistant malaria, education partnerships and women’s policy issues.
“Finally, we are announcing a grant to the Mekong River Commission to support and strengthen their work on sustainable fisheries as well as support a study that the Mekong River Commission can undertake on advancing the technical analysis of information gaps that exist … on how various infrastructure investments impact on broader issues of environment,” she added.
In a chairman’s statement issued yesterday evening, ASEAN wrote that it welcomed efforts by the US to increase investment in the Lower Mekong region.
While Clinton’s cash-splash is aimed at “reinvigorating” US engagement in the region, the Chinese delegation placed emphasis on China’s long and generous history of support and engagement with ASEAN nations.
“The Chinese minister mentioned that the world is changing over the past 20 years of our relationship [with ASEAN], and we have witnessed great changes in the region, most importantly the growth of Asia, and in spite of the instability in international fields, Asia remains stable and the economy is vibrant,” Vice Foreign Minister Fu Ying said after the ASEAN-China Ministerial Meeting.
“In spite of the changes of the environment, and in spite of the interferences from here and there, China will not change its determination to pursue a peaceful development and a relationship with its neighbours.
“Its policy to continue mutually beneficial co-operation with ASEAN will not change, will not be shaken,” she stressed.
When the first ASEAN-China meeting was held in 2007, bilateral trade at that time was about $200 billion. This has increased to $330 billion over the past five years, Ying said.
“There are good opportunities for ASEAN countries and, likewise, ASEAN growth is a good opportunity for China.”
Trade with, and investment in, ASEAN are at the heart of Clinton’s tour of this summit.
Clinton said yesterday at the ASEAN-US Ministerial Meeting that regional issues of central importance to the US included maritime security, non-proliferation and economic growth, an area where she conceded there was still much to be done.
“This week, I have assembled and led the largest ever delegation of American business executives to Cambodia, and we will attend the first US-ASEAN business forum on Friday in Siem Reap, to lay the groundwork for economic connections and mutual prosperity for a long time to come,” she said.
Eang Sophalleth, spokesman for Prime Minister Hun Sen, told reporters after a sidelines meeting between Prime Minister Hun Sen and Clinton, that Clinton had told the ASEAN chair that the US has already showed its desire to push more in-depth relations between the US and ASEAN in the fields of disaster management, education, business, trade and investment.