In another move that indicates increasing US attention on Asean, US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar has proposed legislation (S. 2697) on May 2 to establish a U.S. Ambassador for Asean, and boost ties between US and Asean.
This also came in the wake of recent US announcement to boost its military presence in Southeast Asia to counter terrorism.
In his introduction of the proposed legislation (S. 2697), Senator Lugar reasoned that “The United States maintains bilateral relationships with the Asean Member countries. However, as Asean develops an integrated free trade area and addresses matters of common concern with the United States – ranging from environmental and financial challenges to avian influenza and terrorism – it is appropriate for the United States to enhance its overall relationship with Asean.”
“I believe this initiative will be an important step in advancing an already positive relationship. In addition, I am hopeful that once the position is established, the U.S. Ambassador to Asean will help facilitate ongoing implementation of the Asean-US Enhanced Partnership [announced last November during President Bush’s visit toAsia and which Lugar publicly supported].”
The bill recommends that a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State serve with Ambassadorial rank.
Such a development comes at a time of China’s growing economic clout in the region and Japan’s plan, announced last month, to forge a Regional FTA with the 10 Asean Member states. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also recently concluded a much publicised visit to the region two months ago, to rectify the cancellation of earlier proposed trips to Australia and Indonesia, as well as for snubbing the Asean regional forum.
The US remains Asean’s biggest investor but China’s trade in the region could match US volume of 136 billion dollars this year, according to US business officials.
Since the launch of the 2002 Enterprise for Asean Initiative, the US has targeted to complete deals with Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Malaysia before June next year. And during the second annual review of the US-Singapore free trade agreement held two months ago in Washington, Assistant US Trade Representative Barbara Weisel reaffirmed US interest to have closer ties with Asean.
More development remains to be seen with Bush’s upcoming APEC meeting with leaders of the seven Asean states who are members – Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam – in November this year.
US keen to boost Asean trade via S'pore; Washington happy with progress in free trade agreement, says American official (The Straits Times, 3 April 2006)
US Ambassador to Asean proposed in Senate (Antara, 3 May 2006)
Richard Lugar, US Senator for Indiana (R) Press Materials http://lugar.senate.gov/pressapp/releases.cfm