US had often been accused by ASEAN leaders of its “benign neglect” of the Southeast Asian region.
Yet the reality is that US remained the largest investor in the region.
In an attempt to counter this perception of “neglect” of the region, US deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs during his visit to the region, pointed out that 2006 would be a “big year” for bilateral ties and people “will see a quantitative, qualitative uptick in our engagement with ASEAN.”
It appeared that after President Bush met ASEAN leaders on the brink of last year’s APEC meeting in Busan in South Korea, “there is a significant appreciation in the administration of the importance of Southeast Asia”. Mr John also revealed that Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice will certainly be at the ARF in Kuala Lumpur in July this year. This was a significant reassurance for ASEAN after last year’s snub by Rice whose absence at last year’s ARF meeting in Vientianewas seen as a sign of waning American interest.
Many would see the increased attention from the US as a response to China’s growing presence in the region. During an Asia Society Conference held recently inTexas, many speakers, including Singapore’s Ambassador to the US discussed “how Washington’s lax attention might result in China assuming greater influence in the region”. China-ASEAN economic ties have been growing, and with the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area, Mr Martin Sullivan, chairman of the US-ASEAN Business Council opined that the US “cannot afford not to be part of this process”.
US had also taken notice of the way the Muslims in Southeast Asia have responded to the cartoon controversy, which was much more measured and moderate. If US is to win the hearts and minds of the Muslims, this region is one place where it can start earnestly and engage in genuine dialogue to create greater understanding and awareness between different cultures and faiths.
Debate rages on over US lax policy on ASEAN, Straits Times, 10 February 2006
US poised to take ASEAN ties to new level, says Bush aide, Straits Times, 11 February 2006
US praises Indonesia, Malaysiahandling of controversial caricatures, Associated Press, 12 February 2006.