ASEAN upgrades relationship with U.S. 

At the 10th annual U.S.-ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, President Biden and the ASEAN leaders will elevate U.S.-ASEAN relations to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP). Biden will also attend the annual East Asia Summit, further demonstrating the United States’ prioritization of the Indo-Pacific and the ASEAN-led regional architecture.

At both summits, Biden will reaffirm the United States’ strong support for ASEAN centrality and the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, building on the historic success of the first-ever U.S.-ASEAN Special Summit in Washington, DC earlier this year. 

Biden will review implementation of the many new U.S.-ASEAN initiatives he has launched with ASEAN leaders over the past year, and he will also announce several new initiatives designed to support the four pillars of the ASEAN Outlook: maritime cooperation, connectivity, the UN sustainable development goals, and economic cooperation.

Comprehensive strategic partnership

Expanding diplomatic architecture: Biden has overseen an unprecedented expansion in U.S.-ASEAN relations, marked by the launch of five new high-level dialogue processes on health, transportation, women’s empowerment, environment and climate, and energy, as well as elevated engagement in existing dialogue tracks on foreign affairs, economics, and defense. 

Under the framework of the newly established U.S.-ASEAN Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, the United States and ASEAN will institutionalize and expand cooperation in each of these important areas, in order to support robust implementation of the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific and promote a free and open region that is connected, prosperous, secure, and resilient.

Supporting the PARTNER with ASEAN Act: The Biden-Harris Administration welcomes the recent introduction of bipartisan legislation that would authorize the President to extend privileges and immunities under the International Organizations Immunities Act to ASEAN. Biden hopes to have the opportunity to sign the PARTNER with ASEAN Act into law.

U.S. Assistance in Southeast Asia: The United States is proud to provide over US$860 million in assistance through the Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development to ASEAN partners in 2022. This assistance is supporting climate ambition and the clean energy transition, access to education, strengthened health systems, security modernization efforts, rule of law and human rights, and more.

Promoting connectivity

U.S.-ASEAN Electric Vehicle Initiative: on November 17, Biden launched the U.S.-ASEAN Electric Vehicle Initiative, through which the United States and ASEAN will work together to develop an integrated electric vehicle (EV) ecosystem in Southeast Asia, thereby enhancing the region’s connectivity while ensuring ASEAN nations can achieve ambitious emissions reductions targets. As the flagship initiative of the U.S.-ASEAN Transportation Dialogue Partnership, the U.S.-ASEAN Electric Vehicle Initiative will:

  • Support the planning, integration, and deployment of EV infrastructure;
  • Support the development of an ASEAN EV Implementation Roadmap;
  • Provide capacity-building and technical assistance to accelerate the adoption of EVs across Southeast Asia; and
  • Facilitate partnerships with U.S. companies and familiarize ASEAN governments and companies with U.S. solutions and technologies.

U.S.-ASEAN Platform for Infrastructure and Connectivity: Biden announced the establishment of a U.S.-ASEAN Platform for Infrastructure and Connectivity, a demand-driven co-development mechanism through which the United States will support ASEAN initiatives that enhance connectivity across Southeast Asia and facilitate high-quality investment in regional infrastructure projects, under the auspices of the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment (PGII). 

Based in Jakarta to facilitate partnership with the ASEAN Secretariat and the ASEAN Committee of Permanent Representatives, this mechanism will support implementation of the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity 2025, the ASEAN Interconnection Masterplan Study III, and other high-priority ASEAN infrastructure initiatives.

Emerging Defense Leaders Program: The Department of Defense plans to invest approximately $10 million each year to launch and support a new network of Southeast Asian emerging defense leaders. This initiative will provide training opportunities that will accelerate defense sector professionalization, while building mutual understanding and lasting connections among the next generation of Southeast Asian defense leaders and their U.S. counterparts. 

Training opportunities will include English language classes, as well as courses focused on international law, defense strategy planning, and responsible defense budgeting and resource allocation. The program seeks to build people-to-people connectivity by supporting an alumni network, facilitating exchanges with high-level officials, and offering follow-on courses and trainings.

Achieving sustainable development goals

Food security and access to clean water: The U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. International Development Finance Corporation will invest $57 million in new programs across Southeast Asia to promote food security and ensure access to clean water, including a new “Food for School Feeding” program that will provide meals to 109,000 Cambodian students over the next five years, as well as loans that will provide affordable drinking water to vulnerable populations in Southeast Asia, as well as India, and help the Philippines expand production of organic coconut products.

Resilient health supply chains: The U.S. International Development Finance Corporation will partner with the Quadria Capital Fund III to invest $75 million in strengthening healthcare systems and building resilient health supply chains across Southeast Asia – as well as India and Sri Lanka. This partnership will increase access, affordability, awareness, and quality of healthcare services for low- and middle-income consumers throughout the region.

ASEAN Center for Pandemic Health Emergencies and Emerging Diseases: The United States will support the ASEAN Center for Pandemic Health Emergencies and Emerging Diseases (ACPHEED), including through USAID assistance and through the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, which is assigning Regional Technical Advisors to support ACPHEED in the areas of workforce development, infection prevention and control, antimicrobial resistance, respiratory disease surveillance, and zoonotic diseases.

ASEAN Center for Climate Change: The United States will support the new ASEAN Centre for Climate Change, based in Brunei Darussalam, including through technical exchanges with the United States’ premier climate experts. For example, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory will provide trainings that expand the Centre’s capacity for decarbonization research, disaster management planning, and other areas of work.

Disability Rights: The United States is working with ASEAN and civil society partners to launch a U.S.-ASEAN Dialogue on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, focused on implementing the ASEAN Enabling Masterplan on Mainstreaming the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the obligations of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The United States will support complementary programs that support ASEAN countries and disabled people’s organizations to accelerate regional implementation of the ASEAN Masterplan.

ASEAN Regional Plan of Action on Women, Peace, and Security: In December, USAID, in collaboration with ASEAN and UN Women, will launch the Regional Plan of Action on Women, Peace, and Security. The plan will build on the achievements of the inaugural U.S.-ASEAN Ministerial Dialogue on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, and it will be implemented through a partnership with the ASEAN Committee for Women and ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children.

Advancing economic cooperation

Supporting women entrepreneurs: The U.S. International Development Finance Corporation will invest $215 million in loans to Southeast Asian financial institutions, in order to support women entrepreneurs and women-owned small- and medium-sized enterprises. These investments will help low-income women access capital and contribute to economic growth, while addressing the credit gap for women-led businesses.

Investing in sustainable infrastructure: The U.S. Trade and Development Agency will launch $13 million in new infrastructure project preparation initiatives designed to catalyze financing for the development of high-quality sustainable infrastructure projects valued at over $7 billion across Southeast Asia. These projects will strengthen transportation links and supply chains, promote regional energy security and the clean energy transition, facilitate improved healthcare, and advance digital connectivity.

Digital economy & digital trade standards: To strengthen ASEAN’s digital trade ecosystem and enhance regional connectivity, the U.S. Department of Commerce will partner with the ASEAN Consultative Committee on Standards and Quality (ACCSQ) to co-develop programs on digital trust and cybersecurity standards. Commerce will convene U.S. industry leaders and the ASEAN Digital Trade Standards and Conformance Working Group to promote good regulatory practices, address cyber risks, and pursue best practices for regional harmonization and stronger interoperability.

ASEAN SME Academy 2.0: In April 2022, USAID launched the ASEAN SME Academy 2.0 in collaboration with the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council. Now, USAID will expand SME support in the ASEAN region to accelerate economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and address the rising cost of living. New resources to strengthen small business recovery will be available in four languages (English, Thai, Indonesian, and Vietnamese) in 2023. Through the modernized SME Academy platform, SMEs will be better equipped to manage cash flow, increase revenue, and leverage digital technologies for growth.

Expanding maritime cooperation

Countering Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing: USAID is strengthening the regional capacity to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing through the Sustainable Fish Asia (SuFiA) project. SuFiA is partnering with the ASEAN Secretariat and ASEAN members to undertake a demand-driven technical service model for the region, a gender equality and social inclusion analysis, with a focus on small-scale and indigenous fishers and youth, and a regional IUU fishing risk assessment.

Photo credit: Courtesy photo U.S. Embassy & Consulate in Vietnam

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