US-ASEAN likely to sign new strategic partnership


KUALA LUMPUR: The United States and ASEAN are likely to enter into a new strategic partnership when President Barack Obama attends the ASEAN summit. The Obama administration has been emphasising on a pivot to Asia for some time now.

As major world leaders arrive in Kuala Lumpur to attend the ASEAN summit from November 18-23, the US and ASEAN would be seeking to elevate their partnership. With escalating geopolitical tensions in the disputed South China Sea, US is looking to strengthen its relations with countries in the Asia-Pacific in the backdrop of China’s growing assertion in the region.

ASEAN is yet to take a collective stand about China’s activities in the South China Sea. Member countries are looking for peaceful ways to challenge it and look to the US for support. “They have the right to take any path or any process, as long as it is a peaceful one, conducive to a solution to the dispute,” ASEAN Secretary General Le Luong Minh said.

Countries such as the Philippines along with US plan to raise the disputed South China Sea issues during the summit, but China is opposed to discussing the issue during the summit, which is on expected lines. Trying to emphasise the US ‘rebalance’ towards the Asia-Pacific with his signature Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and strengthening ties with Asian nations facing a more muscular China, Mr Obama has stressed on the importance of ASEAN in maintaining peace in the disputed region.

The US has expressed interest in elevating the existing relationship with ASEAN to a strategic partnership. “We’re now ready to take our relationship with ASEAN to the next level,” US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel had stated in a media briefing last week, ahead of Mr Obama’s trip to Malaysia. The strategic partnership will lay the roadmap for the future of US-ASEAN relations.

The strategic partnership will also vindicate Mr Obama’s commitment to the much touted Asia Pivot. The TPP, which was agreed upon by US and 11 other Pacific-Rim countries marks the beginning of a new era in global trade. The mega trade deal is expected to reduce tariff and non-tariff barriers substantially across all trade in goods and services and covers the full spectrum of trade. It will boost goods and services, trade and investment, while also creating new opportunities and benefits for businesses, workers, and consumers.

With the Obama administration committed to its Asia rebalance, the elevation of the US-ASEAN relations could not have come at a better time.

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