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Deputy Secretary Zoellick Lauds ASEAN "Preventive Diplomacy"

29 July 2005

Terrorism, bird flu issues lend themselves to group's cooperative approach

The move toward "preventive diplomacy" among the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is "very constructive," Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick says.

Speaking to reporters July 28 after the ASEAN Post Ministerial Conference in Vientiane, Laos, Zoellick said that issues such as terrorism and avian influenza -- or bird flu -- lend themselves to this cooperative approach.

Noting that 500 million people populate the countries of Southeast Asia, Zoellick said that issues affecting the region affect the entire world.

According to the deputy secretary, the United States hopes to work with ASEAN members to further expand and enhance preventive work and cooperative ventures.  "We consider ASEAN a good partner and we want to make it an even better one," he said.

ASEAN members include Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Burma, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Following is the State Department transcript:

(begin transcript)

[U.S. Department of State]
Remarks by Deputy Secretary Robert B. Zoellick
ASEAN Post Ministerial Conference Joint Press Conference
July 28, 2005
4:40 p.m.
Vientiane, Laos

Q: Why did you chose ASEAN as the forum to reveal your new climate pact and what kind of support if any are you looking for from ASEAN?

A: The announcement was made by six countries, several of whom are in this region.  The main purpose of the announcement was to set forth a vision statement.  The follow-up meeting will be in the beautiful city of Adelaide in South Australia.  So really the opportunity was made because we had a group of developed and developing countries here that could allow us to emphasize the initiative.  I think what it really symbolizes about the ASEAN Post Ministerial Conference and the ASEAN Regional Forum is that this is a region with its deeper integration which draws partners such as India, China, the United States, Japan, Korea, and Australia.  Part of the strength of ASEAN is that while much of the discussion that we've had is to learn more about ASEAN's plans for cooperation and integration, it has always had a very strong outward orientation.  So the location was more one that was based on the opportunity that we were here together.

Q: As a country that has heavy economic sanctions against Myanmar [Burma], what's your comment on Myanmar's decision to not take up the chairmanship of ASEAN?

A: When I traveled through the region in May and visited some six countries, I had a chance to get a sense from my ASEAN colleagues that they were discussing with Burma how to deal with this issue and that it would be resolved in a way that we hoped would be satisfactory to the interaction over the course of the next year by the United States.  I'm pleased that he's taken that course because as I mentioned in our session today, we believe the situation has deteriorated in Burma, not taken a better course.  I attended the ASEAN post-ministerial conference in the early 90's where I spoke about Aung San Suu Kyi and how I thought that it was a terrible thing that she was being held in confinement and that there are even more political prisoners now.  The point that I've tried to make is that countries that have political problems like this actually become problems for the rest of us because they create cancers within their societies that have a danger of spreading.  So my country has made its view clear: it was up to ASEAN to make its own course and that is what ASEAN has decided to do. 

Q: What does Mr. Zoellick think of ASEAN's move towards preventive diplomacy?

A: We think it's a very constructive step and let me give you the context of why I say that.  What I shared with my ASEAN colleagues in our ten plus one session was the logic from the perspective of the U.S. of why an integrated and stronger ASEAN is very important.  The United States has strong interests in the Asia-Pacific region: security, economic, political.  When many people think about the context of the region, they often focus on the biggest countries: China, Japan, and India in South Asia.  But when you take the countries of Southeast Asia, the ASEAN countries together, you have 500 million people.  The United States has trade of about 136 billion dollars, about 88 billion dollars of foreign direct investment.  The issues of maritime security are vitally important, not only for the region but for the world. 

We consider these countries to be very good partners.  It's just a coincidence that my own personal experience is such that I've been involved with almost all of them, whether helping Laos receive its normal trade relations, the free trade agreement with Singapore, Cambodia's entry into the WTO, Vietnam and the basic trade agreement, so on and so forth.  But that gives you a feeling for the types of ties that we have with the ASEAN countries individually.  And we think that moving towards the preventive diplomacy is good with the type of topics we discussed today.  Whether they be questions of terrorism, or whether it be trying to prevent the avian influenza issue from becoming a threat to large numbers of humans as well. 

So our hope is that along with this type of partnership, we also agree to further expand and enhance with our ASEAN colleagues preventive work, in which we have action programs where we work on cooperative ventures.  The last point I would stress because it's one that I stressed with my colleagues, which is that I think that the part we've always appreciated about ASEAN's integration is that it's always done with an eye towards an outward orientation.  So whether it be issues of trade and the WTO, whether it be security issues, this region I think, is widely recognized that its integration is important for its members but it also plays an important role on the global scene.  And we consider ASEAN a good partner and we want to make it an even better one.

(end transcript)

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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