U.S. Alliances and Emerging Partnerships in Southeast Asia
July 13, 2009
Hillary Clinton’s visit to Indonesia on her first trip abroad as U.S. secretary of state signaled that the Obama administration intends to pay renewed attention to Southeast Asia, a region with over 550 million people, the world’s largest Muslim nation, an economy of over $1 trillion, and some of the world’s most strategic waterways. This is a welcome development due to the significance of U.S. interests in the region. U.S.–Southeast Asia trade amounts to over $200 billion annually, and U.S. cumulative investment in the region is valued at over $100 billion. Perhaps more importantly, Southeast Asia is a region likely to play a critical role in determining the future of Asia and whether the United States can sustain itself as an Asia-Pacific power.
Enhanced U.S. engagement with Southeast Asia will naturally involve greater attention to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and other multilateral forums, but key U.S. interests in the region will continue to be pursued through bilateral partnerships. This will include not only U.S. treaty allies—Thailand and the Philippines—but also key emerging players, particularly Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Vietnam. This report assesses the health and potential of these partnerships and offers recommendations to incoming policymakers as they consider the way forward in U.S. policy toward the region.