Boosting Asean, US relationship still top priority, says Kerry
Siti Hajar

WITH the United States currently at a standstill as Washington debates over their government’s budget that has resulted in a temporary shutdown of operations, the world’s number one power yesterday voiced its commitment in pursuing enhanced relations with the Asean region.

Currently in Brunei to attend a number of meetings related to the 10-member bloc, including the first Asean-US Summit that was held yesterday in place of President Barack Obama who cancelled his visit last minute due to the situation back home, Secretary of State, John Kerry reassured regional leaders that the US vision to collaborate with their counterparts in this part of the world is unchanged.

“I assure you that these events in Washington are a moment in politics and not more than that,” he said during the opening of the summit.

“The partnership that we share with Asean remains a top priority for the Obama administration and the ties among our nations,” he continued, justifying this statement by pointing to not just individual relationships US has with the region but with Asean as a whole.

“Those ties have been strong for decades now and knowing that strengthening those ties on security issues, on economic issues and on our people-to-people relationships are a critical part of President Obama’s rebalance in Asia,” he said, referring to the president’s refocusing towards the Asia-Pacific in the aspects of security, politics, diplomacy, as well as economics.

“That rebalance is a commitment. It is there to stay and will continue into the future.”

Earlier in his remarks as he extended the president’s apologies for having to miss the summit, Kerry had also taken note of the inaugural summit between the US and Asean and commended the bloc’s initiative in providing the US with the opportunity “to raise the level of the meeting and the discussions”, referring to the move as “a moment where our nations can come together in order to discuss our partnership, important issues and the challenges that we know we face”.

The international media reporting from Bandar Seri Begawan, meanwhile, have stated that Kerry will also play a role in dissipating tensions among a number of Asean member states and China over the South China Sea dispute whose resolution critics say is very doubtful.

It was stated by the AFP that one senior official travelling with the Kerry team said he would be encouraging the regional bloc to continue to work “for enhanced coherence and unity” among themselves to bolster their position with China in negotiating a code of conduct.

Today, meanwhile, Kerry will join other leaders from East Asia for the 8th East-Asia Summit and, separately, a scheduled bilateral meeting with His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam. - Borneo Bulletin (10 October 2013)