Think Tank (6/2023)
Ambassador Yohannes Abraham
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US Economic Engagement with ASEAN
30 Nov 2023

On 30 November 2023, the United States Ambassador to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Yohannes Abraham delivered a seminar titled “US Economic Engagement with ASEAN”, during which he indicated that the US was committed to managing relations and competition with China responsibly. Amb Abraham was sworn in on 19 September 2022, after being unanimously confirmed by the US Senate. Prior to his ASEAN appointment, Amb Abraham served as Chief of Staff and Executive Secretary of the US National Security Council (NSC) in the Biden administration.

In his seminar, Amb Abraham highlighted the expansion of the US-ASEAN relationship under the Biden administration, most notably the establishment of the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP) at the 10th ASEAN-US Summit in 2022. He noted that the CSP will elevate bilateral engagement in multiple areas, and emphasised maritime, economy, connectivity, and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as four areas where the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP) and the Biden administration’s Indo-Pacific Strategy complement each other.

Amb Abraham also noted that the “demand signal” for expanding and deepening engagement with ASEAN came from the very top – President Joe Biden – and was manifested with a high level of engagement by members of the administration, including Vice President Kamala Harris, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. He also noted high-level support for the US-ASEAN relationship in Congress, where there is broad-based bipartisan and bicameral support for ASEAN.

The ambassador highlighted the importance of the bilateral relationship for mutual economic prosperity. The ASEAN countries collectively represent the US’ fourth-largest goods trading partner, and goods and services trade reached a new record high of US$520.3 billion in 2022. Amb Abraham noted that this robust trading relationship will be able to weather the recent breakdown in negotiations of the trade pillar of the Biden administration’s Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), which seven ASEAN member states are a part of (excluding Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar).

Amb Abraham acknowledged the worries of countries in the region towards heightened US-China strategic competition and emphasised that the US was committed to managing relations and competition with China responsibly. He noted that the recent summit between President Biden and President Xi Jinping was constructive and candid and opened up lines of communication and areas of cooperation.

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