1. On behalf of my ASEAN colleagues, I extend a very warm welcome to Secretary Rice to this ASEAN Post Ministerial Conference. Secretary Rice, we are delighted by your presence here and look forward to a fruitful discussion on ways to further strengthen ASEAN-US relationship.

2. The US has been a pillar of stability in Southeast Asia and will long play this role in the region. US strategic commitment to the Western Pacific after the Second World War laid the foundation for the rapid growth of non-Communist Southeast Asia. US investments and an open US market transformed our economies. With the end of the Cold War, the dividing line between Communist and non-Communist Southeast Asia disappeared. ASEAN expanded to become a community of ten, benefiting greatly from our multi-faceted relationship with the US. Over the years, the US has educated tens of thousands of our best and brightest young men and women.

3. US private investment in ASEAN is nearing US$100 billion. ASEAN is now the US’ fourth largest export market. Trade between the US and ASEAN member countries has grown steadily in the past decade, increasing by almost half in ten years from US$120 billion in 1997 to US$172 billion in 2007.

4. Since the last ASEAN-US meeting, the US has appointed Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Scot Marciel as the first US Ambassador for ASEAN Affairs. Indeed, the US is the first of our dialogue partners to appoint an Ambassador for ASEAN Affairs, and I would like to thank you, Secretary Rice, for this gesture of friendship.

5. The US State Department has launched the ASEAN Development Vision to Advance National Cooperation and Economic Integration (ADVANCE) Programme and pledged US$150 million over the next eight years to implement the goals of the ASEAN-US Cooperation Plan, the ASEAN-US Enhanced Partnership, and the ASEAN-US Trade and Investment Framework Arrangement (TIFA). A number of cooperative projects have yielded good results. For example, the US Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service has helped ASEAN establish an Incident Command System for disaster management.

6. We are encouraged by the growing cooperation between ASEAN and the US on a broad front. This complements the excellent bilateral ties which the US enjoys with most ASEAN countries.

7. Looking ahead, the ASEAN-US relationship will remain a key pillar in the evolving political and security architecture of the region. The US has abiding strategic interests in the ASEAN region which connects the Pacific Ocean to the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf. The importance of the Straits of Malacca and Singapore, through which 15 million barrels of oil are transported every day, cannot be overstated.

8. ASEAN is also the region connecting China and India, both rising powers. The growth of China, India and a new east-west trade will benefit ASEAN greatly. However, a new equilibrium must also be created for which we need the US to play a major role. Regional processes like APEC and the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) are therefore very important.

9. We welcome the progress made with North Korea on the nuclear issue. We are delighted that the first Six Party Talks at the level of Foreign Ministers will be held here. We hope the DPRK’s accession to ASEAN’s Treaty of Amity and Cooperation later this week will make a modest contribution to peace and cooperation in Asia. We are heartened by improved relations across the Taiwan Strait which could not have happened without strong US support. We also see the nuclear agreement between the US and India, which was just passed yesterday, as being helpful for regional stability.

10. In short, no major strategic issue in Asia can be resolved without the active participation of the US. The US has also played a key role in responding to transboundary challenges. For all major challenges – be it climate change, environmental protection, pandemics, terrorism, disaster response or energy security – we in ASEAN welcome close cooperation with the US. We will always remember the help which the US gave Indonesia after the Boxing Day tsunami and its willingness to help Myanmar after Cyclone Nargis.

11. On Myanmar, despite the US’ concerns about political developments in the country, the US rendered significant humanitarian assistance, contributing more than US$41 million worth of supplies.

12. At last year’s Summit, the leaders of ASEAN signed a Charter which will come into force at the end of this year. We are determined to integrate ASEAN and make it more rules-based. We are creating a single market and production base for the entire region. In this way, we will be more competitive and create better opportunities for our people. A strong ASEAN is in the strategic interest of the US which is why there is a great future in our partnership.