Statement by President Benigno S. Aquino III at the 2nd ASEAN-US Leaders’ Meeting

President Benigno S. Aquino III
President of the Philippines
At the 2nd ASEAN-US Leaders’ Meeting
[September 24, 2010, Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, New York City]

President Obama,
President Triet,
My colleagues in ASEAN,
Good afternoon.
The Philippines has the distinct privilege of being Country Coordinator of ASEAN-US relations, and on behalf of ASEAN, I thank President Obama for his invitation and gracious welcome to this meeting today.
This follow-up meeting less than a year after the First ASEAN-US Leaders Meeting in Singapore is testimony to America’s commitment to being an active partner of ASEAN.
Our common desire to intensify our partnership comes at a particularly crucial time. From this meeting a communique of deep interest to our friends in East Asia will emerge. I am confident we will reach a consensus that will promote not only a deeper, more harmonious ASEAN-US partnership, but also continued stability and peace in our region.
As I said in Manila, we in ASEAN are building our future on firm foundations laid down in the past. The founding generations of our respective governments—the leaders of our respective struggles for self-determination and independence from colonialism—established our countries as modern nation-states. In turn, they formed ASEAN as a regional organization.
With their passing from the political stage, the second generation of leaders of our respective nations, statesmen secure in the independence of their countries, began the transformation of ASEAN from a regular gathering of leaders into a fully multilateral organization. Their legacy is the ASEAN Charter itself.
The task of our generation—the first generation of leaders to be born as independent citizens of our respective nations—is to turn this Charter into a more binding commitment to our mutual economic and political interests.
Since our Charter came into being in 2008, ASEAN has been conscious in pursuing initiatives to build the ASEAN community along three pillars: political-security; economic; and socio-cultural. Our Charter provides the guiding principle for our engaging the United States.
Much can be said about the United States’ support for the strengthening of our regional architecture. We welcome and appreciate this: from the US’ interest in joining the East Asia Summit, to your participation in such mechanisms as the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting Plus and the ASEAN Regional Forum.
We are keen on discussing strategic political and security, economic, and socio-cultural issues with our new partners. In this vein, we appreciate the US’ recognition of ASEAN’s centrality in the evolving regional architecture. I am confident that this architecture will be built on the firm ground of ASEAN’s community-building goals.
What is clear is that while we do not propose to diminish our individual sovereignty, we continue to adhere to the belief that there is much to be gained by cooperation and consultation. For this reason, the expansion of consultative and cooperative gatherings is in our mutual interest.
This cooperation is most clearly manifested in creating mechanisms that would be mutually-beneficial to our economies. The US is a major trading partner of ASEAN, and ASEAN in turn has been one of the fastest growing export markets and host of US investments. I am confident that the ASEAN-US Trade and Investment Framework Arrangement will lead to an economically viable and strong ASEAN which in turn will lead to economic growth, job creation, and improved welfare of our peoples.
In the same vein, connectivity has been a critical concept for ASEAN. We expect the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity crafted by a group of visionaries to be ready for the ASEAN Summit next month.
Given my nation’s unique geographic location, we look forward to the development of a nautical highway to ensure that we remain connected to our neighbours in Southeast Asia. Forging public-private partnerships to address development issues is a key priority of my administration and I believe these partnerships will make the connectivity initiative in ASEAN a reality.
The United States has been our staunchest partner in security cooperation in the region, and will remain so throughout the course of my administration. I thank the U.S. government for participating in our joint counter-terrorism efforts in our own island of Mindanao; for its support in developing my country’s defense capabilities through assistance and training programs; and of course for its assistance in times of natural disasters.
Today the issue that occupies a growing concern is the competing territorial claims within the South China Sea, including our own Kalayaan Islands. Such competing claims can serve as flashpoints for conflict as they did in the 1990’s.
My administration renews its commitment to the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and strongly supports the drafting of a formal code for the South China Sea in which claimants vow to adhere to diplomatic processes to resolve territorial disputes. I believe this is consistent with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s pronouncements on the South China Sea made just in July of this year, supporting collaborative diplomatic processes. As a peace-loving country, the Philippines supports any efforts to deal with potential irritants in the most peaceful way possible.
There are many more opportunities for us and the United States to work together on initiatives such as human rights cooperation, science and technology, biodiversity conservation, and disaster management to build a cohesive Socio-Cultural Community.
At the bottom line is the recognition that the United States, for its part, has committed to reinvigorating its relationship with our region and our individual nations. This is occuring at a time of ever-increasing complexity in global affairs. We, in turn, welcome this reinvigoration as it leads to timely clarity, allowing all of us to fully engage with each other. This can only lead to the fulfillment of our dreams for our peoples, which in the simplest possible terms is a better, more dignified life.
The individual histories of our nations have led us to this point, where old enmities have given way to new friendships, even as old friendships have matured. We are at a point where our respective peoples can look forward to deepening their ties—political, commercial, and cultural—not only with their neighbors, but with all the nations of this world. All our citizens ask of us to keep the peace, to be prudent stewards of our planet, and to ensure that the benefits of growth redound to all, and not merely a few.
We have it in our hands to connect East and West, not in the ways that caused so much misunderstanding in the past, but rather, on the basis of what we can all hold in common today: a world in which our peoples and ourselves, have been born free citizens, and therefore, can engage in genuine cooperation.
Let us begin by sending a message to the world: ASEAN is a force –for good, for peace, and for the continued prosperity of our respective peoples.
Thank you.

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