Strengthening Meaningful Connections between the US and ASEAN

How should ASEAN’s strategy evolve to build capacity at the people-to-people level? What kind of initiatives can deepen integration and cultivate shared values among US and ASEAN communities? Thought leaders from the US and Singapore discussed these issues and more at SIF Connects! Washington DC 2017.

(Above) The dialogue attracted a room full of Friends of Singapore, who exchanged insights with the panelists on how the US and ASEAN could collaborate for change and deepen people-to-people ties.

The Singapore International Foundation (SIF) organised its fifth edition of SIF Connects! Washington DC – our annual event to reconnect with Friends of Singapore in the United States – on Wednesday,
27 September 2017. In partnership with the US-Asia Institute (USAI), we held a dialogue titled Strengthening Meaningful Connections between the US and ASEAN, to mark ASEAN’s 50th anniversary and 40 years of US-ASEAN relations this year.

Participants exchanged perspectives on fostering people-to-people relationships between ASEAN and the US, and how these connections could usher in a new wave of peace and prosperity by enabling mutual understanding. 

The panel comprised SIF chairman Ambassador Ong Keng Yong, former US ambassador to Singapore David Adelman, USAI trustee Chris Fenton, CityLab contributing writer Mimi Kirk, Singapore Institute of International Affairs chairman Associate Professor Simon Tay and SIF representative in Washington DC, Matthew Hermann, who moderated the discussion. They were unanimous in recognizing the value of people-to-people interactions between the US and ASEAN to better identify opportunities for collaboration. Panellists also discussed the trend of inward-looking governments, and the need to resist zero-sum thinking whereby one country benefited at the expense of another.

Where we need to be is where the American people see their success related to
the success of people in ASEAN and vice-versa.”

–Ambassador David Adelman

In response to observations about the low levels of ASEAN awareness among some Americans, panellists pointed out that ASEAN was a multilateral entity that represented 10 separate and distinct countries, and that people-to-people relations were better developed at the bilateral level. They also stressed the necessity of developing awareness among the public, instead of focusing only on policymakers.

Multiple ways to bring about meaningful connections between US and ASEAN communities were raised, such as investing in cultural and educational exchanges among youth, using movies to  ASEAN cultures, and furthering collaboration on common issues such as climate change, urbanisation and humanitarian aid. In particular, the Singapore-US Third Country Training Programme was mentioned as an example of how the US could work alongside an Asian partner to build capacity in a diverse region.

(From left): Congressman Hank Johnson and Congressman Joaquin Castro, who stopped by enroute to a Congressional vote recognising the work of ASEAN, extending a warm welcome to SIF as well as guests from the US and Singapore. Congressman Denny Heck said that personal relationships remained sturdy and enduring in our changing world, and encouraged all not to neglect the people aspects of US-ASEAN engagement.

We were also honoured by the presence of three Members of the United States Congress – Congressman Hank Johnson (D-GA), Co-chairman of the Congressional Caucus on ASEAN Congressman Joaquin Castro (D-TX), and Co-chairman of the Congressional Singapore Caucus Congressman Denny Heck (D-WA). In addition, we welcomed three ambassadors from ASEAN – Singapore ambassador Ashok Kumar Mirpuri, Thailand ambassador Pisan Manawapat and Brunei ambassador Dato Paduka Serbini Ali.

From the dialogue, it was evident that ASEAN and American communities were inevitably connected, whether through the presence of globalised American enterprises or initiatives for cross-cultural exchange. The panel concluded that it was important to build on people-to-people engagements to create meaningful relationships that bridge cultural divides and bring about positive impact for our communities.

(Above) Dialogue panellists posing for the signature ASEAN handshake with Congressman Joaquin Castro, ambassadors from ASEAN countries and USAI representatives.

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