Over the next five years, nearly half of all economic growth outside the US is projected to come from Asia. That means this region is vital to creating jobs and opportunity not only for yourselves but also for the American people. And any serious leader in America recognises that fact. And because Asia is home to more than half of humanity, it will largely define the contours of the century ahead – whether it’s going to be marked by conflict or cooperation, by human suffering or human progress. This is why America has refocused its attention on the vast potential of the Asia Pacific region.
My country has come through a decade in which we fought two wars and an economic crisis that hurt us badly – along with countries all over the globe. But we’ve now ended the war in Iraq; our war in Afghanistan will end in 2014. Our businesses are steadily creating new jobs. And we’ve begun addressing the challenges that have long weighed down our economy: reforming our health care and financial systems, raising standards in our schools, building a clean energy economy, cutting our fiscal deficits by more than half since I took office.
Though we’ve been busy at home, the crisis still confronts us in other parts of the world from the Middle East to Ukraine. But I want to be very clear. Some people have wondered whether what happens in Ukraine or the Middle East will sideline our strategy. It has not. We are focused and we’re going to follow through on our interest in promoting a strong US-Asia relationship.
America has responsibilities all around the world, and we’re glad to embrace those responsibilities. Yes, sometimes when dealing with the process of political systems it can be easy to lose sight of the long view. But we have been moving forward on our rebalance with this part of the world by opening ties of commerce and negotiating our most ambitious trade agreement; by increasing our defence and educational exchange cooperation and modernising our alliances; by participating fully in regional institutions like the East Asia Summit; and by building deeper partnerships with emerging countries such as Indonesia and Vietnam.
Increasingly we’re building these partnerships throughout South-east Asia. Since President Lyndon Johnson’s visit to Malaysia in 1966, there is perhaps no region on Earth that has changed so dramatically. Old dictatorships have crumbled. New voices have emerged. Controlled economies have given way to free markets. What used to be small villages, or kampungs, are now gleaming skyscrapers. The 10 nations that make up ASEAN are home to nearly one in 10 of the world’s citizens. And when you put those countries together, ASEAN is the seventh-largest economy in the world, the fourth-largest market for American exports, and the top destination for American investment in Asia.
And I’m proud to be the first American president to meet regularly with all 10 ASEAN leaders, and I intend to do it every year that I remain president. I want to congratulate Malaysia on its turn to assume the chairmanship of ASEAN in 2015. Malaysia plays a central role in this region that will only keep growing, with an ability to promote economic growth and opportunity and be an anchor of stability and maritime security.
One of the things that makes this region so interesting is its diversity. That diversity creates a unique intersection of humanity – people from so many ethnic groups and backgrounds and religious and political beliefs. It gives Malaysia the chance to prove – as America constantly tries to prove – that nations are stronger and more successful when they work to uphold the civil, political and human rights of all their citizens.
That’s why over the past few years Prime Minister Najib Razak and I have worked to broaden and deepen the relationship between our two countries in the spirit of berkerja sama (cooperation) that one talks of in this region. The US remains the number-one investor in Malaysia. We’re partnering to promote security in shipping lanes. We’re making progress on the TransPacific Partnership to boost trade that supports prosperity in both our countries. I’m very pleased that we’ve forged a comprehensive partnership that lays the foundation for even closer cooperation for years to come.
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