SINGAPORE - The United States has offered to host the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) in 2023, recognising the large and dynamic market of South-east Asia and its importance to America.
America's economic outlook is a critical part of advancing an optimistic vision of its partnership with the region, said US Vice-President Kamala Harris on Tuesday (Aug 24).
In a policy speech hosted by the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and the US Embassy in Singapore at Gardens by the Bay, Ms Harris said the US economy is growing faster than it has in nearly 40 years, and wages and employment rates in the country are rising.
"We believe that our growth should not stop at the water's edge, but it can and will also benefit our partners. Our economy shares so much with South-east Asia, from supply chains to a steady flow of two-way trade," she said, noting that collectively, South-east Asian nations represent the US' fourth-largest export market, and trade with the region supports more than 600,000 American jobs.
She said the world is now more interconnected and interdependent, and nations must be more willing to take on challenges and create opportunities together.
The US' partnerships will be grounded in candour, openness, inclusiveness, shared interests and mutual benefit, and it will pursue a free and open Indo-Pacific that promotes its interests and those of its partners and allies, she added.
"In addition to deepening close bilateral relations, we will also work multilaterally through longstanding institutions like Asean, which remains central to this region's architecture. We will also work with new results-oriented groups like the Quad and the US-Mekong partnership.
"I believe that when the history of the 21st century is written, much of it will be centred right here in the Indo-Pacific. Our intention is to strengthen our partnerships and reinforce our shared vision... In doing so, there should be no doubt - we have enduring interests in this region, and we have enduring commitments as well."
Moving on to the issue of security, Ms Harris reiterated the US' security commitment to the region and its vision of freedom of navigation.
Freedom of navigation is vital to the livelihoods of millions who depend on trade that flows through sea lanes each day. Yet, China, she said, continues to "coerce" and "intimidate", and make claims to the vast majority of the South China Sea.
"These unlawful claims have been rejected by the 2016 arbitral tribunal decision, and Beijing's actions continue to undermine the rules-based order and threaten the sovereignty of nations.
"The US stands with our allies and partners in the face of these threats."
She added that the US' engagement of South-east Asia and the Indo-Pacific is not directed against any one country, nor is it designed to make anyone choose between countries.
The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, also known as the Quad, is a strategic dialogue between the US, Japan, Australia and India.
The US-Mekong partnership, which was launched in 2020 and builds on the Lower Mekong Initiative, seeks to enhance cooperation among the governments of the US, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.
In her speech, Ms Harris also stressed the US' interest in strengthening global health security and leading with values, such as a respect for human rights at home and abroad.
In this regard, she expressed deep alarm at the military coup in Myanmar and condemned the use of violent repression.
"We are committed to supporting the people there as they work to return their nation to the path of democracy, and we do hope that nations throughout the Indo-Pacific will join us in that effort," she said.
Since the military junta seized power in Myanmar in February, it has - under pressure from fellow Asean members - agreed to accept a special envoy from the group to mediate the crisis.
Singapore's Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan indicated in a recent interview that the 10-member group would consider it progress if the special envoy - Brunei's Second Foreign Minister Erywan Yusof - could make his inaugural trip to Myanmar before Asean's November summit.
Concluding her speech, Ms Harris said she hoped that years from now, everyone could look back on this moment and say that this was when the region joined together to realise a better future, and took action to improve the lives of its people.
"I hope that we will be able to point to our partnerships between the US and Singapore, between the US and South-east Asia and throughout the Indo-Pacific, as the partnerships that made this shared vision of the future possible."
Following the speech and panel discussion, the Vice-President hosted a round-table discussion with Singapore's Trade and Industry Minister Gan Kim Yong and private sector leaders on the importance of supply chain resilience, the value of cooperation with allies and partners on supply chains, and the impact that supply chains have on American families.
She stressed the interconnectedness of countries and the importance of preventing and ending supply chain shortages.
This followed from her meeting with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Monday, when they announced a supply chain dialogue that would bring together government and business leaders.
Ms Harris left for Vietnam on Tuesday evening for the second leg of her trip.