The transition between President Barack Obama’s first and second terms is the right time to develop a US-ASEAN Strategic and Economic Partnership (SEP). The move would serve to elevate and institutionalize existing US-ASEAN engagements. It would also compel US departments and agencies that have been compartmentalized and uncoordinated to raise their levels of engagement, share information, and align government mandates with strategic objectives.
President Obama made dual commitments with his ASEAN counterparts at the fourth US-ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting in Phnom Penh in November – to convert that forum into a summit, thereby indicating that the US president will participate annually, and to raise the US-ASEAN relationship to the “strategic level.” Creating the SEP could create a foundation for the president’s Asia-Pacific policy in his second term. It could lock in gains and allow the new national security, foreign policy, and economic teams to build on the progress of the past four years.