Speaking to US business owners, Asean diplomats and others on Thursday, Secretary of State John Kerry said Southeast Asian has major potential for investment.
His speech marked the 30th anniversary of the US-Asean Business Council and comes as Asean is moving toward economic integration in 2015.
Kerry called Asean’s transformation “dramatic” over the past decades, while praising young entrepreneurs in Cambodia and other countries in the bloc, which holds a combined population of 600 million people among its 10 member countries.
Its economic integration will mean greater competition for production, services, labor and other resources.
“There’s room for everybody,” Alexander Feldman, president of the US-Asean Business Council, said. “There are opportunities for everybody, and there are challenges for everybody.”
Education, he said, “is the key for every single one of these countries, and education is something that the least-developed countries need to pay a lot of attention to.”
Nguyen Huy Dung, deputy chief of mission at the Vietnamese Embassy in Washington, told VOA Khmer that Asean is ready to be integrated. “We welcome good relationships with all outside partners, including China, America, the EU countries, etc.,” he said.
Disputes over the South China Sea have not hampered business between Vietnam and China, he said. “In fact, during the bad times, the economic relationship between Vietnam and China are still moving on, so that shows that these are two distinct matters.”
But the South China Sea is emerging as a major test for Asean, with several member states in conflicting claims with China, a major power in the region.
Ahmad Rizal Purnama, first secretary of the Indonesia Embassy, said the issue concerns not only regional countries, but many others. Asean, as it integrates, will have to work together, he said. “We need to again and again be united in dealing with such delicate issues,” he said.
That means agreeing to a code of conduct that will prevent conflict, he said. “If we cannot finish the code of conduct, the situation of the South China Sea is unmanageable,” he said.
Feldman said the South China Sea issue interests the US, while China has increasingly invested in Southeast Asia.
“Business likes continuity, business likes predictability,” he said. “Some of the conflicts, some of the things that have happened to the South China Sea, do not exactly help in that respect, but we hope and we encourage China and Asean to resolve this issue peacefully and find a way to develop the code of conduct.”