U.S. Values Its Participation in Asian Fora, State's Hill Says

Washington - The United States is "very pleased" to be a dialogue partner in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), according to Christopher Hill, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs.

"We want to be a part of the emerging and evolving architecture of East Asia," Hill said in remarks to reporters at the U.S. Embassy in Manila March 2.  "We want to be supportive of the process of developing multilateral ties because through this growing multilateralism, we think the region can become more stable and can make a contribution not only economically, but also in working together on political and security issues."

The assistant secretary stressed the importance that the United States places on the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), an informal multilateral dialogue established by ASEAN to address security issues in the Asia-Pacific region.  The forum, which first met in 1994, brings together some 25 participants, including the 10 member states of ASEAN (Brunei Darussalam, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam), Australia, Canada, China, the European Union, India, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Mongolia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Russia, East Timor and the United States.

Hill said he was formulating a decision on what the United States' role should be in another multilateral regional forum, the East Asia Summit, which met for the first time in Malaysia in December 2005.  The assistant secretary said he was consulting with ASEAN countries to get a better sense of how the East Asia Summit would relate to ASEAN and to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum.

The assistant secretary was in the Philippines to attend the three-day meeting of the ASEAN Regional Forum Inter-Sessional Support Group on Confidence-Building Measures and Preventive Diplomacy (ARF-ISG).  The United States and the Philippines co-chair the gathering, which addresses issues such as conflict resolution, maritime security and counter-terrorism.


During his visit, Hill said he also had bilateral meetings with Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and other Philippine government officials, as well as former Presidents Corazon Aquino and Fidel Ramos.

"Clearly, the current political situation in the Philippines was one of the subjects of my bilateral discussions with the administration," Hill said.  Arroyo signed a proclamation on February 24 declaring a state of national emergency, after the army said it had prevented a coup.   Arroyo lifted the state of emergency on March 3.

In his bilateral discussions with Philippine officials, Hill said he also discussed defense reform, security enhancement and economic development.  He said he was pleased that his three-day visit allowed time for him to visit the site of U.S.-funded development projects on the island of Mindanao.  

Asked about increased tension between China and Taiwan following an announcement February 27 by Taiwan leader Chen Shui-bian that the National Unification Council, an entity created in 1990 to develop an action plan for the island's eventual reunification with China, would cease operations, Hill urged calm.

"[W]e don't feel there is any role for military confrontation in this issue," he said.  "We believe these issues can be resolved through dialogue.  There are a lot of mutual interests across the Straits … in making sure these issues can be worked out."  Hill reiterated the U.S. "one China" position, as laid out in three joint communiqués and the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979.  (See related article.

Hill was scheduled to stop in Indonesia before returning to Washington.

A transcript of the assistant secretary's press conference is available on the U.S. Embassy in Manila's Web site.