President Barack Obama has made our relationship with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and engagement with Southeast Asia a key priority under his Rebalance strategy. For this reason he has invited his ASEAN counterparts to the Sunnylands estate in Rancho Mirage, California on February 15th and 16th for a special Summit. This Summit will be the first ever standalone U.S.-ASEAN summit meeting in the United States, recognizing the central role ASEAN plays in the Asia-Pacific and the importance we place on our partnership.

Since its founding, almost five decades ago, ASEAN has grown to encompass 10 member states and represents one of the world’s fastest-growing and most dynamic economies. Here are a few things you should know about this important partnership:
We work with ASEAN to sustain and enhance a rules-based order for Asia: ASEAN has long been at the center of the region’s multilateral architecture. It plays a critical role in promoting peace, prosperity, and a rules-based order in the Asia-Pacific that benefits small and large nations alike — a concept called “ASEAN centrality.” The East Asia Summit (EAS), for example, has ASEAN at its core and has developed as the premier leaders’ level forum for engaging the region on strategic political and security issues, such as responding to the threat of terrorism and countering violent extremism, maintaining a peaceful maritime order, and tackling pandemic disease.

Leaders from left to right, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Philippines President Benigno Aquino III, Myanmar’s President Thein Sein, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Laos’ Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, U.S. President Barack Obama, Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, South Korean President Park Geun-hye, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and New Zealand’s Prime Minister John Key pose for photographs during the 10th East Asia Summit at the 27th ASEAN Summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, November 22, 2015. [AP Photo]

We have a new partnership, stronger than ever: Over the past seven years, the United States has worked to further strengthen our partnership with ASEAN. In 2010, the United States became the first Dialogue Partner to appoint a resident Ambassador to ASEAN in Jakarta and establish a dedicated Mission. In November 2015, in recognition of our mutual commitment to one another, the leaders of the United States and ASEAN elevated our relationship to a strategic partnership. The beginning of this year marked the launch of the ASEAN Community, an ambitious effort to promote further integration that we are confident will open up new opportunities for even closer cooperation.

President Barack Obama shakes hands with Nina Hachigian, U.S. Ambassador to ASEAN, after arriving at Subang Airbase in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for meetings with leaders from Southeast Asia on November 20, 2015. [AP Photo]

We are partners in economic growth: ASEAN is home to 660 million people and is, collectively, the world’s seventh largest economy. It supports over half a million U.S. jobs. American products are popular with the region’s large, youthful consumer base. ASEAN is America’s fourth largest export market, and the United States is ASEAN’s third largest trading partner. The United States has been an important partner for ASEAN and its member states in implementing the ASEAN Single Window, an effort to harmonize regulations and documentation, akin to a one-stop customs shop for exporters looking to do business in Southeast Asia.

Containers from Singapore are unloaded from a vessel at the port of Los Angeles, on December 4, 2006. [AP Photo]

We work together to combat shared security challenges: The leading security challenges of the 21st century reach across borders. In Southeast Asia, these include: terrorism; violent extremism; climate change; environmental degradation and pollution; energy; infectious diseases; disarmament; proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; cybersecurity; trafficking in persons; illicit trafficking of wildlife and timber; illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing; and tensions in the South China Sea. As a multilateral institution, ASEAN has an essential role to play in addressing these common challenges.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers his opening remarks to his fellow Foreign Ministers from Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations on August 5, 2015, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, at the outset of a U.S.-ASEAN Ministerial Meeting. [State Department Photo]

We’re building a shared future for our young people: Our people-to-people ties are more robust than ever with millions of our citizens travelling to each other’s shores every year. The Fulbright Exchange of U.S.-ASEAN Scholars Program and President Obama’s Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) offer abundant opportunities to cultivate ties among youth. These linkages and cultural ties make our relationship that much stronger.

President Barack Obama hosts the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiave (YSEALI) Town Hall event at Taylor’s University Lakeside Campus in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on November 20, 2015 [U.S. Embassy Kuala Lumpur Photo]

About the Author: Matthew Palmer serves as Director for Multilateral Affairs in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs (EAP).

For more information:
• Read more about the United States’ engagement with ASEAN.
• Read more about President Obama’s Asia Rebalance strategy.
• Learn more about U.S.-ASEAN relations in our latest fact sheet.
• For additional information and updates leading up to the U.S.-ASEAN Leaders’ Summit follow @USAsiaPacific on Twitter.