May 10, 2022: USASEAN Chargé d’Affaires Kate Rebholz opening remarks at the Mekong Multilateralism and the US-ASEAN Pre-Special Summit event organized by the Stimson Center

Thank you all for having me here this morning. Thank you as well to the Stimson Center for hosting this event on Mekong-ASEAN cooperation and how the United States can support multilateralism in the Mekong sub-region. It’s a well-timed topic coming just two days before the start of the U.S.-ASEAN special summit. I know the President is eager to meet with the leaders of ASEAN to discuss launching a new era in our partnership. 

In my work with ASEAN, I see daily the influence of the Mekong area on the broader region. In the same way that ASEAN contributes to unity, prosperity, and security in the Indo-Pacific, so too does the Mekong sub-region play a critical role in ASEAN’s peace and stability. That’s why the United States is committed to strengthening capacity and resilience throughout the Mekong: because doing so is essential to strengthening the capacity and resilience of ASEAN. 

The U.S. commitment to the Mekong is embodied in the Mekong-U.S. Partnership or M-U-S-P. The M-U-S-P partners with Mekong states to address key challenges in Southeast Asia. This includes disaster-relief; water governance and management; health and pandemic response; climate and the environment; energy; transportation; and gender equity and equality. Focusing on these Mekong priority areas enables all of ASEAN, and the Indo-Pacific region, to thrive. 

By enabling multilateral institutions, like ASEAN and the M-U-S-P, to work together, we set the region up for success. One way that the United States supports ASEAN and the M-U-S-P working together is through the Third Country Training Program, or TCTP, co-led with Singapore. TCTP is an M-U-S-P program that provides technical training to officials from all ASEAN countries, the ASEAN Secretariat, and Timor Leste. Technical experts from the U.S. and Singaporean governments provide their expertise through training on topics focused specifically on areas prioritized by Mekong countries. To date, more than 1,700 ASEAN government officials have received training thanks to TCTP, in topics ranging from water management to digital economy. 

This past September, we were proud to celebrate a decade of engagement under TCTP. Secretary Blinken and Foreign Minister Balakrishnan jointly renewed our commitment and were proud to include an agreement that, per 

Mekong countries’ request, at least one course per year will focus on issues relating to climate change and environmental sustainability. 

TCTP is one tangible way the United States is working with ASEAN to promote capacity-building in the areas of enhanced regional connectivity and resilience, with a particular focus on the Mekong sub-region. 

Other important parts of our work occur on a smaller scale. The Mekong Connections program provides small grants to community organizations in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam to explore creative solutions to transnational challenges. One grant, through the Mekong Community Institute, will engage with 50 women over the next year to document traditional knowledge and livelihood strategies. The project will also develop community-owned plans for civil society to protect river ecosystems, combat illegal wildlife trade, and study how changes in biodiversity and ecosystems affect human health. 

This work is a perfect example of how M-U-S-P programming supports ASEAN. From fostering community engagement in the environment and public health to developing strategies to preserve traditional knowledge, these are important results for all ASEAN partner countries. 

This week’s U.S.-ASEAN special summit will build on these commitments by announcing new partnerships to support public health, climate, and economic growth and opportunity in the region. 

The special summit and the MUSP demonstrate the United States’ enduring commitment to ASEAN, recognizing its central role in delivering sustainable solutions to the region’s most pressing challenges. 

I hope everyone will stay tuned this week for what we expect will be many high-profile announcements and the release of an ambitious and forward-looking U.S.-ASEAN joint vision statement. The summit, the announcement of new initiatives, and the joint vision statement all point to a United States that is committed to advance our multilateral work in ASEAN and the M-U-S-P. We have an exciting few days ahead and many exciting years to come. 

Thank you.