Remarks at a UN Security Council Briefing on UN Cooperation with ASEAN

Ambassador Cherith Norman Chalet
Acting Deputy Permanent Representative
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
January 30, 2020


Thank you, Mr. President. And it was a pleasure to have the Secretary-General of the United Nations here and then to have you, Mr. Secretary-General Dato Lim of ASEAN here and for your briefing and for highlighting ASEAN’s essential and growing role in regional cooperation. Thank you very much.

ASEAN lies at the heart of our relationship with the Indo-Pacific. The United States’ partnership and friendship with ASEAN has been consistently guided by our respect for sovereignty, and our commitment to the rule of law, good governance, and sovereignty-enabling economic growth. On the basis of these foundational principles, the United States supports strong cooperation between the United Nations and ASEAN, guided by Chapter 8 of the United Nations Charter.

The United States’ and ASEAN’s deepening economic relationship has resulted in explosive growth and tangible, tangible benefits on both sides of the Pacific. U.S. collective investment in ASEAN Member States stands now at $271 billion dollars, and American businesses strengthen ASEAN communities where they operate. We play by the rules. We believe in fair competition. We abhor corruption. These principles build trust, grow human capital, and establish lasting, mutually beneficial relationships. In addition, the United States is partnering to advance high-quality infrastructure development through the Blue Dot Network. The Network provides a seal of approval for high-standard projects, demonstrating our enduring commitment to the best interests of the region.

ASEAN also plays a critical role in reinforcing the international rules-based order that is as important as ever in maintaining global peace and stability. As we see attempts to impede the lawful exercise of navigational rights and freedoms under international law, we must steadfastly uphold these rights and freedoms. Among the places where freedom of the seas is most threatened is the South China Sea. The assertion of unlawful and sweeping maritime claims – including through ongoing bullying against long-standing oil and gas development and fishing practices by others – threatens the rules-based order that has enabled the region to prosper. Our position in the South China Sea – and elsewhere in the world – is simple: the rights and interests of all nations – regardless of size, power, or military capabilities – must be respected.

We call on all states to resolve their territorial and maritime disputes peacefully and without coercion; to fashion their maritime claims and conduct their maritime activities in accordance with international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention; and to respect the freedoms of navigation and overflight, and other lawful uses of the sea. We take note of the ongoing negotiations of a Code of Conduct for the South China Sea. We have consistently expressed our support for a meaningful Code of Conduct, fully in accordance with international law, that commits all parties to refraining from provocative and destabilizing behavior.

However, we are concerned that as this document is being negotiated, the People’s Republic of China has repeatedly engaged in provocative and destabilizing activity aimed at pressuring Southeast Asian claimant states into entering joint development arrangements for marine resources. The most recent example of this type of coercion is the presence of a large, PRC-flagged fishing fleet with armed escorts in the vicinity of an island of one ASEAN country. This follows the PRC’s interference with another ASEAN country’s longstanding oil and gas activities through redeployment of a government-owned survey vessel, together with armed escorts, into waters offshore of that country. Such behavior, especially amid ongoing Code of Conduct negotiations, raises serious doubts about the PRC’s intention to agree to an effective Code of Conduct. If a Code of Conduct is used by some to legitimize egregious behavior and unlawful maritime claims, or is inconsistent with international law, it will prove harmful to the region, and to all who value freedom of the seas.

The United States also remains deeply concerned by the plight of the Rohingya. As we continue to support Burma’s democratic transition, we urge Burma’s government to address the root causes of the situation, to create conditions conducive to safe, voluntary, dignified, and sustainable returns, to provide justice for the victims, and to hold those responsible for ethnic cleansing and other grave human rights abuses to account. ‎ With respect to the order of the International Court of Justice, the United States encourages all parties to respect the Court’s order and to comply with the provisional measures indicated.

We welcome ASEAN’s efforts to address the situation in Rakhine State. UN agencies have unique expertise and capacity, and we urge the ASEAN Humanitarian Assistance Center and recently established ASEAN Secretariat Ad Hoc Support Team to work closely with UN agencies and support their ongoing efforts. 2020 also marks the five-year anniversary of elevating our relationship with ASEAN to a strategic partnership. Support for a strong, united ASEAN remains at the heart of our Indo-Pacific strategy. We greatly value this partnership and the chance to hear ASEAN’s voice on changing regional dynamics and challenges. President Trump also looks forward to listening to that voice when he hosts ASEAN Leaders in the United States in the first quarter of this year. We hope to discuss our shared principles and vision for the region – one that sees ever greater prosperity and security, and that is grounded in respect for the rights and freedoms granted to all nations.

Thank you.