ASEAN Integration in 2030: United States Perspectives

Pek Koon Heng
JEL codes: 
ADBI Working Paper Series

The paper argues that United States (US) participation in the East Asia Summit (EAS)—regional integration architecture led by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)—was motivated by four changes in the regional economic landscape: (i) the Asian financial crisis of 1997 and emergence of the ASEAN+3 grouping; (ii) the rise of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as the leading regional growth engine and an active player in regional integration arrangements; (iii) the failure of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) arrangement to foster trade liberalization in the region; and (iv) the inability of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Doha Development Round to lower global trade barriers significantly.
In joining the EAS, the Obama Administration espoused an approach known as divided functionality, one that would give priority to APEC, and its trade-focused Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement economic engagement with East Asia, and the EAS for addressing political and security issues. Currently, two architectures for regional economic integration are contesting. The first embodies the US vision of a deeply institutionalized Asia-Pacific economic community, as articulated by the ongoing TPP trade negotiations. The second is represented by the Asia-only ASEAN+3 framework, a shallowly institutionalized grouping with weak enforcement compliance mechanisms. However, despite differences in the two approaches, prospects for a healthy complementarity between them—through overlapping memberships, the application of open regionalism, and the benefits of competitive liberalization among specific trade agreements—seem promising.