The United States and the nations of Southeast Asia are old friends facing new challenges, and we must forge new partnerships to meet the demands of our changing times.
No one nation can meet today's global challenges alone, from climate change and the economic crisis to threats of nuclear proliferation and violent extremism. And Friday's tragic attacks in Jakarta remind us that no nation will be secure if we do not meet these challenges together. That is why our cooperation - bilateral, multilateral, and people to people - is so important. We will not always agree on every issue. But only by working together, in a partnership built on mutual responsibility and mutual respect, can we ensure a safer, freer, and more prosperous future for all our people.
The United States is a trans-Pacific as well as trans-Atlantic nation, home to 13 million Asian-American citizens who enrich our culture and economy, and bound to the region by history and common interest. We are committed to active partnerships in Asia, and this week I am returning to Thailand for meetings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and the Asean Regional Forum (ARF). These multilateral institutions have a vital role to play, but as the challenges we face evolve, so too must our institutions.
The United States supports a strong Asean that can provide real results for the people of the region. We were the first Dialogue Partner to name a permanent ambassador for Asean, ensuring that our lines of communication are open and our efforts closely coordinated. And earlier this year, I announced that the United States would pursue accession to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia. We have since made great progress, and hope to celebrate our accession soon.
In the days and months ahead, the United States will seek new opportunities to work with Asean and partners across the region, including our key treaty allies Japan, Korea, Australia, Thailand and the Philippines, to advance our mutual interests and meet our shared challenges.
We will work with governments, civil society, and citizens to advance responsible governance, democratic institutions, and respect for human rights in Southeast Asia. These are core values for the United States and for Asean, and they are enshrined in the newly implemented Asean Charter.
The situation in Burma is particularly challenging for Asean. We look forward to working with Asean members on finding ways to bring positive change to Burma that will benefit all of the Burmese people and the region as a whole.
As President Obama said in Egypt and Ghana, democratic and economic development go hand-in-hand. Democracy and the rule of law can transform people's lives and open new doors of opportunity. This is true in Southeast Asia and around the world, and is especially important as we grapple with the effects of an economic crisis that has hit people hard on both sides of the Pacific.
To promote economic recovery and greater shared prosperity, we will continue working to expand trade and investment. Last year, two-way trade between Asean and the United States exceeded $178 billion, and there is no doubt that our economies' fortunes and our nations' futures are more intertwined than ever before.
We also share an interest in a peaceful Asia free from the threats of proliferation, aggression and crime. That is why the United States will continue to seek cooperation from Asean on the enforcement of United Nations Security Council resolutions on North Korea, and will pursue law enforcement partnerships to combat human trafficking, drug smuggling, and organised crime.
I want to applaud Thailand for its new, comprehensive anti-human trafficking law that came into force in June 2008. The prosecutions and victim assistance we expect to see as a result of this new law's passage will be an important step in the right direction in combating a pressing human rights issue in the region and beyond.
On these and a range of other issues of common concern, including climate change and global health, progress will only be achieved through partnership between not just our governments, but also our people. Entrepreneurs and educators, doctors and scientists, friends and families have all joined hands across the Pacific in cooperation. This is especially true for the United States and Thailand. Our governments and our people have developed strong ties over 175 years of relations.
Of course every country has its challenges, and no democracy is ever a finished product. The challenge for the people of both the United States and Thailand is to leave our democracies deeper and stronger than we found them. It's hard work, but just as I have faith that each generation of Americans will meet that challenge, I am confident the people of Thailand will do the same. As they do, they can always count on the friendship and support of the United States.
Working together - in Thailand, across Southeast Asia, and around the world - is the key to building a brighter future for us all.