March 23, 2023

House Passes Bipartisan Castro/Kim PARTNER with ASEAN Act to Strengthen U.S.-ASEAN Relations

WASHINGTON – Today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Providing Appropriate Recognition and Treatment Needed to Enhance Relations (PARTNER) with ASEAN Act, bipartisan legislation authored by Congressman Joaquin Castro (TX-20) and Congresswoman Young Kim (CA-40) that would strengthen the partnership between the United States and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) by authorizing ASEAN to be designated as an international organization with diplomatic privileges and immunities consistent with the International Organization Immunities Act.

Congressman Castro is the founder and co-chair of the bipartisan ASEAN Caucus and a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, where he serves as the ranking member of the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere and as a member of the Subcommittee on the Indo-Pacific. Congresswoman Young Kim is the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Indo-Pacific.

“Today’s swift passage of the PARTNER with ASEAN Act demonstrates the deep bipartisan commitment to a strong U.S.-ASEAN relationship,” said Congressman Joaquin Castro. “The United States was the first non-ASEAN nation to appoint an Ambassador to ASEAN, and Congress has long recognized ASEAN’s role in Indo-Pacific stability and prosperity. Providing routine diplomatic privileges and immunities to ASEAN is an important step to underscore our recognition of ASEAN centrality and explore new areas of cooperation. I thank Chair Kim for her partnership on this bill and look forward to working with the Senate to move our legislation to President Biden’s desk.”

“Ensuring a free and open Indo-Pacific, especially as we see economic and security threats posed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in the region and the Belt and Road Initiative, requires the United States to bolster relations with Southeast Asian countries. Without meaningful engagement, we leave the region little choice but to turn to the CCP,” said Congresswoman Young Kim. “I thank my colleagues for supporting the PARTNER with ASEAN Act and Rep. Castro for partnering with me on this bipartisan effort. As Indo-Pacific Subcommittee Chair, I will keep working to promote U.S. leadership in the region, strengthen relationships with our Indo-Pacific partners and ensure freedom and sovereignty prevail on the world stage.”

“Bolstering relations between the United States and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is critically important. The U.S. needs to prioritize meaningful economic engagement in the Indo-Pacific region, and enhancing U.S.-ASEAN ties is one of the many steps toward achieving this,” said Charles Freeman, senior vice president for Asia at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “The legislation, which would establish a legal framework to facilitate new areas of cooperation between the U.S. and ASEAN countries, is a positive step toward re-engaging the region in a proactive manner." 

“The US-ASEAN Business Council welcomes the efforts in Congress by Rep. Castro and Rep. Kim for their leadership in proposing the Partner with ASEAN Act. Congress has a critical role to play in the administration’s Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS) and this legislation can offer a tangible deliverable for the United State in the implementation of the US-ASEAN Comprehensive Strategic Partnership that was launched at the last US-ASEAN Summit in November.  With four ASEAN Nations ranked in America’s top twenty two-way trade partners in the world and twenty-five US states having $1 billion in goods exports to fast growing ASEAN markets last year, strengthening diplomatic, political and economic relations with trusted trade partners in Asia is vital to the interests of American based companies, farmers and workers,” said Marc Mealy, Senior Vice President at the US-ASEAN Business Council.

The International Organization Immunities Act, enacted in 1945, governs how the United States extends the rights and treaties generally accorded to embassies of countries that have diplomatic relations with the United States to international organizations like ASEAN. The U.S. typically extends automatic privileges and immunities to international organizations to which it belongs (e.g., the UN, NATO), but a special act of Congress is needed to extend recognition to international organizations with which the United States is not a member (e.g., ASEAN).

The PARTNER with ASEAN Act would align the status of ASEAN in the U.S. with other regional groupings like the African Union and would enhance engagement between the U.S. and ASEAN, including by facilitating visits by personnel from the ASEAN secretariat to the United States for dialogues and international events and potentially allowing for a permanent ASEAN mission in the United States. On March 7, 2023, U.S. Senators Robert Menendez (N.J.), James Risch (Idaho), Tammy Duckworth (Ill.), and Mitt Romney (Utah) introduced companion legislation in the Senate as S. 682.

The United States has worked closely with ASEAN for more than four decades and became the first non-member to name an ambassador to ASEAN in 2008, as well as the first non-member to establish a dedicated Mission to ASEAN in 2010.