Brief from Engaging Asia

The U.S.-ASEAN Partnership in the Indo-Pacific

by Lindsey W. Ford
February 19, 2019

This is part of the brief series “Key U.S. Policy Issues in the Indo-Pacific for the 116th Congress.” The purpose of these briefs is to provide members of Congress and their staff with a concise, readable primer on what are likely to be among the key U.S. policy issues in the Indo-Pacific for the 116th Congress. This is not a comprehensive compendium. Rather, the briefs aim to raise the issues that will likely occupy Congressional interest over the next two years.

Executive Summary


Southeast Asia is of deep strategic and economic importance to the U.S., and its global influence will only grow. The challenge for the 116th Congress will be to sustain U.S. engagement and leadership there in light of four trends: (1) rising repression and authoritarian tendencies, (2) wavering confidence in U.S. leadership, (3) ASEAN disunity, and (4) differing strategic priorities.

  • Call upon the administration to publicly articulate a Southeast Asia strategy and nominate a U.S. ambassador to ASEAN.
  • Support the recently passed Asia Reassurance Initiative Act, which seeks to develop a long-term strategic vision for the United States in the Indo-Pacific.
  • Enhance funding for civil-society programs that strengthen judiciaries, improve press freedoms, create media literacy, and engage students.
  • Take delegations to meet with regional leaders and participate in events such as the Shangri-La Dialogue, as well as encourage local officials to take trade and investment research trips.

Lindsey W. Ford is the Director of Political Security Affairs for the Asia Society Policy Institute, its inaugural Richard Holbrooke Fellow, and Deputy Director of the Washington D.C. Office. She has served in a variety of roles at the U.S. Department of Defense and was the Senior Adviser to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs. She holds a Master of Public Affairs and a Master of Arts in Asian Studies at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas and studied abroad at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China.