President Carter pledged U.S. cooperation with non-communist Southeast Asian nations yesterday, at the close of a high-level meeting with the region's unfallen "dominoes."
The United States did not promise any new large-scale aid program or trade concessions in the meetings with foreign ministers of the five-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). But the Asian officials expressed satisfaction with the talks and said they established "a framework" for future cooperative relations.
The most tangible U.S. pledges were to send trade and investment missions to Southeast Asia and to "pursue actively" the creation of an international fund to stabilize the prices of raw materials, as proposed by Third World countries. Asian ministers particularly praised the statement on the stabilization fund, which has been stymied by disagreements between developing producer countries and industrialized consumer nations.
These U.S. proposals, and agreement on "consultative arrangements" with ASEAN on aid, energy, science and technology, food, business affairs and trade, were a far cry from the expansive pledges of a post-Vietnam "war against hunger, ignorance and disease everywhere in Southeast Asia" made by President Johnson in the mid-1960s.
Philippine Foreign Minister Carlos P. Romolo, chairman of the ASEAN delegation, told a final press conference that "we did not come here with an outstretched hand for help but with the hand of friendship." Romolo expressed pride that "despite blandishments and falling nations one by one around us, we have maintained our integrity . . . our free way of life, our free enterprise system . . . we have given the lie to the myth of the falling dominoes."
Romolo took plans to reject a charge previously made by communist nations that ASEAN is a successor to the old Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO). He called that U.S.-sponsored military pact "embalmed and buried" and said ASEAN is "something completely different." Just this week, in a Pravda article, the Soviet Union accused the United States of wishing to use economic and military pressure to push ASEAN into the role of a military pact.
With Vietnam and neighbor Cambodia fighting a hot war, and the Sino-Soviet dispute casting long shadows, communist governments have begun to court ASEAN countries rather than condemn them. Romolo said he had received word from home just yesterday that Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Van Dong has asked to visit Manila in the near future. U.S. sources said similar approaches have been made to other Southeast Asian countries.
In statements at a press conference, Romolo, Thai Foreign Minister Upadit Pachariyangkun and Malaysian Foreign Minister Tengku Ahmad Rithauddeen all said their diplomatic relations with Vietnam are good.
Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance, appearing with the Asian ministers, said the United States has not yet received "any statement" formally dropping Vietnam's conditions for the establishment of Washington-Hanoi diplomatic relations. Vietnamese diplomats have made comments in public and "informal" remarks to U.S. diplomats indicating that they no longer insist on U.S. agreement to grant reconstruction aid as a prior condition.
Vance did not say what the U.S. attitude will be when and if a formal statement of readiness of diplomatic relations, without conditions, is received directly from Hanoi.