SINGAPORE – Brunei is well-placed to foster a greater sense of community among Southeast Asian citizens which will drive ‘ASEAN centrality’, a senior US State Department official said on Tuesday. 

Walter Douglas, deputy assistant for Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy at the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said sultanate’s efforts to strengthen ASEAN through its English Language Enrichment Project helped build cooperation and human capacity across Southeast Asia.

Walter Douglas, deputy assistant for Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy at the US State Dept. Photo: Rachel Thien/The Scoop

Funded by the Brunei government, the US$25 million programme sent out highly-qualified instructors across ASEAN to teach English to diplomats and officials, particularly in Myanmar, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

“[The initiative] is really good for ASEAN to come together,” Douglas told The Scoop on the sidelines of an international media conference in Singapore. 

“Brunei has certain strengths, and it should use those strengths to help out where you can and contribute to the strengthening of ASEAN. I think the region will benefit tremendously from that.”

The Brunei-US English Language Enrichment Project for ASEAN was launched in Bandar Seri Begawan back in 2012 by then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with HRH Prince Mohamed Bolkiah at the launch of the Brunei-US English Language Enrichment Project for Asean at Universiti Brunei Darussalam on Sept 7, 2012. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP

The five-year project was a partnership between Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD) and the Honolulu-based East-West Center, who both conducted intensive 11-week English-language courses for teacher trainers and government officials, aimed at linguistically unifying the 10 ASEAN countries  – all of which speak their own languages – and strengthening diplomatic, educational and teaching opportunities across the region.

“ASEAN centrality is very important to us in the Indo-Pacific,” Douglas said. “And the more that can be done to strengthen ASEAN, the better off I think we all are.” 

The US official was in the city-state as one of the plenary speakers at the 2018 East-West Centre International Media Conference which was attended by more than 350 journalists.