Well, thank you very much, Secretary Russel. It's great to have you aboard. And I think everybody here appreciates your outreach and your efforts in the region, and I know everybody has confidence in your leadership.
And it's a pleasure to sit around the table with our friends from ASEAN. All of you welcomed me so warmly at our first meeting when I -- my first meeting as Secretary of State. I met with many of you previously. And I want to thank particularly our friends from Brunei, including His Royal Highness Prince Mohamed. Thank you so much for that unbelievable welcome when we were all there, and I thank you for your leadership of ASEAN over the last year as chair. Let me also thank Myanmar for the work as the United States' country coordinator, and I thank you in advance for chairing ASEAN this next year.
Without any question, ASEAN has been at the center of the Asia Pacific's regional architecture. And this organization is also at the center of the United States' strategy to rebalance our resources and our engagement in the region. And that is a priority for President Obama, and I'm pleased to continue to work on that priority as we implement it. And the entire Administration is committed to this initiative. President Obama is very much looking forward to returning to the region in a few days, a few weeks, to participate in the U.S.-ASEAN summit, as am I.
As we have discussed in recent months, our strategy is about much more than just security. We're working to strengthen every single part of our relationship, including our economic links directly between our citizens. Bolstering our shared prosperity through economic growth and development is one of the primary goals that's at the heart of the U.S.-ASEAN relationship. And within the decade, half of the 600 million people who live in Southeast Asia will be entering the middle class. So as I said at Bandar Seri Begawan in July, we need to do all we can to help this enormous aspirational population achieve its dreams in order to touch the global economy, and we need to help build an integrated ASEAN economic community by 2015. That's our goal.
One of the ways that we're working to do that is by expanding trade and investment between the United States and the 111 countries within ASEAN. And the ASEAN Expanded Economic Engagement Initiative, known as E3, is a framework for economic cooperation that will create new business opportunities and new jobs on both sides of the Pacific. I just had a good meeting with the Prime Minister of Vietnam this morning. The Foreign Minister is here. And we talked about E3 and the importance of it to this effort.
Through other projects, like the Lower Mekong Initiative, which I am particularly supportive of and engaged in, we're partnering there to tackle energy and environment challenges -- challenges in water, agriculture, and food security that simply don't stop at anyone's border. So these efforts can improve lives for everybody in the region on a day-to-day basis, and we need to invest a lot more even going forward, as all of you know. The Mekong River is one of the great rivers of the world. And so many countries -- China, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam -- all share a part of that river, and each has an interest in the integrity of that river. So we need to focus on this challenge.
Another of our goals is, obviously, peace and security. And we're mindful that our shared security is a prerequisite for our shared prosperity. We're focused on every aspect, from maritime security to cyber security, from the high seas to our PCs, and beyond.
And your region is home to the world's busiest ports and most critical sea lanes, so stability where you live matters deeply to prosperity where we live. And it matters around the world. That's one of the reasons why the United States is so committed to maritime security, to the freedom of navigation on the seas, and to resolving the disputes with respect to territory and achieving a code of conduct with respect to that.
This is going to require respect for international law and unimpeded lawful commerce in the South China Sea. And that's why China and ASEAN should move as swiftly as possible to reach a binding code of conduct for addressing disputes without threats, without coercion, and without use of force.
Now, in the end, the relationships between our countries are only going to be as strong as the relationships between our citizens. And that's why a third priority of our initiative is stronger people-to-people ties. In this area, there's actually a lot of good news. Last year, we launched the U.S.-Brunei English Language Program. And in the past month, the first scholars in the new ASEAN Fulbright Program began their studies. One of the largest Fulbright programs in the world, which I'm proud to have started a number of years ago when I was in the Senate, is the Fulbrights program, and it's one of the largest -- the second-largest, I think, in the world now. And then the Fulbright Program in Malaysia is expanding significantly every single year. And every one of these programs is another opportunity for countless students to build a connection, build friendships, and develop new perspectives that they bring back to their own countries -- and I might add, new skills, new talents.
So our focus on these three goals is laser sharp. The commitment of the United States, led by President Obama, is strong. And the United States and ASEAN, I think together recognize the unlimited potential for cooperation in the region. I am convinced that our partnership can play a central role in promoting peace and prosperity in the 21st century. And we're very grateful to all of you for taking the time to come here today to focus on these issues and to focus on this relationship, and I look forward to the discussion that we're going to have.
Thank you, Mr. Secretary.