Obama starts summit talks with Asean leaders

Washington, Feb 16 (IANS) US President Barack Obama has started a meeting with leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) countries, looking to deepen what he called a “strong and enduring partnership”, the media reported on Tuesday.

During the opening session of the summit in Rancho Mirage, in Sunnylands, California, on Monday, Obama stressed his “personal commitment” to build a “strong and long-lasting” alliance in the region.

Leaders of the 10 — Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam — Asean countries are attending the sumit, the first summit between the US and Asean held on the American soilEFE news reported.

The US is now the largest investor in Asean and its fourth largest trading partner.

Therefore, the opening session of the summit focused on economic and trade issues, with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement one of the main issues on the agenda.

Besides the US, four Asean countries (Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam) are part of the TPP and the others, particularly Indonesia, have expressed interest in joining the agreement, which is pending ratification from the US Congress and is one of the foreign policy pillars of Obama.

“Together we can continue to increase the trade and economic partnerships that create jobs and opportunities for our people,” Obama encouraged.

On the eve of the summit, Obama received requests from organisations such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) to talk openly about the violations of human rights in Asean countries such as Cambodia and Thailand.

Although several US officials anticipate that the summit “is not about China”, security in the South China Sea will be among the issues to be addressed by leaders in meetings on Tuesday.

Besides the fight against terrorism, which is on the official agenda of the session on Tuesday, it is also expected that Obama and Asian leaders will address the recent rocket launch by North Korea, given the suspicion that it could have been an illegal intercontinental ballistic missile test.

All the top Asean leaders are participating in the summit, except Myanmar President Thein Sein, who is stepping down at the end of March and so Vice President Nyan Tun joins the summit on Myanmar’s behalf.

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