ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
Summit to boost ASEAN awareness among US lawmakers
SUNNYLANDS, California: The Special ASEAN-US Leaders’ Summit is set to raise the profile of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) among many US lawmakers.
The first-of-its-kind summit, which runs from Feb 15 to 16, will likely make clear that the ASEAN region is among US President Barack Obama's key priorities, especially in terms of economic engagement.
ASEAN is the US's fourth-largest trading partner, while the US is the region's largest foreign direct investor.
"ASEAN is a significant trading partner of the US, and several of the individual states within the US have significant economic interaction with several of the markets of the economies in ASEAN,” said Ms Moe Thuzar, a lead researcher at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. “So it will help boost the awareness of ASEAN to many of the lawmakers on Capitol Hill."
The invitation to meet for a summit in the Californian resort of Sunnylands was extended by President Obama to the leaders of the 10-nation ASEAN - including Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong - when he visited Asia in November 2015. Experts say the summit reinforces the commitment of the US to Southeast Asia.
"He just hosted the Chinese President Xi Jinping there (in Sunnylands). So in this way, he is showing ASEAN that 'I'm putting you - 10 smaller and medium sized countries, including Singapore, Laos, and Brunei - on some parity with China’. And I think that's a big diplomatic signal from America," said Professor Simon Tay, chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.
FOUNDATION FOR STRONGER TIES
It's also President Obama's way of laying the foundation for stronger ASEAN-US ties as he prepares to hand over to a new administration as he comes to the end of his second term in office.
"This is a personal gesture by President Obama to make sure US-ASEAN relations, the ASEAN-US dialogue partnership, will continue on the keel of what has been built up throughout his administration,” added Ms Thuzar. “Of course starting with Secretary Clinton's statement at the time in 2009 - of the US rebalance to Asia.”
"So there will be continuity in change, and the one commitment that stands true is that whether the administration is Republican or Democrat, ASEAN does matter to America, and US administrations will continue with its policy of engaging ASEAN."
During the summit, leaders will discuss ASEAN-US economic and political cooperation, as well as exchange views on regional and international issues. Counter-terrorism - on the back of January's Jakarta blasts - maritime security and climate change are also likely to be on the agenda.
White House officials say Sunnylands was chosen as the venue for this summit because of its relaxed and informal setting - which will allow for a more open and free-flowing discussion between the leaders. That way, they can discuss issues over an extended period of time, in a way that they might not be able to at a one-hour meeting - as is usually the case at the White House in Washington.
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