by Stephen Collinson
NEW YORK, September 24, 2010 (AFP) – US President Barack Obama declared Friday that Southeast Asia was becoming a positive leader on the world stage, as he convened the second US-ASEAN summit, focusing on security and economics.
“As president, I’ve… made it clear that the United States intends to play a leadership role in Asia,” Obama said, opening the summit of the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
“So we’ve strengthened old alliances, we’ve deepened new partnerships, as we are doing with China, and we’ve reengaged with regional organizations, including ASEAN,” Obama said at the summit in New York.
Obama also confirmed he would attend the East Asia summit, in Jakarta, next year, as he presses home a strategy of enhancing US influence in the dynamic region, which he believes has been neglected by recent American policy.
“ASEAN countries are increasingly playing a leadership role in the region. ASEAN itself has the potential to be a very positive force in global affairs,” Obama said, before hosting two hours of talks with regional leaders.
“That’s why the United States has accepted ASEAN’s invitation to join the East Asia summit which will help us meet regional and global challenges together.”
Friday’s talks went ahead as regional maritime and territorial disputes and economic tensions between Beijing and Washington underscore the challenges posed to regional security by the rise of China.
Vietnam’s President Nguyen Minh Triet said ASEAN was keen to take its relations with Washington to “the next level” to sustain peace, stability and development in the region.
The two-hour meeting at the Waldorf Astoria hotel was expected to discuss trade and investment, evolving East Asian security and economic architectures and so far unsuccessful US pressure for political change in Myanmar.
The talks take place amid rising tensions between Japan and China over a territorial dispute in the East China Sea, and after Beijing warned Obama not to interfere in its row with southeast Asian states in the South China Sea.
China asserts complete sovereignty over the potentially resource-rich Spratly and Paracel islands in the South China Sea.
However, ASEAN members the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, plus non-member Taiwan have competing claims.
Obama briefly raised the South China Sea issue with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao when they met here on Thursday.
Some observers expect the US-ASEAN meeting to issue a statement affirming freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.
Anticipating the New York meeting, China warned the United States on Tuesday to keep out of the dispute.
But in Hanoi in July, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said resolving the South China Sea question was “pivotal” to regional stability and called for multilateral talks — a position opposed by Beijing.
Friday’s meeting was also likely to touch, at the request of the United States, on developments in Myanmar, after Washington admitted it was disappointed with its efforts to use dialogue to promote democratic change in the military-ruled state.
Myanmar government is set to go ahead with November 7 elections, despite wide concern over their credibility.
On Thursday, Obama announced that he would visit Indonesia in November, after he was this year forced to cancel two previous attempts to make the trip to the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation.
The visit will come after a stop in India and before Obama heads to South Korea and Japan.
Friday’s New York meeting follows the inaugural summit that Obama held last year in Singapore with his counterparts from 10-member ASEAN.
Next month, in a further deepening of US ties with the region, Clinton will attend this year’s East Asia Security summit in Hanoi.
ASEAN includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. The East Asia summit groups ASEAN with Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.
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