United States President Barack Obama has reiterated his country’s commitment to build a “strong and enduring” partnership with the 10 member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Donning a suit without a tie, President Obama welcomed the ASEAN leaders one by one at the Annenberg Retreat in Sunnylands for the two-day special summit.
In his remarks during the opening of the ASEAN-US Summit on Monday (Tuesday in Manila), Obama said he was looking forward to having a fruitful meeting with the ASEAN leaders as they discuss various issues such as trade, commerce, innovation, entrepreneurship, maritime security, terrorism, climate change, human rights, and resolving disputes in the region through peaceful and legal means.
“Economic growth that is inclusive, creating opportunity for all; mutual security and the peaceful resolution of disputes; human dignity, including respect for human rights, and development that is sustainable -- that is our vision. That’s what brings us here together today,” he told the ASEAN heads of state, among them Philippine President Benigno S. Aquino III.
He said his engagement with ASEAN leaders is part of the US’ goal to play “a larger and long-term role” in the Asia Pacific amid “urgent threats” confronting the world.
Obama noted that as part of his administration’s aim of deepening partnership with the ASEAN nations, he has met with the leaders of the ASEAN seven times, more than any former US presidents had ever made.
These meetings have led to the elevation of the partnership between the ASEAN and the US to a strategic level, which was sealed during the ASEAN Summit in November last year.
“Our sustained engagement is delivering concrete results that benefit all of us -- momentum that we can build on here at this summit,” the US President said.
Obama urged ASEAN leaders to continue “to increase the trade and economic partnerships that create jobs and opportunity for our people”.
He cited the 55 percent increase in trade between the US and ASEAN nations during his administration.
The ASEAN, he said, is currently the fourth largest goods trading partner of the US, which has generated more than 500,000 jobs for Americans.
“US companies have been the largest source of foreign investment in ASEAN -- one of the many reasons that the region’s GDP has surged in recent years, lifting people from poverty into the middle class,” he said.
He said he expects leaders at the summit to build on the progress of ASEAN integration and do more to encourage entrepreneurship and innovation to achieve sustainable and inclusive growth.
Obama likewise rallied ASEAN leaders to work together in increasing security cooperation.
He said that in recent years, the US has increased maritime security assistance to its allies and partners in the region, “improving our mutual capabilities to protect lawful commerce and to respond to humanitarian crisis”.
“Here at this summit, we can advance our shared vision of a regional order where international rules and norms, including freedom of navigation, are upheld and where disputes are resolved through peaceful, legal means,” he stressed.
On the Trans-Pacific Partnership, in which the Philippines has expressed intention of joining, Obama noted that Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei “have committed to high labor and environmental standards”.
Obama likewise underscored the need to address transnational challenges, citing the attack in Jakarta last month that left two civilians dead.
“The scourge of terrorism demands that we stay vigilant, share more information and work cooperatively to protect our people,” he said.
Following the recent signing of climate change agreement in Paris, Obama called on ASEAN nations to implement the accord and “step up investment in clean, affordable energy, including for developing countries”.
On a lighter note, Obama revealed why he decided to hold the special summit in Sunnylands and not in Washington, where his usual meetings with world leaders are held.
“You and the people of ASEAN have always shown me extraordinary hospitality, and I hope we can reciprocate with the warmth today and tomorrow -- which is why I did not hold this summit in Washington. It is cold there. It’s snowing. So, welcome to beautiful, warm Sunnylands,” he said.
In response to Obama's statement, Lao President Choummaly Sayasone, who is the chairman of this year's ASEAN, committed to ensure that the ASEAN's strategic partnership with the US "will bring about fruitful results".
"This ASEAN-US Special Summit is providing us an excellent opportunity to exchange our views and also provide direction for our officials in order to implement the outcome of previous ASEAN-US Summit in view of further strengthening our strategic partnership for the promotion of durable peace, stability, and prosperity for the future benefits of our nations and peoples," he said.
"I firmly believe that our deliberation in the summit will also be crowned with the great success," he added. (PCOO News Release)